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Editor’s note: Last year, LouisianaVoice published a couple of stories about the indictment of Iberia Parish Clerk of Court MIKE THIBODEAUX and the political circus that seems to be the norm for Iberia Parish. The 14-count indictment followed a 2016 investigative AUDIT by the Legislative Auditor’s office. Coming two years after the audit, the indictment would appear to be politically motivated by Thibodeaux’s FIRING of parish Assessor Ricky Huval’s son, Ryan Huval. Ricky Huval’s daughter, Rachael, it turns out, is employed by District Attorney Bofill Duhé, who brought the indictment against Thibodeaux. The excessive bail set by the presiding judge would, in itself, indicate the extent to which favoritism and cheap political theater are very much in play in Iberia Parish.

Bob Mhoon, a native New Iberian now living in Arlington, Texas, penned a letter to the editor of the local newspaper. But the Daily Iberian has appeared somewhat reluctant to publish his letter, so LouisianaVoice is doing so here.

In June of 2018 the headline was “Thibodeaux indicted.” “charges include racketeering, theft, malfeasance in office.”

Most everyone knows Mike Thibodeaux and, for the most part, they are happy with his exemplary accomplishments during twenty-two years in office. I’ve read the charges and studied the detailed audit upon which they are based. The audit and the Clerk of Court’s response to detailed findings were presented to the parish council and accepted without concern.

One of the major responsibilities of the Clerk of Court and his Chief Deputy Clerk of Court is to continually update their knowledge of all applicable laws and policies, including the periodic changes that must be added to internal policy manuals.  Interestingly, all past audits and corrective responses to items flagged were satisfactory.

What happened next? The state auditor requested a State Police investigation and that report was forwarded to the district attorney. His decision was to present to the grand jury which found charges were appropriate and Mike was formally charged.

What was the impetus for criminal charges? According to Louisiana State Auditor records, a formal complaint was made to their office by the ex-Chief Deputy Clerk of Court; someone equally responsible for managing the department during past audits. Retribution?

Not a single penny of parish money was misappropriated by the Clerk of Court or his office. True, funds were moved between accounts; simply because that was how it was always done. These oversights were quickly corrected before the charges were initiated.

The Clerk of Court was shocked when he was indicted and the judge set bail at $200,000. In setting bail the court considers; severity of charges, the likelihood of jail, and defendant’s community ties. The last factor alone should have negated all others. The likelihood of him fleeing charges is infinitesimal.  His entire life has been in New Iberia with a loving family, and a lengthy, exemplary, career in local government. The bond was excessive!

How does favoritism come into play? I reviewed a number of Louisiana Legislative Auditor cases involving functions of the governor’s office. No one involved in these oversights was charged with any crimes!

Here is clear evidence of unfairness and favoritism. Homeland Security Finding. We identified 81 reimbursement requests where $3,309,036 (31.89%) worth of expenses were not supported by sufficient documentation. March 31, 2008, through December 31, 2016, we analyzed expense reimbursements totaling $925,837,580. We noted exceptions totaling $250,074,672 (27.01%). Louisiana Governor’s Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness worked with the subgrantees to resolve $134,830,335 (53.92%) of the exception amount. Louisiana Department of Health; did not deposit approximately $2.8 million into the Fraud Fund between fiscal years 2012 and 2017 in accordance with state law. (Amount: $2,797,768), LDH incorrectly deposited $323,570 into the Medicaid Fraud Fund in fiscal year 2012 that should have been deposited into the Nursing Home Residents’ Trust Fund. (Amount: $323,570). Lastly, LDH spent $642,593 from the Medicaid Fraud Fund in fiscal year 2012 on software that could not be implemented due to system compatibility issues. (Amount: $642,593) There are hundreds more similar discrepancies available on the LLA website.

Mike has steadfastly supported the community and now desperately needs your help.  Make a quick phone call to the DA, expressing support for Mike. After seeing the Governor’s disorganization and auditor favoritism, Bo Duhe needs to exercise compassion and immediately drop the charges to free Mike from the unfair burden. Having to defend himself against unwarranted charges while paying an attorney large sums of money is simply wrong.

Why is the governor’s organization exempt from the law?

Bob Mhoon

Arlington, TX

 

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When comparing the exorbitant fines meted out by the State Board of Dentistry and the State Board of Medical Examiners with the manner in which the Louisiana Supreme Court disciplines wayward attorneys, one comes away wondering if there are two sets of standards of justice in Louisiana—one for attorneys and another for everyone else.

For that matter, it sometimes seems as though there are two standards for attorneys—or at least a good argument for glaring inconsistencies.

Take, for example, the cases of Arthur Gilmore, Jr. of Monroe and E. Eric Guirard of Baton Rouge.

Gilmore, a former Monroe city council member, was convicted of violations of the federal Racketeering and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act in 2013 and subsequently served a 24-month prison sentence in South Dakota. A co-defendant, fellow council member Robert “Red” Stevens pleaded guilty in May 2013 to accepting cash bribe payments and was sentenced to 20 months in prison.

The sentence was below sentencing guidelines. The presiding judge wrote that the government’s main witness “engaged in an ongoing program of planned enticement to provoke (Gilmore) into agreeing to bribes in exchange for perceived favors from his position with the Monroe City Council. Because of that, the guidelines, in my opinion, may overstate the relative seriousness of (Gilmore’s) actions and the application of an equitable sentence.”

In other words, because he was tempted to take the bribe, the gravity of the acceptance of same and the violation of his oath of office and the betrayal of the trust bestowed upon him by voters is somehow mitigated.

The two were accused of accepting bribe payments from an FBI informant in exchange for their assistance with matters pending before the city council in 2008 and 2009.

The Louisiana Supreme Court finally got around to DISBARRING Gilmore in 2016—three years after his conviction. The disbarment was made retroactive to 2013.

Though Gilmore expressed remorse for his actions, the Louisiana Attorney Disciplinary Board found that permanent disbarment was the appropriate action.

But “permanent” is a somewhat relative term, it seems.

Last month Gilmore petitioned the Supreme Court for readmission to the practice of law and “permanent” became temporary when the court’s disciplinary board recommended that he be readmitted to practice, subject to a three-year probationary period.

The Office of Disciplinary Council (ODC) objected to his readmission and three board members dissented, recommended that readmission be denied.

The objection and dissensions notwithstanding, the hearing committee approved Gilmore’s immediate READMISSION to practice law.

Justice Scott J. Crichton wrote in his dissent that Gilmore, “as an official elected government official, committed a serious felony crime involving racketeering and extracting bribes. In my view, he has not proven in his application for readmission that he has the requisite honesty and integrity to practice law, and I would deny readmission.”

GUIRARD received the same punishment in 2009 for what would appear to most to be a far less serious infraction—paying bonuses to non-lawyer case managers employed by his firm to help settle cases, a practice he discontinued five years before his disbarment.

The Supreme Court ruled that by paying two case workers to settle nearly 500 cases, Guirard “harmed their clients” by depriving them of individualized and professional case analysis while somehow overlooking larger firms who seemed to operate on an assembly-line basis—trying to sign up as many clients as possible as quickly as possible.

“We recognize a dishonest or selfish motive, a pattern of misconduct…in the practice of law,” the court wrote in its unanimous opinion.

Six years after he was disbarred, in March 2015, a year before Gilmore’s disbarment, Guirard was READMITTED to the bar.

Identical punishment for a far less egregious transgression.

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Old habits die hard, especially when those old habits involve potentially criminal acts carried out under the guise of regulation of licensees whom you regulate and routinely browbeat into submission with massive fines for minor infractions—or even no infractions at all.

But those behind the Louisiana State Board of Dentistry’s unique brand of justice that involved having a single employee serve as accuser, prosecutor and judge have taken their actions to a new level that now encompasses the practices of reprisals against whistleblowers, witness tampering, and cyber stalking—all of which, by the way are felonies.

Here are links to just a few of the stories LouisianaVoice has done on the board in the past:

BOARD HARASSES DOC WHO NEVER TOUCHED A TOOTH

APPEAL COURT SLAMS LSDB TACTIC

WHISTLEBLOWER RUINED IN EFFORT TO PROTECT LSU DENTISTRY SCHOOL IN LAWSUIT

And one LouisianaVoice did not write:

TRIAL TO DECIDE IF BOARD CONSPIRED AGAINST DENTIST

There were many more stories on the board, but you get the drift. Basically, it was a board comprised of out-of-control executives, investigators and members who flexed their collective muscle to drive out competition.

In Haygood’s case, he was convinced that a direct competitor, Dr. Ross Dies, had conspired with board members to manufacture complaints against him. And the cooperative board did just that, coming up with eight violations and imposing fines of more than $173,000. Haygood moved out of state and filed suit against Dies, the board and its investigators, a couple of them, ironically enough, unlicensed investigators.

That Haygood decided to fight back must have come as quite a surprise to the board which had always bullied into submission dentists terrified of not only hefty fines, but the very real threat of license revocation.

Because the board had employed unlicensed investigators to pursue Haygood, the board negotiated a consent agreement whereby he paid substantially lower fines ($16,500) and was reinstated.

Part of the consent agreement also stipulated that Haygood, “other than presenting evidence, claims, and testimony,” he would refrain from publishing or making “any disparaging or critical remarks verbally or in writing about the board or any of the board parties.”

Well, on April 4, 2018, Haygood did just that. He gave his testimony before the Senate Commerce Committee in connection with Senate Bill 260 which dealt with…disciplinary hearings by professional and occupational licensing boards and commissions.

Also testifying before the committee were Dr. Randall Wilk, a doctor who holds a dental license but who has never touched a tooth (as more fully described in the first link above) who found himself in the board’s crosshairs, and Diana Chenevert, a former employee of the Dental Board.

Wilk was called in to a board meeting and told to pay a $5,000 fine and sign a consent decree over a false charge of his possessing no anesthesia permit or a certificate in oral surgery. Wilk refused to sign the consent decree without his attorney first reviewing the document. The board members left the room and returned with an adding machine “and told me that if I did not sign the document right then and there, that they could levy fines of over $100,000. This was a pure and simple shakedown,” Wilk said.

Board investigator Camp Morrison, who since has lost his own license as a private investigator, would show up at Wilk’s operation waiting room handing out business cards to his patients and advising them that he was the Dental Board’s investigator and that he was conducting an investigation of Dr. Wilk—even Wilk was not even a practicing dentist.

As an illustration how the board routinely extorted fines from dentists while giving them no opportunity to defend themselves, go to this LINK.

Chenevert, Haygood says, “witnessed unethical and potentially illegal informal hearing and consent decree methods, observed board members filing and directing penalties against dentists practicing in their own areas, illegal investigations and the destruction of documents.

The board’s reaction was immediate.

New complaints have now been filed against both Wilk and Haygood because of their “disparaging remarks” about the board in their Senate testimony. All three have been subjected to “additional threatening, intimidating, extortive, and retaliatory behaviors, including but not limited to: close surveillance and repetitive, unrelenting, and harassing text messages,” according to Haygood’s petition.

The board came after Wilk the very week after his Senate testimony, renewing the same charge of his lacking an anesthesia permit from the board which, to reiterate, is not required since he does not practice dentistry. The timing of the renewed charges cannot be written off as coincidence.

But the worst of those are the text messages directed at Chenevert. Whoever the despicable, disgusting, cowardly sleazebag is (and have a pretty good idea who it is), he is conducting his cyber stalking anonymously—and well he should, because what he’s doing could quite easily land him in jail. And I am fully aware that a news story should not editorialize, but this person is a special kind of lowlife, so I’ll exercise my option to call it the way I see it.

LouisianaVoice has copies of the texts, but they will not be published. But suffice it to say, besides offering her a cushy job in exchange for her recanting her testimony, the messages are explicit, vulgar, and more than a little suggestive—all designed to rattle her and intimidate her into recanting her testimony. The latest was received Monday morning (Feb. 18, 2019). I’m pretty sure the perpetrator gets his jollies writing them.

These latest actions by and on behalf of the board go way beyond the bounds of decency and are way beneath the mission of a public board appointed by the governor of Louisiana. Perhaps Gov. Edwards should just remove every single member, as well as the executive director, and start over because it’s quite clear that the board and its representatives, official or unofficial, are out of control.

State Sens. Fred Mills, Chairman of the Committee on Health and Welfare, and Danny Martiny, Chairman of the Committee on Commerce let their feelings about the board’s latest reprisals be known in a December 17, 2018 LETTER.

In their letter, Martiny (R-Metairie) and Mills (R-New Iberia) expressed their “profound disapproval of not only including a non-disparagement clause in a consent decree with a licensed dentist, but invoking that clause as a result of providing legislative committee testimony. We consider this a gross abuse of power as there is no compelling state interest in restricting the speech of a licensee simply because you find his comments derogatory to the board.”

The letter reminded the board that it was “created by legislature to protect the public,” adding that there was “absolutely nothing in this action by the board that has any semblance of public protection. Rather, it appears to be an unacceptable strong-arming of a government body for self-serving and retaliatory means.”

Board President Dr. Jerome Smith responded with his own LETTER on December 20 in an attempt to justify its latest attack against Haygood but ended by saying that “the charges pending against this dentist have been hereby dismissed since our 2018 board president has decided to turn this matter over to me.”

Amazing what getting a letter from a couple of pissed-off legislators can do.

But Haygood’s attorney Jerald Harper of Shreveport isn’t quite ready to let the matter drop so easily. His client, as well as Dr. Wilk and Ms. Chenevert have been subjected to harassment and Wilk and Chenevert, as pointed out, continue to feel pressure from the board.

In a February 13 letter to the two senators, HARPER pointed out that the “systematic, punitive” actions of the board were the result of testimony from the three. He said there “have been clearly extraordinary and plainly criminal efforts to exact a retraction from Ms. Diana Chenevert. These actions are continuing as of the date of this communication. I hope you share my concerns about protecting witnesses who voluntarily appear before the Louisiana Legislature to share their views, expertise and experience in order to permit it to properly exercise its oversight functions.”

Harper also took issue with Dr. Smith’s letter, saying he provided “false or misleading information on nearly every point provided in that letter, adding that while Dr. Smith claimed that the complaint against Dr. Haygood will be dismissed, the board “has provided no notice of this dismissal to Dr. Haygood as of this writing.”

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Just the good ol’ boys
Never meanin’ no harm
Beats all you never saw
Been in trouble with the law
Since the day they was born

                                  —Theme from The Dukes of Hazzard by Waylon Jennings

The recent actions of State Rep. STEVE PYLANT (R-Winnsboro) most probably were not the intended consequences of the CRIMINAL JUSTICE REFORMS passed by the Louisiana Legislature in 2017.

Pylant represents House District 20 which includes all or parts of the parishes of Caldwell, Catahoula, LaSalle, Tensas and Franklin.

In 2013, Pylant was one of only two members to vote against a bill to give special consideration to veterans of the armed forces who are arrested or convicted of a crime: “I support veterans 110 percent,” he sniffed at the time, “but when someone violates the law, we should be fair and impartial, no matter who they are. Everyone has problems … I don’t think it’s fair to be more lenient on some than others because of their military background.”

He currently serves a vice chair of the House Committee on the Administration of Criminal Justice and in 2015, he voted against reducing the penalties for the possession of marijuana.

The following year—and again in 2017—he voted against Senate Bill 180 (Act 343) which provided exemptions from prosecution for anyone lawfully possessing medical marijuana.

In 2017, he voted in favor of Senate Bill 70 (Act 108) that make misbranding or adulteration of drugs under certain circumstances a felony.

He also supported drug testing of welfare recipients and the right of concealed carry in restaurants that sell alcoholic beverages;

That seems about right for the man who, before entered the Louisiana Legislature in 2012, served for 16 years (1996-2012) as the high sheriff of Franklin Parish.

So, with all those law and order credentials, how did it come to be that Rep. (formerly Sheriff) Pylant would come galloping in on his white horse to secure a property bond of $90,000 to spring four convicted felons from jail in Catahoula Parish in December 2018?

Perhaps they weren’t members of the military, thus earning them greater consideration for leniency.

Or perhaps one of those arrested is the brother of a member of the Franklin Parish Sheriff’s Office and the judge, a tad more adherent to the law than those seeking to exert political influence, noted that he could not grant bail to one and not the others.

All or none, in other words, so Rep. Pylant obligingly ponied up the $90,000 property bond for all four defendants, each of whom had prior drug convictions as well as other assorted convictions spread among them.

The four were said to have been hunting on private property in Tensas Parish and were originally booked on promises to appear in Catahoula court on bonds of $5,000 each as set by Judge John Reeves. But Seventh Judicial District Attorney Brad Burget said when he reviewed the clerk’s file that showed the four were all convicted felons, he determined that “an appropriate bond” had not been set.

Booked on Dec. 8 were Jamie Dewayne Roberts, 45, Michael S. Linder, 49, and Trampas Barton, 43, all of Wisner, and Steve Drane, 50, of Gilbert.

Roberts, at the time of the arrests, was armed with a CVA Elite Stalker 35 Whelen rifle and in addition, had a concealed .22 magnum North American Arms revolver in his front pocket. Barton had a Model 7400 Remington 30.06 rifle. Linder had in his possession of CVA Elite Stalker 35 Whelen rifle, and Drane had a Browning A bold 325 WSM rifle.

Convicted felons are prohibited by law from possessing firearms.

Catahoula Parish Sheriff Toney Edwards said that after the four were booked, he received a call from Bryan Linder who asked that his brother, Michael Linder, be released on a PTA—promise to appear in court.

Bryan Linder works for the Franklin Parish Sheriff’s Office, the office once headed by Rep. Pylant, so it’s pretty easy to connect the dots on how things went down from that point.

But, for the moment, let us examine those felony conviction records of the four.

  • Jamie Dewayne Roberts: possession of methamphetamine in 2010; theft of anhydrous ammonia (used in the manufacture of methamphetamine, or meth) in 2016, an indication he didn’t learn much from his first conviction.
  • Trampas Barton: Distribution of methamphetamine in 2016, five additional convictions for burglaries and two more for drugs.
  • Michael S. Linder: Manufacture of methamphetamines.
  • Steve Drane: Manufacturing meth and on parole until 2021.

At least they weren’t involved in the possession or distribution of marijuana. That’s something Pylant, as your basic law and order representative, just couldn’t abide.

So thank your lucky stars you’ve got protection
Walk the line and never mind the cost
And don’t wonder who them lawmen was protecting
When they nailed the savior to the cross

                            —The Law is for Protection of the People, Kris Kristofferson

 

 

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Rampant drug deals, police officers taking McDonald’s lunches to the police chief’s son at school, a fundraiser that reportedly raised $50,000 for a wounded officer which he never received, and termination of a department officer who only tried to do his job.

Just another day at the Jennings Police Department.

But every now and then, the good guys win one.

Christopher Lehman, a retired Navy veteran and a resident of Jennings, has reached a confidential SETTLEMENT believed to be in the six-figure settlement range with the City of Jennings and its former Police Chief for wrongful termination.

Lehman, who also is a retired federal government civilian employee, joined the Jennings Police Department in June 2013 as a community services coordinator after having reported suspicious activity on his street beginning back in 2011.

His duties with the Jennings PD included overseeing the city’s Neighborhood Watch program.

And his troubles began when he started watching his own neighborhood as a representative of JPD.

And someone didn’t like it so, in December 2015, he was suspended.

Generally, law enforcement officials are quick to tell you, “If you see something, say something.”

But it appears others don’t want people rocking the boat or airing the city’s dirty laundry, i.e. the proliferation of illegal—and unrestrained—drug activity. In short, upstaging the local police chief. And saying something can sometimes get you fired.

Remember: Jennings is in Jefferson Davis Parish and Jefferson Davis Parish is where the murders of eight prostitutes between 2005 and 2009 remains unsolved to this day. The victims were said to have been heavily involved in the area’s drug culture, the issue that was—and remains—at the center of Lehman’s termination.

Lehman, you see, took his duties seriously and when he began reporting suspected drug trafficking on Isabelle Street, his days as a member of the Jennings Police Department were numbered.

It just so happens that Lehman resides on Isabelle Street, so he had an up-close look at the activity on the dead-end street. Some days, as many as 100 vehicles made their way to the end of the street where a couple resided in a dilapidated mobile home that, it would turn out, was in violation of a number of local building codes.

None of the cars turning into the driveway of the trailer stayed more than a few minutes and when a suspicious Lehman installed a high-tech surveillance camera to record the comings and goings, his career at Jennings PD went south in a hurry.

Add to that atmosphere the fact that then-Police Chief Todd D’Albor, who referred to Lehman as his department’s “token nigger,” according to the sworn CLAUDE GUILLORY AFFIDAVIT, a 27-year veteran of the Jennings PD, and you have a department with internal problems.

Former officer Debbie Breaux testified in her SWORN DEPOSITION, that D’Albor would make her shuttle his son to and from school and to take his lunch to him at school each day. She also would take the city mower to the chief’s home so he could cut his grass (at least he didn’t have her perform that chore).

“I knew it was all wrong and I shouldn’t have been doing it,” she said in her deposition of Oct. 29, 2018, “but what was I supposed to do? He was the chief, he told me to do it. I have no protection. I’m not civil service. He could have fired me on the spot.”

And then there is the case of officer RICKY BENOIT, shot in the neck while responding to a domestic disturbance call in 2014..

Chief D’Albor spearheaded a skeet shoot and silent auction on Benoit’s behalf and reportedly raised about $50,000.

Problem is, Benoit says he never received a penny of the benefit money.

But it was the deposition of Jennings officer CHRIS WALLACE that proved to be really eye-opening. His testimony, along with that of Debbie Breaux and the affidavits of Guillory and Priscilla Goodwin, most probably convinced the city to settle Lehman’s case before it got to an open courtroom. It was Goodwin who revealed that D’Albor’s attitude toward Lehman changed after complaints that he was photographing vehicles on his street he suspected of being involved in drug dealings in the trailer at the end of the street.

Negotiated settlements in the conference room of a law office, after all, can keep a lot of embarrassing testimony from the public’s eyes and ears.

And a confidential settlement, as this was, helps keep the lid on the actual amount of the settlement and keeps any admission of fault out of the official record, as well.

Which is precisely why we’re seeing more and more confidential settlements of lawsuits that should be very public. It is, after all, public money that is being negotiated in these settlements and the public has a right to have every cent accounted for.

Instead, realizing it was about to get burned severely, both financially and in a public relations sense, the city decided to capitulate—as it should—with a confidential settlement—as it should not.

And the settlement amount does not even include the thousands and thousands of dollars spent on Douget Court Reporters for no fewer than 10 sworn depositions, attorney fees for Baton Rouge attorney Erlingson Banks, representing the city, as well as the cost of numerous court filings—all because D’Albor, who displayed a sign on his desk that read, “I am the alpha male—I am the Lion,” told Guillory when Lehman persisted in trying to expose suspected drug deals on his street, “I’m getting rid of our token nigger.”

D’Albor is no longer heading up the Jennings Police Department. He is now Police Chief of New Iberia, a city with its own law-enforcement problems, thanks in no small part to Iberia Parish Sheriff Louis Ackal.

Meanwhile, the drug deals continue, the murders of the Jeff Davis 8 remains unsolved, and the benefit money raised for officer Benoit remains unaccounted for.

And the circle just keeps going ‘round.

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