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Archive for the ‘Corruption’ Category

Kira Orange Jones prevailed in the challenge to her candidacy for re-election to the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education from the state’s 2nd District in a special court hearing in New Orleans on Tuesday, lending further validation to the theory that in Louisiana politics, anything goes.

That anything includes:

Jones listing at least three separate residents on various reporting forms submitted to the state;

Her failure to file Louisiana state income tax returns for the years 2015 and 2017 (a prerequisite to seeking political office in Louisiana, but…);

Her serving as executive director for Teach for America (TFA), which contracts with the Louisiana Department of Education (LDOE), a clear conflict of interests and a not-so-trivial ethics question;

Her chronic absence from BESE meetings—she missed more than one-third of all meetings last year;

Here several years’ delinquency in filing required annual financial disclosure forms with the state—another requirement of candidates and even in-the-trenches civil service employees;

Her serving as a board member for a non-profit called Instruction Partners (IP) which is listed by LDOE as a vendor for professional development for 2018-19—another potential ethics problem and conflict of interest.

But what I found most humorous was the suggestion by educator and blogger Mercedes Schneider: “Given that Orange-Jones’ uninterrupted residence in BESE District 2 is in serious question (Her husband was at one time during her tenure New Mexico’s top education official), it seems in (opposition candidates) (Shawon) Bernard’s and (Ashonta) Wyatt’s best interest to file a claim against Orange-Jones with the Louisiana Ethics Board.”

So, why would I find that so amusing? Simple. Not to make light of Schneider’s well-intentioned suggestion, but the Ethics Board is Louisiana’s single biggest political JOKE going and has been since Bobby Jindal’s ethics “reform” of 2008.

Eight years ago, special interests hijacked BESE from Louisiana’s citizens by buying the offices of the likes of Orange-Jones, Jay Guillot, Holly Boffy, and others so that people like John White could ram through education “reform” designed to benefit corporate ownership of virtual on-line schools and charter schools.

Boffy, who is seeking re-election to her District 7 seat, is manager of an outfit called EdTalents in Lafayette, which, according to its web page, works to support schools or districts “in creating an educator talent system to attract, hire, place, develop, leverage, and retain teachers for student success.” Go HERE for the Louisiana Secretary of State’s corporate report on EdTalents.

She also is an Educator in Residence for the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) for the central and southeastern states. CCSSO was instrumental in writing COMMON CORE standards for the state.

In other words, like Guillot when he served on the board, Boffy contracts for services with school districts that are governed and regulated by the board on which she sits.

No conflict or ethics problem there.

But let’s look at some of the results under the tenure of Orange-Jones, Boffy and White:

  • Today, every single charter school in New Orleans is FAILING;
  • Louisiana, after a decade of White’s leadership, remains the fourth-worst EDUCATED state in the nation;
  • While the state’s teachers were going without pay raises, 20 unclassified employees at LDOE raked in average PAY RAISES of nearly $27,000 each over a five-year period—that’s more than $5,000 per year, compared to the meager $1,000 raise teachers got this year—finally.
  • LDOE attempted to gloss over a major ERROR in the Minimum Foundation Program for fiscal year 2018-19 which created an actual $17 million surplus for LDOE, but instead of distributing the money to the schools as it should have done, LDOE made no mention of the error for fear of an audit. Instead, the money was expected to be used for one-time expenses for the department.

And did a single legislator raise the first question about the mistake?

Nah. It’s all good. Move along. Nothing to see here.

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A lawsuit was filed last Thursday in Civil District Court in New Orleans that seeks to disqualify Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE) member Kira Orange Jones as a candidate for re-election to the 2nd District seat she has held since 2012.

While the petition of plaintiffs Linnell Steib and Michael McFarland cites only two causes for the disqualification of Jones, there appears to be an entire laundry list of reasons she should be disqualified as a candidate, some of which LouisianaVoice has addressed in previous posts.

Little is known about the plaintiffs other than a Google search turned up the name of one Linnell Steib as being manager of judicial courts of the State of Louisiana. There was another Linnell Steib, but his work address was given as Wichita, Kansas.

But as long as the plaintiffs are electors in Jones’s district, they have legal standing to bring the lawsuit to block her candidacy.

The two disqualifying points they list in their petition are:

  • Jones’s failure to file Louisiana state income tax returns for the years 2015 and 2017 as required for candidates;
  • Her failure to pay outstanding ethics fines and fees to the attorney general’s office totaling $8,800.

But there are other reasons, according to educator Mercedes Schneider, who has a web blog called DEUTSCH29 in which she points out Jones’s chronic absence from BESE, missing more than a third of its meetings altogether and either arriving late or listing alternatively no fewer than three separate residence addresses on various reporting forms—not counting the New Mexico address of her husband Christopher Ruszkowski, the former secretary-designee for the New Mexico Department of Education.

Schneider also questioned whether or not the New Mexico Department of Education had a contract with Teach for America (TFA), for whom Jones serves as an executive director (it does). Here is another of her posts about JONES.

LouisianaVoice had previously questioned possible conflicts of interest with Jones as an executive director for Teach for America (TFA), which had a lucrative contract with the Louisiana Department of Education (LDOE) even as she sat on BESE.

Schneider also noted that Jones sits on the board of directors for a non-profit called Instruction Partners (IP) which is listed by LDOE as a vendor for professional development for 2018-19, a relationship that also could be considered a conflict of interests or an ethics violation.

Finally, Schneider, on her blog, notes that Jones was “extremely delinquent” in filing her required annual financial disclosure forms with the state. In fact, Schneider said, as of August 11 of this year (last Monday), she still had not filed her annual disclosures for 2017 and 2018, only doing so on August 12 (last Tuesday), six days after she official qualified for reelection.

Apparently, there are those who worked for Jones at TFA who were less than enamored with her leadership. This from the website GLASSDOOR.COM.

Jones is opposed in this year’s election by Shawon Bernard and Ashonta Wyatt.

The Louisiana Democratic Party has Wyatt in the District 2 race.

“We’ve seen the effects of Democratic leadership versus Republican leadership on our educational systems,” Stephen Handwerk, Executive Director of the Louisiana Democratic Party said. “Under a Republican administration, we’ve seen underfunded education, underpaid teachers, and a lack of concern about investing in our children. Compare that to a Democratic administration who is putting teachers, students, and our educational institutions first and it’s clear why we need to support Louisiana Democrats for the Louisiana Board of Elementary and Secondary Education. The endorsements we made today will promote education reform and push our state forward and I’m confident we’ll see them making a difference this January.”

The following are candidates the Louisiana Democratic Party endorsed for BESE:

BESE District 2: 

Ashonta Wyatt

 

BESE District 6: 

Ciara Hart

 

BESE District 8:

Vereta Tanner Lee

Preston Castille

 

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I hadn’t visited John Wayne Culpepper’s Lip-Smackin’ Bar-B-Que Hut, House of Prayer, Used Light bulb Emporium and Snake Farm up in Watson for quite a while, but I found myself in need of a little counseling from Harley Purvis, so I dropped by earlier this morning.

Harley, in case you don’t remember, is my longtime friend who also just happens to be president of the Greater Livingston Parish All-American Redneck Male Chauvinist Spittin’, Belchin’, and Cussin’ Society and Literary Club (LPAARMCSBCSLC).

I was in a foul mood as I approached him where he was seated in his customary spot in the booth in the back in the corner in the dark (apologies to the late Flip Wilson) and my mood was not lightened at the sight of a stranger already seated across from my friend and mentor. Harley spotted me and waved me over. “Have a seat. I want you to meet someone.” So, I slid into the booth next to Harley.

“This here’s Jimbo ‘Snake Eyes’ Hampton,” Harley said by way of introduction. We shook hands as the waitress pored me a cup of coffee. I shook hands with him while simultaneously ordering scrambled eggs, country ham and toast.

“What brings you in today?” Harley asked. He knew I rarely came to see him unless I was upset about something.

“Did you see the news last night?” I asked.

“Yep,” he answered. “And I figure you’re pissed that the state ethics board cleared Mike Edmonson of any wrongdoing. That about it?”

“Mostly confused and yes, a little angry,” I replied.

Edmonson’s attorney Gray Sexton, who once headed the Louisiana Ethics Board but who now represents clients before that same board, had told a Baton Rouge television station that his client, the former State Police Superintendent, had been cleared of all wrongdoing and that other agencies investigating Edmonson were dropping their investigations, as well.

“I don’t understand how that could be,” I said. The investigation centered around that trip to San Diego back in 2016 when four troopers drove a state police SUV there, taking side trips to Las Vegas and the Grand Canyon along the way, while charging for overtime they didn’t work. “Back in April 2018, the same ethics board cleared—in secret, I might add—the troopers of any wrongdoing, saying that they were just following orders and had done so with the approval of Edmonson (see that story HERE). But now the board has cleared Edmonson, as well (see that story HERE).

Harley smiled, took a swig of his black coffee and said, “Son, don’t you know that the state police has a whole fleet of them self-drivin’ SUVs? That vehicle obviously drove itself out to San Diego and decided all on its own to take a side trip to Vegas and the Grand Canyon.”

He and Snake Eyes giggled in unison, apparently finding Harley’s explanation amusing. I just looked at both of them. Harley continued, “And them four troopers? Hell, they was hostages an’ couldn’t get outta that vehicle until it stopped at the expensive hotel where they stayed on the trip.” More giggles.

“Well, first of all, I don’t like the ides of Sexton being able to represent clients before the board he once headed,” I said. “He even referred to ‘unsubstantiated’ reports by the media and I can substantiate every single thing I wrote about him. Sexton’s full of crap. And even the state auditor found Edmonson had committed all kinds of violations of state policy.”

LSP AUDIT

AUDIT FINDINGS

“You know as well as I that’s the way they game the system,” Harley explained. “Prosecuting attorneys turn up as criminal defense attorneys and Sexton represents clients before his old board. Judges in cases brought against doctors by the medical board accept campaign contributions from the prosecuting attorneys for the board. Public Service Commission members take contributions from industries they regulate. Same thing for the insurance commissioner getting contributions from insurance companies.”

“But how can the ethics board clear the four troopers AND Edmonson 16 months later? It would seem that somebody would have to fall on their sword.”

“You know the system don’t work that way. They protect theyselves. That’s why they waited 16 months; they figured you’d forget they cleared the troopers after that much time. You think justice is even-handed? Look at ol’ Snake Eyes here. He just got out of prison. Know what he was in for? Tell him, Snake.”

Snake Eyes, a 47-year-old black man, grinned and said, “I was caught with less than three grams of weed. They gave me 13 years but it was reduced to eight years.” (Full disclosure: Snake Eyes is a pseudonym but his story is based on a real person from New Orleans.)

Harley leaned forward and added, “Louisiana ain’t the only place this kind of crap goes on. Remember that case in New Jersey where the judge refused to try a teenage rapist as an adult because he was a Eagle Scout, had good college entry scores and came from a GOOD FAMILY? That Eagle Scout not only raped a girl, but he filmed it and sent the video to his friends.

“And look at Jeffrey Epstein. Back in 2008, he was charged with having sex with underage girls and he got a nice plea deal that gave him 13 months in jail, only he was able to go to his office every day during those 13 months and just stayed in his jail cell at night. And the prosecutor who gave him that deal became Trump’s secretary of labor. An’ Ol’ Snake Eyes here gets eight years for a little pot.

“Then there’s that dentist at the LSU School of Dentistry who blew the whistle on the jaw implants bein’ a health hazard. Did they thank him? Hell, no, they revoked his license and ruined him financially, drove him outta the state, ‘cause he cost LSU money. Problem is, LSU lost more money on the lawsuits from the faulty implants. Same thing for Ivor van Heerden who criticized the Corps of Engineers following Katrina. He posed a threat to LSU federal grants from the Corps, so they run him off, just like they did Steven Hatfill who the FBI named as a person of interest in those anthrax letters even though he had nothing to do with them.

“Here’s another fine example of American justice at its best: The chief deputy of th’ Pima County, Arizona Sheriff’s Department pleaded guilty to laundering half-a-million dollars in RICO funds and got one year’s probation, a $3,000 fine and 100 hours of community service. Half-a-million dollars! And he never spent a day in jail while Snake here gets eight years for a coupla joints wortha weed.”

I started to speak, but he held up his hand. “A Oklahoma woman sold $31 wortha pot and got a 12-year prison sentence. Over in Mississippi, a man wanted the land his neighbors owned, so he instigated charges against the entire family after their son was caught cultivating marijuana on the man’s land. Police tore up their home, seized all the money they had, including the children’s piggy banks and a 90-year-old relative’s social security check. A year later, they raided the home again, arresting the entire family. The daddy got 26 years, the mama got 24 years and all four children received sentences of three to 15 years.

“The LSU fraternity members who were implicated in the binge drinking death of Max Gruver, meanwhile, got 30 DAYS in jail. They had the same lawyer who got Iberia Parish Sheriff Louis Ackal off after Ackal had several prisoners die in his custody. But Snake here gets eight years an’ he ain’t hurt nobody.

“And did you know that in Louisiana, if you steal a cell phone, you can get up to six months in jail but if you unknowingly buy a stolen cell phone, you could get up to 10 years for possessing stolen property?”

Harley and Snake Eyes exchanged knowing glances before Harley spoke again. “Son, you set the bar way too high for guvmental ethics. But the sad part is Louisiana ain’t unique. We’re actually pretty typical across the board.

“Jes’ remember the real Golden Rule: Them what has the gold makes the rules. An’ that goes double for the Louisiana so-called ‘Ethics’ Board.”

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A couple of things caught my attention this past week, neither of which should be a sign of encouragement for Louisianans.

First, during Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s testimony before the House Judiciary Committee, Louisiana 8th District Rep. Mike Johnson, a Shreveport Republican, had the unbelievable gall to tell Mueller that Donald Trump had “cooperated fully” with Mueller’s investigation.

That’s simply a damned lie and Johnson and all the other invertebrate Republican enablers in Congress are as well—and they know it.

How can threatening—and attempting—to fire Mueller be considered cooperation?

How can President Bone Spurs’ refusal to provide his income tax returns be considered cooperation?

How can President Bone Spurs’ refusal to appear in person before Mueller for questioning be considered cooperation?

How can President Bone Spurs’ incessant tweeting about the so-called “witch hunt” be considered cooperation?

How can President Bone Spurs’ constantly insulting Mueller be considered cooperation?

How can the repeated lapses of memory from President Bone Spurs (who, by the way, has repeatedly claimed he had one of the “best memories in history”) in his written responses to Mueller’s questions be considered cooperation?

Mike Johnson, there simply is no nice way to say it: You are a liar and an embarrassment.

Mike Johnson, you may wish to read what a friend sent me that was written by Paul Thornton of the Los Angeles Times (a conservative, Republican-leaning newspaper, by the way):

At almost any other time in American history, a decorated Marine with a highly distinguished legal and law enforcement career vouching for his 400-page report detailing a president’s impeachment-worthy conduct would be greeted with (at least) deference or (at best) bipartisan gratitude.

But Robert S. Mueller III had the misfortune of explaining his life’s most important investigation to a bunch of Republicans eager to engage in character assassination on behalf of the most amoral president in U.S. history, and in front of a media that valued “optics” just as much as the details of Mueller’s report.

The other attention-getter was the TV ad campaign launched by businessman Eddie Rispone in his bid to unseat John Bel Edwards for governor.

The best thing that be said about Rispone’s CURRENT AD is that he is just John Neely Kennedy 2.0—without the weed killer. Both are classic suck-ups running off someone else’s popularity with nothing of substance to offer. Some might call them political whores, but I would never be so crass. They’re just your typical political opportunists, folks, plain and simple.

Other than pointing out that he placed a Trump sticker on his truck, Rispone does nothing in the ad to address Louisiana’s problems or to offer solutions. Two words: sound bites.

Rispone even has a YOU TUBE AD (it may also have run on TV, but I haven’t seen it there yet) in which he proclaims, “It’s time to drain the swamp.”

Sound familiar?

Any questions as to how well President Bone Spurs has kept his promise to “drain the swamp”?

To give you an athletic analogy, in gymnastics, judges score contestants on, among other things, creativity and originality, degree of difficulty and execution.

Rispone’s pathetic ad falls flat on each of those categories. It’s nothing more than a dog whistle, to those poor souls who think President Bone Spurs actually has their best interests at heart and that he is really working on their behalf.

If Rispone is so devoted and loyal to President Bone Spurs, then that must necessarily mean that:

  • He condones adulterous behavior, even encourages it;
  • He is a racist;
  • He believes, like President Bone Spurs, that one does not need real solutions if he has enough money to purchase his office.
  • He supports a draft dodger who now hides behind the American flag;
  • He supports embracing shady characters like Jeffrey Epstein until they become a liability and then he “barely knows them”;
  • He believes the end justifies the means—regardless of who gets hurt in the process;
  • He believes that if President Bone Spurs can spout the rhetoric that resonates with his cult, then everything else he does should be ignored, even applauded.
  • He supports ridiculing physically-handicapped reporters;
  • He supports placing children in cages;
  • He supports tax breaks for the wealthiest Americans and corporations;
  • He supports Vladimir Putin, Kim Jung Un and Bashar al-Assad;
  • He would employ (but fail to pay) undocumented workers;
  • He would borrow (but fail to repay) hundreds of millions of dollars and would choose instead to stiff creditors by declaring bankruptcy—six times;
  • He supports increasing the national deficit by more than $1 trillion after promising to eliminate same;
  • He condones—encourages, even—serial lying;
  • He supports the idea of blaming others for everything bad and taking credit for all things good—like President Bone Spurs’ latest claim that the poor air conditioning in the White House is somehow the fault of his predecessor (really, he actually said that).

Rispone’s failure to publicly repudiate these suppositions should be considered affirmation.

Finally, there is THIS, and I think most of us can still remember the eight-year disaster that were the Jindal years.

So, if you liked Jindal, you’ll love Rispone.

If that doesn’t convince you that Rispone is about as phony as any political opportunist could possible be, then I have a mountaintop resort in Pierre Part to sell you.

 

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Sales of my latest book, Louisiana’s Rogue Sheriffs: A Culture of Corruption (see image of book cover in column to the right of this post), are progressing at a rather brisk pace.

I’m also informed that the book was the topic of considerable conversation at the Louisiana Sheriffs’ Association’s annual training conference this past weekend at L’auberge Casino Resort in Lake Charles.

That’s okay. As Uncle Earl Long was known to say, “There ain’t no bad publicity as long as they spell my name right.”

The book, 350 pages in length explores the shenanigans of a litany of past and present Louisiana sheriffs who didn’t even blink an eye at theft, drug dealing, malfeasance, human rights violations, and even murder. An sample chapter from the book can be found at the bottom of this post.

I will be a guest of Jim Engster on his Louisiana Public Radio program, Talk Louisiana, Friday at 9 a.m. You may listen in by logging onto http://www.jimengster.com/ Friday at 9:00.

On Saturday, I will have my first book signing at Cavalier House Books in Denham Springs. I purposely chose Cavalier’s because that’s where I had my first book signing for my earlier book, Louisiana Rocks: The True Genesis of Rock & Roll.

I’m also scheduled for a biographical profile and review of Louisiana’s Rogue Sheriffs in CENLA FOCUS, an online Alexandria publication.

Of course, no book promotion would be complete without a book signing and lecture at the Louisiana State Library’s 16th annual Louisiana Book Festival, scheduled for Saturday, November 2. Always the highlight of the year for book lovers, last year’s festival attracted more than 26,000 visitors. I will attend the festival’s Authors’ Party the evening of Friday, November 1 and on Saturday, in addition to signing copies of the book, I will give a lecture on some of the more colorful Louisiana sheriffs in the basement of the Louisiana State Capitol.

To obtain your copy of the book, which is not yet in area book stores, you may click on the yellow Donate Button with Credit Cards button also located in the column to the right of this post to pay by credit card. The book sells for $30 and if you order by clicking on the yellow button, be sure to send a separate email to louisianavoice@outlook.com giving me your mailing address.

You may also order the book from Amazon but for some reason, they listed the price at $35. I did not authorize that price and I would recommend purchasing directly from me to save $5. If you prefer not to order by credit card, you may send a check for $30 to Tom Aswell, P.O. Box 922, Denham Springs, LA. 70727.

As promised, here is an excerpt from the book:

Bobby Tardo, Duffy Breaux: Lafourche Parish

Some people take their politics a little more seriously than others.

Take, for example, Cyrus “Bobby” Tardo. Elected sheriff of Lafourche Parish in 1971, he was defeated for reelection by Duffy Breaux in 1975. That he went on to be elected parish president in 1983 was of little consequence to Tardo. Losing in ‘75 to the man he had defeated four years earlier apparently was more than he could stomach. After all, he had given Breaux a job after Breaux, who finished third in that ’71 election, endorsed Tardo over his runoff opponent—only to have Breaux run against him in the very next election.

On December 15, 1988, Breaux and Deputy Daniel Leche were leaving a senior citizen Christmas party at the Thibodaux Civic Center. A grocery bag was on the ground next to Breaux’s vehicle and as he approached it, the sheriff kicked the bag with his foot. As he did so, an explosion rocked the still evening air as shrapnel and nails tore into Breaux’s leg, nearly severing his foot.

Marshall McClendon, 42, a former New Orleans, Baton Rouge and Gonzales police officer who had once worked for Tardo during his one term as sheriff as well as having served as an Ascension Parish sheriff’s deputy, had detonated a bomb by remote control in an attempt on Breaux’s life. Tardo had paid McClendon and John Tullier, Jr. of St. Amant, age 23, $8,000 with the promise of another $12,000 if Breaux died. A third man, former Houma police officer Ralph Bergeron, 42, was also charged with conspiracy to violate and of violation of the Organized Crime Control Act and illegal possession of a destructive device.

Bergeron and Tullier conducted surveillance of Breaux several times before the bombing was actually carried out, the affidavit said.

An informant who admitted his involvement in the attempt on Breaux’s life told federal agents that Tardo had supplied the money to have Breaux murdered, according to a federal affidavit that outlined allegations against the men. The informant said Tardo also gave McClendon an additional $2,000 for his participation in the bombing.

The affidavit released at a press conference by U.S. Attorney John Volz said Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) agents monitored a conversation between Tardo and the informant. It was during that meeting that Tardo affirmed his knowledge of the bombing, admitted to paying McClendon the extra $2,000, gave the confidential source $100 to help him get out of town, and admitted that he, Tardo, had entered into an agreement with McClendon that called for McClendon to maintain silence if arrested.

Tardo, a retired state trooper who was working as a private investigator and an insurance agent at the time the bombing was carried out, was sentenced to 29 years, five-months in prison but served less than three years of that sentence. He died of heart failure on April 30, 1992, in the Medical Center for Federal Prisoners in Springfield, Missouri where he had been transferred after becoming ill. He never left federal custody following his February 2, 1989 arrest. He was only 61 at the time of his death.

Tullier was sentenced to 19 years, eight months while McClendon was given a 24-year sentence and Bergeron was sentenced to 11 years imprisonment.

Breaux, meanwhile, would go on to serve as sheriff for 16 years, until 1992, when he, too, ran afoul of the law.

Breaux, who began his career in law enforcement as a dispatcher for the sheriff’s office, pleaded guilty in 1993 to mail fraud, conspiracy and obstruction of justice for deals in which he was involved while sheriff. At the center of the charges was a scheme to defraud Lafourche Parish of more than $100,000 through Shield Land, a company owned by Breaux and his Chief Deputy, Eddie Duet. The sheriff’s office contracted with local banks which paid for the storage of mobile homes. Because Breaux and Duet owned the land where the trailers were stored, they profited directly from the transactions.

Breaux served more than four years in federal prison in Montgomery, Alabama, and was released in 1997. He died eight years later, on December 13, 2005, of complications from pneumonia. He was 77.

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