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Archive for the ‘Crime’ Category

By Ken Booth

Guest Commentator

Employees at the Monroe Veterans’ Home were rushed into recalling a mysterious incident five years ago this month at the Home which has until now remained undisclosed. Two employees were called upon to sign affidavits about the unusual episode that occurred on August 10, 2012. Their affidavits were signed only this Tuesday (Aug. 1).

This, following my public records request issued on August 1 to the Louisiana Department of Veterans Affairs in Baton Rouge for a work order to a West Monroe security firm to remove and replace the hard drive from the Monroe Veterans Home’s security set-up.

Documents from the security firm show the work was requested by Ken Houston, the former Home administrator who abruptly ‘retired’ last week.

The signed employee affidavits stated it was Houston who on that day asked them to “open the door to the telephone room” presumably to allow the security technician access to the hard-drive in question, before shooing the maintenance worker away, telling him he didn’t need help and “I’ll take it from here.”

An invoice detailing the security company’s work issued to the NELA Home indicates it charged a total of $281 for the job, which included $218 for a new hard-drive.

What happened to the hard-drive which was replaced is not known. In fact, none of this was known until last Tuesday when our records request startled employees at the Veterans Home, some of whom had no knowledge themselves this had ever happened.

Why Houston may have wanted that hard-drive removed and replaced is not known. Why this was done outside the knowledge of other Home officials is also unknown.

However, this is not the first time matters which might be considered curious in nature at the Home have been hidden away out of public view.

You may recall that it was in August of just last year that agents from the office of Louisiana Inspector General and auditors from the Office of Legislative Auditor were digging into allegations of alleged mistreatment of Home residents which also, ironically, dated back to 2012.

Those allegations were documented and filed with the Secretary of the Dept. in Baton Rouge but somehow escaped being publicly disclosed until July of last year when an anonymous letter, slipped under the door of Congressman Abraham, triggered action by LDVA Secretary Joey Strickland to investigate why all of those allegations had never seen the light of day.

At the time, James Ken Houston was administrator at the Monroe Veterans Home. Tommy Shoemaker was the assistant administrator.

Amid the renewed probe, Shoemaker was arrested and charged with felony theft of $9000 from a 69-year-old resident of the Home, Roland J. Matheny. Matheny is now deceased. His family is said to be seeking restitution.

Now we know that computer system hard drive was removed and for some reason replaced about a week before Shoemaker and Vets Home accountant Misti Dawn Westbrook both signed a check in the amount of $9000 from the fiduciary account of Mr. Matheny ostensibly to pre-pay for his burial. Those expenses were never paid. The money was deposited into Matheny’s private account at Progressive Bank but on August 6, four days before the hard-drive was replaced, about $2000 was paid to an Orchard Bank credit card account in the name of Thomas W. Shoemaker.

In addition, bank records show a number of ATM cash withdrawals from Matheny’s account totaling about $3200 as well as another $1200 in retail purchases made on Matheny’s ATM card.

We could find no written authorization by Matheny for Shoemaker to make these withdrawals from his Progressive Bank account.

Ken Houston, then administrator, imposed a one pay period reduction in Shoemaker’s salary from $2,076 to $1,453 bi-weekly.

Fast-forward to last week when James Ken Houston abruptly “retired” from his job at the NELA Veterans Home. Ironically, his swift departure announcement came within 24 hours to the very day five years ago Shoemaker and Westbrook signed that $9000 check.

—Ken Booth, now residing in Arizona, is retired from KNOE-TV in Monroe, where he worked for many years as a highly-respected investigative reporter.

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If you ever decide to step out of your routine and launch a search for the poster child for corruption within the Louisiana justice system, you might wish to begin your search in New Orleans.

It will be a short but successful search. Guaranteed.

Without delving too far into Orleans Parish’s sordid history, there was the removal of U.S. District Judge G. THOMAS PORTEOUS JR. by the U.S. Senate in 2010 and four more judges got themselves caught up in the FBI OPERATION WRINKLED ROBE in adjacent Jefferson Parish back in 2003.

Corrupt judges are bad enough but after three straight administration changes, it appears the Orleans Parish District Attorney’s Office still can’t get its act together.

The most egregious was the late Harry Connick, Sr., HARRY CONNICK, SR., who earned a well-deserved national reputation for consistently withhold exculpatory evidence that would have exonerated defendants he sent to Angola for extended prison terms—one of whom spent 18 years on death row before the discovery of withheld evidence finally freed him.

He was followed by the derby-wearing Eddie Jordan, who previously served on the federal prosecuting team that won a conviction of former Gov. Edwin Edwards.

The first hint that things were a bit askew was when Jordan, a black, began handing out pink slips to white employees who saw red and sued in federal court, ultimately winning a major reverse discrimination DECISION in 2005. That, along with a somewhat bizarre story of a robbery suspect who showed up at Jordan’s HOME in October 2007, finally forced him to RESIGN from office only a week later.

Then, on July 14, LouisianaVoice received this otherwise benign press release from Department of Public Safety and Corrections Secretary James M. LeBlanc:

Louisiana Justice Hall of Fame Announces 2017 Honorees

Inductees to be honored today during ceremonies

BATON ROUGE, La. –  Louisiana Department of Public Safety and Corrections Secretary James M. Le Blanc, Louisiana State Penitentiary Warden Darrell Vannoy, and the Louisiana State Penitentiary Museum Foundation are proud to announce the following highly distinguished individuals as 2017 inductees to the Louisiana Justice Hall of Fame:

  • The Honorable Dennis R. Bagneris, Sr., 4th Circuit Court of Appeals Judge, Retired, New Orleans
  • The Honorable Leon A. Cannizzaro, Jr., District Attorney, New Orleans
  • The Honorable Jimmy N Dimos, 4th Judicial District Judge, Retired, Monroe
  • Sheriff Marlin N. Gusman, Orleans Parish Sheriff’s Office
  • Major General Bennett C. Landreneau, Retired, Alexandria
  • The Honorable Marc H. Morial, President & CEO of The National Urban League
  • Sheriff Newell Norman, Jefferson Parish Sheriff’s Office
  • Rabbi Arnold S. Task, Alexandria

The new inductees will be honored and inducted into the Hall of Fame today during ceremonies at the Louisiana State Penitentiary Museum and at LSU’s Lod Cook Alumni Center. The Louisiana State Penitentiary Museum is proud home to the Louisiana Justice Hall of Fame.

Okay, what’s wrong with that, you ask?

Not much except that the Southern Poverty Law Center has just filed a 61-page official COMPLAINT against Cannizzaro with the Louisiana Office of Disciplinary Counsel in Baton Rouge following an excellent series of investigative stories in The Lens, a non-profit New Orleans watchdog online news service.

The basis for the complaint—and of The Lens stories—was the routine issuance of non-legal subpoenas intended to intimidate subjects to report to the district attorney’s office to answer questions by prosecutors. Those subpoenaed were not necessarily suspected of any wrongdoing.

The fake subpoenas were not signed by a judge, a requirement under law to make the subpoena legal and enforceable. Instead, they were issued as ploys to intimidate those served into coming into the DA’s office.

http://thelensnola.org/2017/04/28/woman-who-got-fake-subpoena-from-orleans-parish-da-said-she-was-told-she-could-be-jailed-if-she-ignored-it/

http://thelensnola.org/2017/06/14/new-orleans-prosecutor-used-fake-subpoena-to-seek-arrest-warrant-for-victim-of-alleged-domestic-violence/

http://thelensnola.org/2017/05/03/will-prosecutors-who-sent-fake-subpoenas-face-any-consequences/

http://thelensnola.org/2017/05/05/da-we-cant-say-how-often-fake-subpoenas-are-used-and-its-too-hard-to-look/

http://thelensnola.org/2017/05/12/orleans-parish-da-sued-over-refusal-to-turn-over-witness-subpoenas-real-and-fake/

http://thelensnola.org/2017/05/15/the-lens-is-suing-orleans-parish-da-leon-cannizzaro-to-force-him-to-turn-over-fake-subpoenas/

http://thelensnola.org/2017/05/19/notices-sent-to-witnesses-on-north-shore-werent-called-subpoenas-but-they-looked-real-enough/

http://thelensnola.org/2017/06/14/new-orleans-prosecutor-used-fake-subpoena-to-seek-arrest-warrant-for-victim-of-alleged-domestic-violence/

http://thelensnola.org/2017/05/22/defense-attorney-asks-judge-to-force-orleans-parish-district-attorney-to-disclose-whether-it-used-fake-subpoenas-in-home-invasion-case/

On July 11, an Orleans Parish JUDGE ordered the DA’s office to provide the ACLU complete records related to its use of fake subpoenas.

But apparently, the practice has bled over into adjacent JEFFERSON PARISH, where fake subpoenas are also reportedly being issued.

So while Donald Stumped and his shrinking army of unquestioning loyalists fret and fume over so-called fake news, there is the very real issue of fake subpoenas being used by those charged with upholding the Constitution of the United States to trample on the rights of its citizens.

Leon Cannizzaro attended and graduated from law school. We know that because you must be a licensed attorney to be a district attorney.

By virtue of that law degree (a juris doctorate, we assume), he is fully aware that a subpoena, to be legal, must be issued by a court, i.e., signed by a judge.

He also must be aware that the actions of his office, for which he must take full responsibility, were blatantly illegal, unconstitutional, unethical and immoral—and that the practice casts a long shadow of doubt as to the credibility and legal ethics of yet another Orleans Parish district attorney.

Unless, of course, he was absent on subpoena and/or legal ethics days.

The Southern Poverty Law Center said it best in its complaint in such a succinct manner that it bears repeating:

  • Subpoenas are, by definition, orders issued by a court.
  • By law, district attorneys may only seek to have subpoenas issued with court authorization.
  • The Orleans Parish District Attorney’s Office routinely lied about individuals’ obligation to speak to district attorneys and the penalties for failing to do so.
  • The District Attorney’s Office now acknowledges ethical violations but continues to resist transparency and the voluntarily (sic) regulation of this practice.

The bogus subpoenas carry a bold-face notice that says, “A fine and imprisonment may be imposed for failure to obey this notice.”

We can’t help but wonder what the penalty for badgering, intimidation, misrepresentation, and lying by an officer of the court might be.

But congratulations for that Justice Hall of Fame thingy.

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More proof that when leaders are unhappy with the message, they shoot the messenger as the obvious solution:

“I hear the State Fire Marshal’s office may be going to terminate several employees (this) week based on their (the employees) not being loyal to the agency and (State Fire Marshal Butch) Browning. There is actually a DPS (Department of Public Safety and Corrections) rule that says you have to be loyal.”

That’s the message LouisianaVoice received from one of its sources over the weekend.

If true, it gives credence to the expression that no good deed goes unpunished.

The overall administrative mood at the Louisiana Office of State Fire Marshal (LOSFM) has been more than a little surly since our initial STORY last week about unqualified personnel being forced to investigate possible arson cases.

With already interviews with a half-dozen sources under our belt, other sources began coming forward with claims of shortcomings in the INVESTIGATION of a fatal fire scene in St. Tammany Parish.

Also called into question was the investigation of several nursing fires in Simmesport and the arrest of an employee, who was not even at work during all but one of the fires, on some 75 counts, including cruelty to the infirm and attempted murder. An Avoyelles Parish grand jury is scheduled to investigate that case beginning on Thursday.

LouisianaVoice has since been asked to look into the circumstances of yet another Avoyelles Parish CASE in which a local firefighter was arrested in connection with the death of his wife of 10 months in a house fire. His trial is next month.

LOSFM administrators took immediate action to confront the problems with the St. Tammany and Simmesport cases by calling in employees from the field and grilling them about whether they had talked to LouisianaVoice. Among the tactics employed in improving investigative methods were threats of polygraph tests and further interrogation.

And now there are those pesky loyalty issues which appear to have placed employees’ jobs in jeopardy.

Apparently, it’s the DPS Trump card, if you’ll forgive a bad pun.

But when the so-called “loyalty rule” is invoked, it’s important to ask: to whom is this “loyalty” due?

We have not seen the rule requiring loyalty but it would be assumed that it was intended to require loyalty to the agency, DPS, and to the principles to which it espouses—namely justice administered on a fair, equitable, and impartial basis.

If that’s the case, it would seem a pretty steep hill to climb to prove disloyalty on any employee.

But if it’s loyalty to the guys in the corner offices, namely Browning, Fire Chief Brant Thompson and other top brass (whether laden with unwarranted military medals or simply blessed with protectors in high places), that’s another story.

We’ve heard the stories of LOSFM employees being reassigned to remote districts or being forced into resignations after revealing problems to management, it’s difficult to see how leadership at LOSFM warrants loyalty from anyone other than those who literally owe their jobs to Browning—those cronies brought in at higher pay grades than veteran employees.

Loyalty in exchange for political benefaction should not be a requirement of any job in government. That’s the very reason the Department of Civil Service was enacted during the second administration of Jimmie Davis.

Whistleblowers most often come forward reluctantly and after all other avenues of rectification have been exhausted.

But another reason the honchos at LOSFM might want to reconsider any rash decisions to clean house of so-called “disloyal” employees is that terminated employees, now disgruntled (as opposed to gruntled?), might feel free to open up even more to LouisianaVoice and other media outlets.

And that, guys, is the elephant in the room that you seem to be ignoring.

 

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The FBI appears to have taken quite a liking to Amite, the parish seat of Tangipahoa Parish and the home town of Gov. John Bel Edwards.

For the third time in the last seven months, federal agents have come calling, this time armed with subpoenas for many of the town’s elected officials, including the mayor, police chief and most, if not all, of the Amite Town Council members.

Sources told LouisianaVoice the list included Mayor Buddy Bel, Mayor Pro Tem Jonathan Foster, council members Neil Carrier and Rose Sumrall, and Police Chief Jerry Trabona, Independence Town Council member Calvin Baptiste, former Roseland Mayor Louis Ruffino and Amite businessman Tom Ed Brumfield.

Two independent sources told LouisianaVoice the FBI is investigating allegation of vote buying in the 2015 statewide election in which John Bel Edwards was elected governor and his brother, Daniel, was re-elected sheriff.

Unconfirmed reports said a judge and an attorney are also under investigation for their alleged participation in the vote-buying.

While it may not be the specific voter fraud that Donald Trump has been alleging—his election was a year later and he claimed illegal voters, not vote-buying—but it has attracted the attention of federal investigators who were said to be looking into claims of widespread distributions of cash for votes on election day.

There was no word on which candidates the cash was supposed to help.

One of those served with a subpoena, Baptiste, is an employee of the sheriff’s office and a member of the Independence Town Council. He was earlier embroiled in allegations of VOTE BUYING lodged by local businessman Larry Holland.

It was unclear what role those issued subpoenas might have played or what information they may have that brought them to the attention of investigators but the folks in Amite must feel by now that they’re on a first-name basis with federal agents and are exchanging vacation stories.

Last December, about 100 federal agents simultaneously RAIDED the Tangipahoa Parish Sheriff’s Office and the Hammond Police Office in a far-reaching U.S. Justice Department investigation of a joint federal drug task force that also included sheriff’s deputies. Computers, cellphones and case files were seized in those raids.

Three months later, they were back, this time to investigate a fraudulent bail-bond SCHEME involving several sheriff’s department employees.

Fraudulent bail-bond operations are certainly not new to Louisiana and federal authorities successfully PROSECUTED one such scam in New Orleans earlier this year.

LouisianaVoice will monitor the activities of the Amite branch office of the U.S. Justice Department and provide updates as received.

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Little more than a year ago, on February 15, 2016, Louisiana Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) case worker Kimberly Lee of Calhoun in Ouachita Parish was ARRESTED and booked into jail with bond set at $25,000.

Her crime? She was accused of falsifying entries in her case records showing she had made home visits to foster children when she hadn’t. Her agency had undergone massive budget cuts and the cuts, combined with more children entering foster care, meant an impossible caseload. That, in turn, had prompted a Shreveport DCFS supervisor to tell caseworkers that they could make “drive-by” visits to foster homes, which meant talking to the foster parents in their driveways. Policy says that workers will see both the child and the foster parent in the home, interviewing each separately.

On Thursday, the Louisiana State Police Commission (LSPC), showing all the backbone of a jellyfish, accepted an agreement reached between Louisiana State Police (LSP) attorneys and former trooper Ronald Picou’s attorney Jill Craft of Baton Rouge.

That agreement called for LSP to rescind its letter of termination in exchange for Picou’s “resignation” for the same offense as Ms. Lee—except where her time sheet falsification was over a relative short time period, Picou’s went on for years.

And where Ms. Lee’s responsibility called for the oversight of the well-being of foster children (certainly a serious responsibility), Picou’s was for the general safety and protection of Louisiana citizens.

Nor was his caseload overly burdensome. He simply went home and went to bed after only two or three hours on his 12-hour shifts.

Craft, addressing the LSPC as if she were arguing a legal case, complete with the obligatory rhetoric, said her client was making a sacrifice for the benefit of his family and his “brothers in blue,” that he loved working “as a dedicated law enforcement officer for the better part of a decade,” and that a lot of “irresponsible reporting” had been done about Picou.

Funny, but when LouisianaVoice did a story about one of her clients winning a big court case, she never breathed a word about “irresponsible” reporting. Guess it depends on whose ox is being gored, eh counselor?

So, bottom line, Picou was allowed to walk away from his transgressions a free man. Unemployed at least for the time being, but free to accept another job in law enforcement for some city or town—or even another state agency as was the case of one terminated State Trooper who ended up policing for Pinecrest State School in Pineville.

“Irresponsible” are the actions of a man who ran a daytime construction business so he would cut his shift short by eight or nine hours so he could go home and sleep so he would be fresh when he did his day job.

“Irresponsible” are the tacit approvals given his actions by his supervisors at LSP Troop D in Lake Charles—Troop D Commander Capt. Chris Guillory and Picou’s immediate supervisor, Lt. Paul Brady.

“Irresponsible” are the sham investigations conducted first by Guillory and then by LSP Internal Affairs until LouisianaVoice published its “irresponsible” stories—backed up by Picou’s very own radio logs that repeatedly showed no activity after the first few hours of his shift. Only then did LSP conduct any semblance of a real investigation and subsequently gave Picou his walking papers. Of course he appealed his firing, which was the basis of Thursday’s scheduled hearing by LSPC until commissioners were informed of, and asked to approve, the settlement agreement. Commissioners went into executive session all of 12 minutes to discuss the proposed agreement before accepting it unanimously—and without comment.

Asked if the agreement precluded Picou’s ever working again as a police officer for another agency, commission Chairman T.J. Doss said the commission had no authority over that matter. Asked if commissioners, who had the power to accept or reject the agreement, could not have insisted on a clause in the agreement to that effect, member Eulis Simien, an attorney, reiterated the position that the commission had no authority over Picou’s future employment.

But the commission did have the authority to accept or reject the agreement. And while the commission has no enforcement authority, it certainly could have refused to rubber stamp the agreement until that wording was included.

The LSPC has evolved into a running joke with the resignations of five of seven commissioners within the past year and the forced resignation of former Executive Director Cathy Derbonne.

Only last month the commission rejected the appeal—with only member Calvin Braxton voting no—of a State Trooper who provided substantial evidence to back up his claim that he was harassed and ultimately suspended by supervisors in Troop F after he issued a traffic ticket to the teenage driver of a vehicle in which the son of Troop Commander Tommy Lewis was a passenger. For whatever reason, the commission apparently saw no reason to call in witnesses or to take statements from those involved.

The powers that be wanted the trooper punished and that was that.

On Thursday, it was determined that a Trooper who took an oath of office to serve and protect and to uphold the Constitution but who instead committed payroll fraud should be allowed to resign and walk away.

Does the term double standard carry any meaning anymore?

Perhaps it would be irresponsible to ask that.

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