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Archive for the ‘Crime’ Category

There are times when, after you break a major story about official wrongdoing and after the requisite denials by those involved, everything gets quiet and the story seems to have hit a dead end. Or at least been placed in a state of suspended animation.

But generally, if you are willing to be patient and wait long enough, the story gets new life with the surfacing of new information.

So it was a year ago when LouisianaVoice and New Orleans Fox8 News investigative reporter Lee Zurik simultaneously broke a STORY that Troy Hebert, former director of the Office of Louisiana Alcohol and Tobacco Control (and furtive candidate for the U.S. Senate last fall—he got one-half of one percent of the vote), was under investigation by the FBI for:

  • Extorting sex from a New Orleans woman, Sarah Palmer, in exchange for approval of a liquor license for the French Quarter restaurant she managed, and
  • Illegally steered applicants for liquor licenses to attorney Chris Young for representation through Young’s sister, Judy Pontin, executive management officer for the New Orleans ATC office.

Now, thanks to a wrongful termination lawsuit filed against Hebert by a former ATC agent, those same issues have surfaced again.

Documents concerning still another issue, the suppressing of an investigation into a Baton Rouge bar following a 2012 accident involving a patron of the bar who had a blood alcohol content of .307 when he struck and killed two cyclists, killing one and injuring the other.

LouisianaVoice wrote in a February 2016 POST that Hebert wrongfully took control of the investigation and personally exonerated the Bulldog Bar from any wrongdoing. Chris Young was legal counsel for the Bulldog.

The only problem for fired ATC agent Brett Tingle, who filed the lawsuit against Hebert, it’s possible that none of Hebert’s repeatedly invoking the Fifth Amendment in a deposition will be allowed into testimony.

Federal Judge John DeGravelles of Louisiana’s Middle District in Baton Rouge, currently has under advisement Hebert’s motion for protective order filed by attorney Renee Culotta which would, if granted, prohibit Tingle’s attorney, J. Arthur Smith, III, from posing any questions at trial about Hebert’s relationship with Palmer and/or Young.

In Hebert’s deposition taken in December in preparation for trial in the Tingle matter, Hebert repeatedly invoked the Fifth Amendment when Palmer’s name was brought up by Smith, as illustrated by the following exchanges:

  • Smith: “Do you recognize this (redacted) document?”
  • Hebert: “I’m going to exercise my Fifth Amendment right.”
  • Smith: “Do you know a lady by the name of Sara (sic) Palmer?”
  • Hebert: “I’m going to exercise my Fifth Amendment right.”
  • Smith: “Have you engaged in any infidelity during your marriage to Dawn Vick?”
  • Hebert: “I’m going to exercise my Fifth Amendment right.”
  • Smith: “That’s not a Fifth Amendment matter.”
  • Smith” I’m going to show you Exhibit No. 9 (redacted). What is this document, sir?
  • Hebert: I will exercise my Fifth Amendment right.”
  • Smith: “So with respect to Exhibit No. 9, you’re exercising your Fifth Amendment right”
  • Hebert: “I answered the question.”
  • Smith: “I’ll show you (exhibit) No. 10 (redacted). Do you recognize the Exhibit No. 10?”
  • Hebert: “I will exercise my Fifth Amendment right.”

While the exhibits were redacted in Hebert’s Memorandum of Support for obvious reasons, the motion did note that exhibits eight and nine were “documents concerning” Louisiana Oyster House, dba Star Steak and Lobster (the restaurant managed by Palmer), notably a notice of violation and renewal applications. Exhibit 10, Culotta said, “concerned Chris Young documents previously attached to Hebert’s deposition as Exhibit 10-12.”

Interestingly, in his Memorandum in Support of his Motion for Protective Order, Hebert said that while he has not been indicted and there is “no active criminal case” against him… “It is clear Hebert has been under investigation by the FBI, and should he provide answers to these questions, he could face indictment and criminal prosecution.” (Emphasis added.)

And this memorandum, we should point out, was written by Hebert’s attorney, Renee Culotta, who is being paid thousands of dollars while under contract to the Attorney General’s office as a contract attorney—just as she was in a previous lawsuit against ATC, that of Lisa Pike, a former ATC employee who also sued Hebert. The terms of that settlement have been held confidential by the court.

LouisianaVoice has made a public records request for Culotta’s billing for legal representation in the Pike matter. Her billing in the defense of the Tingle lawsuit would not be made available because the case is ongoing.

Culotta said in the memorandum that allegations by Palmer against Hebert “occurred in January 2016, well after Tingle’s work for and termination from the ATC. Tingle did not participate in any issue concerning Sarah Palmer and/or Steak and Lobster, and no facts about Palmer or Steak and Lobster are contained in (Tingle’s) complaint.

“Likewise, the issues concerning Chris Young (i.e., whether Hebert gave preferential treatment to Young and/or referred clients to Young as part of an illegal scheme) are also not a part of this lawsuit and are not relevant to and have no bearing on whether Hebert allegedly retaliated against Tingle because of Tingle’s participation in the race discrimination charges and lawsuits filed by three African-American employees.

Tingle’s counsel’s questions and discovery concerning Chris Young and/or Sarah Parker were only meant to embarrass and harass Hebert,” Culotta said in her memorandum.

“Hebert cannot fully defend himself in the civil case (i.e., by explaining his position concerning Young, Palmer and (t)he Star Steak and Lobster license renewal) while the threat of criminal prosecution is looming.

“Plaintiff cannot have it both ways: if he intends to pursue this evidence, he then must agree to a stay in order that Hebert can defend himself without threat of criminal prosecution.

“Defendant Troy Hebert respectfully requests (that) this court issue a protective order forbidding plaintiff’s counsel from discovering, asking any questions about or referencing Chris Young, Sarah Palmer and/or the Star Steak and Lobster restaurant going forward in this litigation. To the extent plaintiff claims these issues are relevant, then Hebert respectfully asks the court to stay the proceedings until the statute of limitations has run on any criminal charges that could be brought in connection with these matters.” (Emphasis added.)

Now I don’t pretend to be a legal scholar. Journalism schools (or at least the one I attended) sadly do not require any courses in law even though any career journalist is going to be covering courtroom procedure at some point during his career.

That said, it appears to me that someone is one helluva lot more concerned with potential criminal exposure than any civil liability.

But then, that’s understandable. If a public official is convicted of criminal wrongdoing, he is the one who is penalized. If, on the other hand, a civil verdict is returned against that same individual, it is the taxpayer who ultimately pays whatever judgment is assessed.

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It was Memorial Day weekend in Baton Rouge last year, the weekend of the BAYOU COUNTRY SUPERFEST that had country music fans flocking to LSU’s Tiger Stadium. LSU subsequently cancelled its contract with promoters and this year’s event will take place in the Louisiana Superdome in New Orleans.

But this story isn’t about Bayou Country Superfest.

It was several hours after the final performance of one night of the three-day event, around 3 a.m., in fact, that a black SUV was pulled over by a Baton Rouge police officer at the corner of Perkins and Acadian, only a few blocks south of I-10.

The officer, a member of the city’s DWI Strike Force, suspected the driver of driving while impaired, perhaps even intoxicated. In the SUV was a woman, a blonde. She was not the driver’s wife; she’s a brunette.

The driver, violating all protocol, exited his SUV and started toward the officer who, alarmed, is said to have pulled his weapon just before recognizing the driver as a high-ranking member of the governor’s administration.

Instead of escalating, as the situation could easily have done, the driver was inexplicably allowed to proceed on to his destination, driving that black SUV. He was not arrested, issued a citation or even asked to submit to a field sobriety test and the matter was quickly hushed up. Even the city officer, when asked about the incident, denied it ever happened. But later, when asked about the incident by a fellow officer, rather than deny it occurred, said instead, “I can’t talk about that.”

Yet the stories continue to persist nearly nine full months after the stop that the officer denies ever took place. LouisianaVoice was even given the officer’s name by no fewer than eight different, independent sources. At least when Bobby Jindal’s Commissioner of Administration Paul Rainwater was pulled over for DWI, there was no attempt to keep the arrest quiet and he paid his fines and court costs for the offense. The only thing that raised eyebrows was when State Police Superintendent Mike Edmonson showed up and gave him a ride home—a courtesy no ordinary citizen sans political connections would likely be accorded.

Who made the decision to allow the driver to go on his way? It’s unlikely the officer would have assumed the responsibility for such a decision fraught with all kinds of downsides on his own. That would mean there had to be an order from up the chain of command within the Baton Rouge Police Department. The question then, is at what level of the command was the decision made, mid-level or from the very top?

Baton Rouge Police Chief Carl Dabadie is probably on his way out. At least that’s the indication given by former State Sen. Sharon Weston Broome who was recently elect Baton Rouge’s new Mayor-President and inaugurated on Jan. 2, though Dabadie appears to be fighting to keep his job.

This is not to say Dabadie was ever even aware of the stop but if (and of course, at this stage, that’s a very speculative if)…if he is the one who put the kibosh on the stop and potential arrest of the state official, both men need to go. Immediately.

If he had any records of the pullover expunged from the police log, he could be found guilty of injuring public records under Louisiana R.S. 14:132 and he conceivably could face imprisonment. At any rate, if any records of the stop were destroyed on his watch, he must be held accountable for destruction of public records.

If records were never tampered with, then somewhere there is a paper trail that still exists, perhaps by now buried somewhere in the bowels of the BRPD.

LouisianaVoice is continuing to investigate the matter. We’ll let you know if anything develops. If not, the story probably will evaporate as did the ghost stop of a black SUV at 3 a.m. during the 2016 Bayou Superfest.

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Louisiana’s Inspector General Stephen Street recently accused LouisianaVoice of not letting facts get in the way of a good story.

He should know.

It was Street’s Office of Inspector General (OIG) that went after Corey Delahoussaye for overbilling for hurricane cleanup in Livingston Parish at the same time Delahoussaye was working as an informant for the FBI to assist in challenging more than $50 million in charges submitted to FEMA by Livingston Parish.

It was Street’s OIG that raided Delahoussaye’s home with the assistance of the East Baton Rouge Sheriff’s Office in the early–morning hours on July 25, 2013, even though nowhere in the statute establishing OIG is the agency authorized to obtain search warrants. The raid was conducted at 6 am with multiple agents bearing firearms in a home that was only occupied by Mr. and Ms. Delahoussaye and their two young children.

It was OIG that served subpoenas on Delahoussaye’s fitness club and his doctor seeking personal and medical records even though state law requires a judge to issue a written reason for the subpoena. No such written reason was ever obtained.

But never let law get in the way of a good raid.

The Office of the State Inspector General was established by the Louisiana Legislature. Its purpose is set forth in LA R.S. 49:220.1-220.26. Section 220.21 reads in part:

  • The prevention and detection of waste, inefficiencies, mismanagement, misconduct, abuse, fraud, and corruption in all departments, offices, agencies, boards, commissions, task forces, authorities, and divisions of the executive branch of state government as specifically provided in Title 36 of the Louisiana Revised Statutes of 1950, all hereinafter referred to in this part collectively as “covered agencies” and individually “covered agency” is an important responsibility of the state.”
  • In the view of the responsibility of the state, it is the purpose of this part to establish an independent office of the state Inspector General in the office of the Governor to examine and investigate the management and affairs of the covered agencies.” (Emphasis added)

Livingston Parish, with whom Delahoussaye was contracted, is not part of the executive branch of state government. Accordingly, OIG had no authority to carry out a raid on Delahoussaye. None. Nada. Zilch.

The obvious solution was to claim he was contracted to the Governor’s Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness (GOHSEP). Except he was not and never had been.

Never let facts get in the way of a good witch hunt.

Of course Street was not alone in this exercise of the absurd. Scott Perrilloux, District Attorney for the 21st Judicial District which includes Livingston Parish, took his “evidence” to a grand jury which promptly refused to indict Delahoussaye. Undeterred, Perrilloux simply proceed to indict Delahoussaye on a bill of information. After all, there were $56 million in bogus charges for Livingston Parish cleanup uncovered by…Delahoussaye. But they thought they had Delahoussaye dead to rights for a couple of thousand dollars in unwarranted charges they said, incorrectly, it turns out, that he billed for.

Instead, all the charges were thrown out and now Delahoussaye is out for his pound of flesh as payback for the hell Street and Perrilloux put him through—as he should be. He has filed a DEFAMATION-LAWSUIT against OIG and now Street, after spending untold thousands of dollars pursuing criminal charges and now that the is suddenly a defendant in an unexpected turn of events, suddenly is thinking about the horrific costs to be incurred by the state in the discovery phase of Delahoussaye’s lawsuit. SAVING-TAXPAYER-DOLLARS

“For the sake of conserving judicial resources and preventing the waste of valuable taxpayer dollars, the OIG requests a stay of this proceeding, including a stay in discovery,” read OIG’s motion to stay proceedings pending a First Circuit Court of Appeal decision on OIG’s writ application. (Emphasis added)

Okay, so Street wants to talk about “wasted taxpayer dollars?” How about the sheer volume and man-hours for lodging an almost-guaranteed-to-fail appeal? Here’s the link for the OIG’s APPEAL: It rambles on for 169 pages on something that is almost certain to fail based on an earlier ruling by the First Circuit wherein the court said that if a state agency lacks jurisdiction to investigate (as 21st JDC Judge Brenda Ricks made it clear in her rulings), then a cause of action can survive a motion for Preemptive Exception based on “invasion of privacy.”

So, bottom line, we have the Office of Inspector General:

  • Serving subpoenas absent the required judge’s written reasons;
  • Carrying out an early morning raid on the basis of a search warrant even though the law creating OIG never gives search warrant power to the agency, and
  • Taking a leadership role in carrying out the raid even though that same law relegates OIG to a “back seat” role once it determines it has credible information of criminal activity.

Finally, that “credible information” is the belief that Delahoussaye was contracted by GOHSEP when in fact, his contract was with Livingston Parish.

But never let facts…..

And only after all that did it occurred to Street that he should suddenly now be concerned with conserving judicial resources and preventing the waste of valuable taxpayer dollars.

Lest we forget, this is the same agency that went after former State Alcohol and Tobacco Control Director Murphy Painter when Painter got crossways of Bobby Jindal and one of his biggest campaign contributors, Saints owner Tom Benson.

And we know how that turned out: The state had to end up paying Painter’s legal costs of $474,000 after Painter was exonerated in federal court.

 

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A giant walks among us.

In the ever-shrinking roster of investigative reporting, Stanley Nelson towers over the rest of the field.

Who is Stanley Nelson, you ask?

He is the editor of that shining beacon of dogged, undeterred journalism, the 4,700-circulation Concordia Sentinel in Ferriday.

Before you laugh, Nelson holds the singular distinction of being named as one of three finalists for the prestigious Pulitzer Prize for his decade of seeking the truth behind the racial killings in and around the Ferriday-Vidalia-Natchez area during the Jim Crow South’s Ku Klux Klan-led resistance to being pulled against its will by the growing riptide of desegregation—and, some would contend, civilization itself.

Among all the political leaders of the South (Orval Faubus, Ross Barnett, George Wallace, Herman Talmadge, Strom Thurmond, et al), only Louisiana Gov. Earl Long had the political acumen to understand the writing on the wall. He was resigned to the inevitable. It was Long who, when a New Orleans delegation approached him to ask for a public university in New Orleans, said he would do it on one condition: that the new school be fully integrated. Thus did the University of New Orleans come into existence.

But in the decade of the 1960s, hatred among the races was fanned by the KKK and condoned by then-Sheriff Noah Cross and his chief deputy, Frank DeLaughter. DeLaughter, in fact, was a KKK member and remains a suspect in the heinous murder of a shoe repair shop owner, Frank Morris, who in December 1964 was burned alive when his shop was incinerated in a gasoline-fueled fire set by a gang of whites who held a gun on Morris to keep him from escaping the flames.

Both Cross and DeLaughter would go to prison for corruption, but not for the murders and beatings of blacks.

When Morris’s name appeared on an FBI list of cold case murders, Nelson went to work.

No “outsider stirring up trouble,” Nelson is a native of nearby Sicily Island and a proud graduate of Louisiana Tech University’s fine journalism school headed up by the late Wiley Hilburn, himself an advocate of fairness and justice for all human beings.

Whether influenced by Hilburn or by his own code of ethics and integrity, Nelson began digging into Concordia Parish’s dark history, a history local whites would’ve just soon he leave alone.

The blood-soaked trail he happened upon led to other KKK-sanctioned killings. It is those killings—seven blacks and one white KKK member who, it was feared, had discovered a conscience and was about to name names.

His discoveries, written about in some 190 stories over seven years (and supported wholeheartedly by the Sentinel’s owners, the Hanna family), have led to an extraordinary, if sometimes difficult to follow by the necessary phalanx of names, times and places, book.

Devils Walking: Klan Murders along the Mississippi in the 1960s (LSU Press, 280 pages) is anything but a “delightful” book; it is disturbing, at its best. And it should be.

To say that Nelson has done an exhaustive job would be understating the obvious. Along the way, he realized he needed help. Enter the LSU Manship School of Mass Communications, Syracuse University, Emory University, the Center for Investigative Reporting and others too numerous to include here. Student interns, as obsessed as Nelson, plunged into the project with a zeal that only young bodies and minds could call up.

At the end of it all, Nelson freely expressed his frustration with the FBI for its failure to follow through on leads but at the same time praises the efforts of two FBI agents in particular who infiltrated a dangerous subsect of the KKK, the Silver Dollar Group, which actually carried out much of the carnage inflicted on innocent blacks.

Nelson’s reporting instincts, fueled by a burning curiosity and unimaginable courage, cast him as a hero of unmatched integrity and compassion in the chronicling of one of the most shameful chapters of Louisiana—and American—history.

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  • Theft of seized drugs and cash.
  • Shakedowns of drug dealers.
  • Selling confiscated drugs.
  • Witness tampering.
  • And just for good measure, sex and violence.

Plot lines out of the Denzel Washington movie Training Day or Martin Scorese’s movie The Departed?

Nope and nope. Some or all of the above are possible reasons behind a massive RAID on the Hammond Police Department and the Tangipahoa Parish Sheriff’s Hammond substation by upwards of 100 FBI agents on Thursday.

The raid was conducted as part of an ongoing—and widening—investigation of members of the joint Tangipahoa Sheriff’s Office and Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) drug task force, several of whom had earlier been either arrested or suspended.

The New Orleans Advocate last month published a story about former task force member and Tangipahoa Parish deputy sheriff KARL E. NEWMAN who is charged by a federal indictment with robbery, possession with intent to distribute cocaine and Oxycodone. He and fellow task force member Johnny Domingue are slated for trial in February after Domingue pleaded guilty to drug conspiracy charges and agreed to cooperate with investigators.

Domingue told authorities that he and Newman split several thousands of dollars from the sale of narcotics, as well as cash seized in raids by the task force.

Newman is also accused of using violence against a woman following a sexual liaison with her.

The leader of the task force, DEA agent Chad Scott, a 17-year DEA veteran, has been suspended and stripped of his badge and security clearance in connection with the far-reaching investigation.

Tangipahoa Sheriff Daniel Edwards, brother to Gov. John Bel Edwards, and Hammond Police Chief James Stewart were said to be cooperating with the FBI and the DEA as the investigation continues.

Stewart was employed by the FBI for 30 years before retiring to become Hammond police chief last June.

Under our system of justice, of course, the accused are considered innocent in the eyes of the law unless and until convicted by a jury of their peers.

But still, one has to wonder about those who are entrusted with the responsibility and placed in the position of protecting us.

 

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