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Archive for the ‘Crime’ Category

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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On March 27, 1998, barely two years after receiving his cadet appointment to the State Police Academy, Ben Johnson was terminated by State Police Superintendent Col. W.R. “Rut” Whittinton following a long string of disciplinary actions for infractions, including his off-duty altercation with a sheriff’s deputy over a woman Johnson was dating.

He next landed at the Veterans Administration Hospital in Pineville as a police officer.

In March 2009, a WARRANT was executed for his ARREST for attempted forcible rape of a woman in Natchitoches. Here is a page from the POLICE REPORT.

And while he was stripped of his position as police officer for the VA, he still is employed there—in the Human Relations Department where he supposedly has access to employee personnel records, including home addresses and telephone numbers.

In October, the attempted forcible rape, a felony charge, was reduced to a misdemeanor by then-10th Judicial District Attorney Van H. Kyzar. Kyzar is now a JUDGE on Louisiana’s Third Circuit Court of Appeal.

On November 13, 2009, Johnson SIGNED OFF off on an agreement that the charges would be dismissed upon the satisfactory completion of a pre-trial intervention program. (emphasis added.)

Several district attorneys’ offices were consulted and each one that responded said its policy is that those with felony charges are ineligible for pre-trial intervention programs. Click HERE to see the policies of one of those offices.

Of course, having a policy and adhering to that policy may well be two different propositions for some jurisdictions where favors are routinely awarded to friends of or contributors to the local power structure.

The pre-trial intervention (PTI) program must have been fast-tracked like no other in the history of PTIs, because he apparently managed to complete the crash course that same day. According to a DISMISSAL letter from district attorney investigator Danny C. Hall to to Barbara Watkins of the Veterans Medical Center in Pineville, charges against Johnson were dismissed that same day. Hall is no longer employed by the Natchitoches DA’s office.

One former district attorney said it was unheard of to dismiss charges on the same day an individual was assigned to a PTI, especially when the dismissal was contingent upon completion of the program. Moreover, he said, there was no way anyone could have completed such a program in a single day. “The person would have to know somebody,” he said.

A sitting judge said much the same thing. “He knew someone. It usually takes six months or longer for a case to be dismissed that way,” he said. At the same time, he said the district attorney could have seen it as a weak case, particularly in light of the fact the victim waited several days to report the incident. (The victim told police she was “embarrassed and ashamed,” and initially “just wanted to forget about the entire day” but her best friend convinced her to talk to police.)

An undated document signed by Johnson ACKNOWLEDGED that he had been arrested and charged “with the crime of attempted forcible rape, a felony,” that I freely admit my guilt and misconduct” and that the PTI program was established “to divert me from further criminal conduct.” (emphasis added.)

The victim told police that at one point prior their struggle, he told her she was safe with him because he was a POLICE OFFICER.

Johnson was first hired by Louisiana State Police on December 3, 1995 but by March 27, 1998, he was terminated because of repeated disciplinary problems.

Beginning in July 1996, barely seven months into the job, and virtually every month thereafter until his termination, he was reprimanded by his superiors for such things as:

  • Failure to be in his assigned parish for patrol;
  • Altering accident reports with white correction fluid;
  • Sloppy and error-plagued paperwork and accident reports, including incorrect dates, incorrect mileposts and even incorrect parishes and incorrect judicial districts;
  • Unauthorized attendance at a Northwestern State University football game in uniform while off-duty;
  • Altercations with fellow state troopers;
  • Rude treatment of females stopped for traffic violations;
  • Logging incorrect dates he worked on his time sheets;
  • Losing citations that he had written;
  • Allowing his patrol unit to run out of gas and then attempting to claim mechanical problems;
  • Losing his State Police badge and badge/identification card holder;
  • Failure to search and handcuff a prisoner later found to be in possession of a pocket knife;
  • Possession of radar equipment in his patrol car that had been missing and which caused considerable concern in efforts to locate the equipment.
  • Patrolling in the city limits of Alexandria and Pineville against troop regulations;
  • Calling in traffic stops before violations actually occurred;
  • Inability to locate accident he was directed to even though both vehicles were in the roadway;
  • Untimely submission of paperwork;
  • A five-day suspension for leaving his assigned parish to travel nearly 20 miles off his assigned route.
  • On April 27, 1997, barely four months after his designation as a State Police Trooper, he became embroiled in a confrontation with a Rapides Parish sheriff’s deputy after the deputy allegedly made disparaging remarks about him to a woman Johnson was dating. Johnson appeared at England Air Park where the deputy was assigned while off duty but in his state police vehicle and threatened the deputy with physical harm.

Normally, a State Trooper who resigns in lieu of dismissal can land a job with another law enforcement agency. But Johnson did not resign, he was fired, which makes it difficult to understand how he wound up as a police officer for the VA unless the VA did a rather slipshod of vetting his qualifications—or, a more likely bet, he had connections there.

And it’s equally difficult to understand how he retained his employment, his demotion notwithstanding, after such a serious offense as attempted forcible rape.

Even more baffling is why such a serious felony charge was reduced to a misdemeanor and then how did he manage the “satisfactory completion” of a pre-trial intervention on the same day he was assigned to the program, allowing the charges go away instantly?

 

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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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The hits just keep coming.

Another victory in a public records lawsuit—sort of—while a state tax official goes and gets himself arrested for payroll fraud, and three members of the Louisiana State Police Commission (them again?) find themselves on the hotseat for apparent violations of state regulations that already cost some of their predecessors their positions.

All in a day’s work in Louisiana where the sanctimonious, the corrupt, the unethical, and the unbelievable seem to co-mingle with a certain ease and smugness.

The Lens, an outstanding non-profit news service out of New Orleans, has just won an important fifth with the Orleans Parish District Attorney when the Louisiana Supreme Court DENIED WRITS by the district attorney’s office in its attempt to protect records of fake subpoenas from the publication.

The Fourth Circuit Court of Appeal in October had AFFIRMED a November 2017 ruling by Orleans Civil District Court which had ordered the DA to turned over certain files pursuant to a public records request dating back to April 2017.

As in other cases reported by LouisianaVoice, the court, while awarding attorney fees to The Lens, stopped short of finding that the DA’s denial of records was “arbitrary and capricious,” meaning the DA’s office would not be fined the $100 per day allowed by law for non-compliance with the state Public Records Act.

And because the district attorney was not held personally liable for non-compliance, he will not have to pay the attorney’s fees either; that will be paid by the good citizens of New Orleans.

And, in all probability, the next time the DA’s office or any other public official in New Orleans decides to withhold public records from disclosure, he or she will also skate insofar as any personal liability is concerned with taxpayers picking up the costs.

Until such times as judges come down hard on violations of public records and public meeting laws, officials will have no incentive to comply if there is something for them to conceal.

The records requests were the result of the practice by the DA of issuing FAKE SUBPOENAS (and this preceded Trump’s so-called “fake news”) to force reluctant witnesses to speak with prosecutors—a practice not unlike those bogus phone messages from the IRS that threaten us with jail if we don’t send thousands of dollars immediately.

The New Orleans Times-Picayune described the practice as an “UNDERHANDED TRICK.”

Meanwhile, former Livingston Parish Tax Assessor and more recently Louisiana Tax Commission administrator CHARLES ABELS has been arrested on charges of payroll fraud, improper use of a state rental vehicle and for submitting unauthorized fuel reimbursement requests for the vehicle.

Abels was elected Livingston Parish assessor, an office held up until that time by his grandfather, with 51 percent of the vote in 1995. He served only one term, however, being defeated by current assessor Jeff Taylor in 1999.

In 2002, he was hired as a staff appraiser by the Louisiana Tax Commission. He said at the time that he was a recovering alcoholic who was trying to turn his life around. He was promoted to administrator of the commission during the tenure of Gov. Bobby Jindal.

He was arrested last march on a domestic violence charge but the case was never prosecuted.

One LouisianaVoice reader, a longtime critic of the Louisiana Tax Commission, said Abel’s arrest came as no surprise and that the entire agency is long overdue a housecleaning. “Let’s hope that the State of Louisiana doesn’t wind up on the hook financially for any misdeeds,” he said.

And then there is the Louisiana State Police Commission (LSPC) which just won’t go away.

Almost three years ago, two members became the second and third to RESIGN after reports that they had contributed to political campaigns in violation of the Louisiana State Constitution.

So, you’d think their successors would’ve learned from their indiscretions, right?

Nah. This is Louisiana, where prior actions are ignored if inconvenient and duplicated if beneficial.

But then again, this is the LSPC that paid Natchitoches attorney Taylor Townsend $75,000 to not issue a report on a non-investigation into political contributions by the Louisiana State Police Association (LSTA), contributions that were not paid directly to candidates (including John Bel Edwards and Bobby Jindal), but funneled instead through the personal bank account of LSTA Executive Director David Young so as to conceal the real source of funds.

And now, we have three of the commission members who combined to contribute more than $5,000 to political campaigns during their terms on the LSPC), either personally or through their businesses.

Whether the contributions were justified as having be made by a business (as claimed by State Rep. Mark Wright, R-Covington) or whether the money was contributed to a political action committee as opposed to an individual candidate appears to make no difference; they are all strictly prohibited under state law.

Despite his earlier obfuscation on the issue, Townsend did provide some clarity on the legality of political activity. Quoting from the Louisiana State Constitution, Townsend said, “Members of the State Police Commission and state police officers are expressly prohibited from engaging in political activity. More specifically, Section 47 provides that ‘No member of the commission and no state police officer in the classified service shall participate or engage in political activity…make or solicit contributions for any political party, faction, or candidate…except to exercise his right as a citizen to express his opinion privately…and to cast his vote as he desires.’”

But the real kicker came from a headline in the Baton Rouge Advocate, which proclaimed, “Three State Police commissioners under probe for possible unlawful political donations.”

Buried in that STORY was a paragraph which said LSPC Chairman Eulis Simien, Jr.” tasked the commission’s Executive Director Jason Hannaman to conduct an investigation into the allegations and report back with the findings. Hannaman, a civilian administrator for the board, said Thursday he hoped to complete the report by next month’s meeting.”

Oh, great. An in-house investigation. That should do it. Get a subordinate to investigate his bosses. At least Taylor Townsend carried out the appearance of an outside, independent investigation—until he proved by his inaction that it wasn’t.

What are the odds of this being truly independent and candid?

 

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