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Archive for the ‘Fraud’ Category

It was inevitable, I suppose. The signs were there for us to see all this time, so it certainly should be no surprise.

Donald Trump has launched his own NEWS SERVICE to give the minions the “real” news. He’s fed up with that fake stuff dished out by the networks that they back up with obviously faked video, doctored photos, falsified documents and biased stories about his bogus university, his refusal to divest himself from his business interests and his coziness with the Russians.

Well, what ostrich-head-in-the-sand couldn’t see that coming?

Of course, the real head-scratcher is why he would go to all that trouble when he has the biggest blowhard of all spewing the right wing extremist line for three hours every day on a smaller-than-before-but-still-large radio network.

But Rush (“Praise the Lord and Pass the OxyContin”) Limburger is basically a mouthpiece for the Republican Party as a whole and that party is going to have to separate itself from ol’ Orange Hair with all due haste if it has a chance to hold its ground in the 2018 elections. So, in that respect, maybe his own “news” network would seem in order to Trump.

After all, this is the man whose motto would seem to be ut per eos testacles in cordibus et in animis sequentur. That’s Latin for “Get ‘em by the testacles; the hearts and minds will follow.” (And he’s certainly known for grabbing those areas.)

Any student of history knows that a dictatorship requires a suspension of all citizens’ rights (see his efforts to clamp down on dissent) and to muzzle all criticism (his repeated attacks on the media). The third requirement, of course, is to take over the media so the dictatorship’s lies can be saturated without fear of challenge.

We may as well start referring to Trump as DEAR LEADER a-la Kim Jong-Un. Somehow, though, I just don’t think I can bring myself to call him Herr Trump.

But the signs are already there. His repeated boasts of non-existent accomplishments, his exploring the possibility of pardoning himself, his exaggerated claims of voter fraud, claims that he had the biggest inauguration crowd in history, attacks of “fake news,” and the list goes on and on ad nauseum. And all easily refutable lies but still he barges ahead with still more lies. His favorite, of course, is calling the special prosecutor’s investigation into collusion with the Russians “a witch hunt.” He uses that one on a regular basis these days.

Adolf Hitler was the first to describe the benefits of the repetitive lie, which he said people would come to believe if they heard it often enough. He called it the “Big Lie.”

In Mein Kampf, Hitler said, “…In the big lie there is always a certain force of credibility; because the broad masses of a nation are always more easily corrupted in the deeper strata of their emotional nature than consciously or voluntarily and thus in the primitive simplicity of their minds they more readily fall victims to the big lie than the small lie…Even though the facts which prove this to be so may be brought clearly to their minds, they will still doubt and waver and will continue to think that there may be some other explanation.” (emphasis added.)

He would go on to say in Mein Kampf:

“The function of propaganda does not lie in the scientific training of the individual, but in calling the masses’ attention to certain facts, processes, necessities, etc., whose significance is thus for the first time placed within their field of vision.

The function of propaganda is, for example, not to weigh and ponder the rights of different people, but exclusively to emphasize the one right which it has set out to argue for. Its task is not to make and objective study of the truth, insofar as it favors the enemy, and then set before the masses with academic fairness; its task is to serve our own right, always and unflinchingly.”

Hitler’s Minister of Propaganda, Joseph Goebbels, would later expand on der Führer’s philosophy when he said:

“If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it. The lie can be maintained only for such time as the State can shield the people from the political, economic and/or military consequences of the lie. It thus becomes vitally important for the State to use all of its powers to repress dissent, for the truth is the mortal enemy of the lie, and thus by extension, the truth is the greatest enemy of the State.”

Extreme examples? Perhaps. But the track that Trump is on is frighteningly familiar to students of history and should not be dismissed lightly.

After all, look at the people with whom he has surrounded himself. Not the least of these is one STEPHEN BANNON who has described Trump as a “revolutionary on the world stage,” and who described himself as a LENINIST who desired “to bring everything crashing down, and destroy all of today’s establishment.”

So, is Bannon Trump’s Joseph Goebbels or will he be his Martin Bormann (Hitler’s private secretary who controlled access to der Führer)? Or worse, will he be Trump’s Heinrich Himmler (commander of the Gestapo)? From this vantage point, the vote would have to go to Bormann.

All these scenarios were unthinkable 18 months ago. No one seriously thought Trump would ever be president. The day of his announcement, I confidently predicted he would “crash and burn” in six weeks.

But then, no one thought Hitler would rise to a position from which he could plunge the world into war.

But now we have an official Trump news service through which he can reach the masses with his own skewed version of reality. And for now, at least, he has an official Minister of Propaganda in Kayleigh McEnany.

 

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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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As recently as 2015, Lockheed Martin LOCKHEED MARTIN, with $36.2 billion in contracts, was the single largest Pentagon contractor, more than double Boeing’s $16.6 billion.

There is little reason to believe that those numbers have changed significantly in the last two years.

With three large cost-plus contracts for testing and maintenance support services, Lockheed Martin has a commanding presence at NASA’s primary rocket propulsion facility at the STENNIS Space Center just over the Louisiana state line in Mississippi.

But as history has shown (remember the $600 toilet seats and the $100 screwdrivers?), the potential for ABUSE with such large contracts that seem to carry little apparent oversight, is overwhelming.

Now two Louisiana residents, one former Lockheed employee and the other a former contract employee for Lockheed, are bringing suit in U.S. District Court in the Eastern District of Louisiana in New Orleans under the federal FALSE CLAIMS ACT.

The two, Mark Javery of St. Tammany Parish and Brian DeJan of New Orleans, claim that they were first given no duties and then fired from their jobs after reporting cost overruns and safety and performance issues.

They are represented by Baton Rouge attorney J. Arthur Smith, III.

DeJan was a project engineer for a Lockheed subcontractor, Camgian Microsystems, Inc. He was supervised by Javery, who was an infrastructure operations manager for Lockheed. As part of their respective jobs, they were to monitor preventive maintenance metrics and to report the results of their findings to NASA employee Reginald “Chip” Ellis, Deputy Program Inspector for the Rocket Propulsion Test Program.

In April 2014, DeJan and Javery began investigating “unexplained cost overruns and performance issues with the maintenance of test facilities.”

Their lawsuit says that during their investigation, they received “credible information that maintenance and charges related to NASA’s agreement with Space Exploitation Technology were being charged “inappropriately” to the Test Operations Contract for which Lockheed was the prime contractor.

They reported their findings on April 22, 2014, to Ellis and to their immediate supervisor, Terrance Burrell.

On April 28, Lockheed Martin suspended Javery during “pendency of an informal investigation and disciplinary process,” and on April 29, Lockheed requested that Camgian remove DeJan from the Test Operations Contract “until further notice,” which Camgian did.

On May 20, Lockheed terminated Javery’s employment and requested that Camgian “remove DeJan from the Lockheed Martin contract.” Camgian terminated DeJan on May 21.

The two claim that their actions were protected under the False Claims Act, enacted in 1863 over concerns that suppliers contracted to supply the Union Army with goods were defrauding the Army.

Javery and DeJan are seeking reinstatement, double their back pay, compensation for any special damages and attorney and legal fees.

Lockheed, like most defense contractors, has a history of overcharges and the occasional penalty. In 2011, it settled a whistleblower LAWSUIT for $2 million in another False Claims Act at the Stennis Space Center.

“Companies that do business with the federal government and get paid by the taxpayers must act fairly and comply with the law,” said Tony West, assistant attorney general for the Justice Department’s Civil Division. “Whistleblowers have helped us to enforce the law by bringing to light schemes that misuse taxpayer dollars and abuse the public trust by undermining the integrity of the procurement process.”

West, of course, was describing life in a perfect world. In the real world, things are quite different and the “schemes that misuse taxpayer dollars and abuse the public trust” are rarely reported and even more infrequently punished.

The occasional fine is a mere fraction of illicit profits gained through overbilling and outright fraud.

That’s because no one seems to be watching and because members of Congress passionately protect the contractors domiciled in their districts.

And that’s why contractors continue to belly up to the public trough.

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More details from the Jeff Mercer case against the Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development (DOTD) keep surfacing and each new revelation casts a long shadow over DOTD and the state judiciary, particularly in the second Circuit Court of Appeal.

And if that isn’t enough to shake your faith in the judicial system, the reputation of the 18th Judicial District across the Mississippi River from Baton Rouge ain’t looking too good, either.

LouisianaVoice has obtained a document addressing Mangham subcontractor Jeff Mercer’s claim that clear shows that DOTD and the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) were in agreement on the AMOUNT DOTD ADMITTED OWING MERCER. In an email dated June 6, 2016, DOTD Executive Counsel Cheryl Duvieilh wrote to FHWA official Joshua Cunningham that Mercer was entitled to payment of $363,075, plus judicial interest of $42,358.91 for a total of $405,433.91.

That money, a fraction of the $10 million Mercer said he was owed but which was being withheld after he refused demands from DOTD supervisors to kick back money and equipment to him in exchange for approval of his work, still has not been paid.

Instead, DOTD told Mercer and his attorney the money would held “hostage” until everything was settled, knowing that even a partial settlement would be an admission that all of Mercer’s claims were valid.

A separate document obtained by LouisianaVoice also shows that prime contractor AUSTIN BRIDGE, through whom Mercer’s company was contracted as a subcontractor, was owed $9,081,695.30 to resolve its contract claims in a pending mediation session.

That document, from John M. Dubreuil and Ryan M. Bourgeois and addressed to Richard Savoie, was dated Oct. 2, 2013, said, “Accept this memorandum as a final request to participate in the scheduled mediation with a maximum settlement authority of $9.1 million. It was signed off on by Savoie and three FHWA officials.

While other documents were requested under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) and the state’s Public Records statutes, as well as through official discovery in part of the civil process of litigation over the payments, those were the only two documents DOTD provided. Agency attorneys refused to release all other documents relative to claims by Mercer or Austin Bridge.

Because settlement negotiations are not admitted into testimony, the jury hearing Mercer’s lawsuit against DOTD was never apprised of DOTD’s in-house admission that it owed the money to Mercer. Despite not hearing this information, the 12-person jury unanimously awarded Mercer $20 million after hearing the sordid details of attempts of extortion, bribery and strong-arming.

DOTD appealed and Second Circuit Chief Judge Henry N. Brown, whose father was a DOTD civil engineer for 44 years, assigned the case to himself and wrote the opinion overturning the jury’s award.

It would be one thing if this was an isolated incident. Sadly, though, it is not. While the vast majority of judges carry on their duties quietly and without fanfare in their genuine efforts to dispense justice equitably, there are always those who will attempt to exploit their positions. They will either attempt financial gain or exercise power and to gain prestige from the bench—or all three.

  • New Orleans Federal Judge G. Thomas Porteous was removed from the bench in 2010 by the U.S. Senate after being IMPEACHED.
  • Judges in the 4th Judicial District (Ouachita and Morehouse parishes) filed SUIT against Ouachita Citizen Publisher Sam Hanna, Jr., two years ago in an effort to thwart efforts by the newspaper to obtain public records.
  • Judges Ronald Bodenheimer and Alan Green went to jail and a third judge, Joan Benge, was kicked out of office by the Louisiana Supreme Court. All three were caught up in the FBI’s nine-year investigation dubbed OPERATION WRINKLED ROBE.
  • Judge Wayne Cresap, 34th JDC Judge for St. Bernard Parish, was sentenced to five years in prison in 2010 for accepting $70,000 in bribes.

The latest is one Robin Free, formerly of the 18th JDC, which includes the parishes of Iberville, West Baton Rouge, and Pointe Coupee.

Slated to return to the bench after a one-year suspension by the State Supreme Court, Free suddenly RESIGNED on Friday (June 23) following reports he had been HARASSING West Baton Rouge Parish Sheriff’s deputies over their issuing speeding tickets on U.S. 190.

He was near the end of his year’s suspension for failing to maintain the integrity of his position and for exhibiting behavior described as “injudicious, lacking judicial temperament and giving an appearance of impropriety.”

One of the reasons for his suspension was his acceptance of a FREE TRIP from an attorney who had won a big judgment in Free’s court.

Click HERE for the full text of the June 29, 2016, Louisiana Supreme Court’s Judiciary Commission report.

Even during his suspension (without pay), he still managed to stay on the public payroll when Iberville Parish President J. Mitchell Ourso HIRED him as supervisor of Iberville Parish’s Department of General Services (whatever that is) at $75,000 per year. Ourso said Free was hired to update the parish’s personnel manual and to assist in drafting the parish’s 2017 fiscal year budget.

Free has clearly demonstrated that he is unfit to be entrusted with handing decisions that impact the lives of others. Perhaps he is qualified to work in an administrative position, but we doubt it. He exhibits far too much narcissism to be placed in any position of trust.

He is merely a symptom of the bigger problem of the public’s becoming increasingly wary and distrustful of the judicial system. The Billy Broussard and Jeff Mercer cases only serve to underscore the validity of that distrust.

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Were political considerations behind separate decisions by a state district judge to prohibit a contractor from seeking public records or a Second Circuit Court of Appeal judge to overturn a $20 million judgment against the Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development (DOTD)?

While definitive answers are difficult, there does seem to be sufficient reason to suspect that the lines between the judicial and administrative branches of government may have been blurred by the Second Circuit Chief Judge’s decision to negate the award to a contractor who a 12-person jury unanimously decided had been put out of business because he refused to acquiesce to attempts of bribery, extortion and conspiracy.

Judge Henry N. Brown, by assigning the case to himself and then writing the decision despite the fact his father had been a DOTD civil engineer for more than 40 years, may have placed federal funding for Louisiana highway projects in jeopardy.

And the RULING by 14th Judicial District Court Judge David A. Ritchie prohibiting Breaux Bridge contractor Billy Broussard from making legitimate public records requests of the Calcasieu Parish Police Jury or of the Calcasieu Parish Gravity Drainage District 8 would appear to be patently unconstitutional based solely on the state statute that gives any citizen of Louisiana the unfettered right to make public records requests of any public agency.

In Broussard’s case, he was contracted by Gravity Drainage District 8 to clean debris from Indian Bayou following Hurricane Rita in 2005. Work done by his company was to be paid by FEMA. Gravity Drainage District 8 instructed Broussard to also remove pre-storm debris from the bottom of the bayou, telling him that FEMA would pay for all his work.

FEMA, however, refused to pay for the pre-storm cleanup and Gravity Drainage District 8 subsequently refused to pony up. Broussard, represented then by attorney Jeff Landry, since elected Attorney General, filed a lien against the drainage district.

When Broussard lost his case before Judge Ritchie, he continued to pursue his claim and submitted this PUBLIC RECORDS REQUEST to the drainage district and to the police jury. Those efforts resulted in a heavy-handed LETTER from attorney Russell J. Stutes, Jr., which threatened Broussard with “jail time” if he persisted in his “harassment” of Calcasieu public officials.

And the injunction barring Broussard from future records requests, instead of being filed as a separate court document, was sought under the original lawsuit by Broussard, which presumably, if Stutes’s own letter is to be believed, was a final and thus, closed case. That tactic assured that Broussard would be brought before the original judge, i.e. Ritchie, who was already predisposed to rule against Broussard, no matter how valid a claim he had.

That was such a blatant maneuver that it left no lingering doubts that the cards were stacked against Broussard from the get-go. Everything was tied up in a neat little package, with a pretty bow attached. And Broussard was left holding a $2 million bag—and assessed court costs of $60,000 to boot.

In Jeff Mercer’s case, federal STATUTE U.S. Title 49 specifically prohibits discrimination against Disadvantaged Business Enterprises (DBE). It further requires that all states receiving federal funding for transportation projects must have a DBE program.

Mercer, a Mangham contractor, sued DOTD after claiming that DOTD withheld more than $11 million owed him after he rebuffed shakedown efforts from a DOTD inspector who demanded that Mercer “put some green” in his hand and that he could “make things difficult” for him.

Mercer suffers from epilepsy, which qualified him for protection from discrimination under Title 49.

His attorney, David Doughty of Rayville, feels that Brown should never have assigned the case to himself, nor should he have been the one to write the opinion. Needless to say, Doughty does not agree with the decision. He has filed an APPLICATION FOR REHEARING in the hope of having Brown removed from the case.

LouisianaVoice conducted a search this LIST OF CASES REVERSED BY 2ND CIRCUIT and the Mercer case was the only one of 57 reversals decided by a jury.

So it all boils down to a simple equation: how much justice can you afford?

When an average citizen like Broussard or Mercer goes up against the system, things can be overwhelming and they can get that way in a hurry.

Because the government, be it DOTD, represented by the Louisiana Attorney General’s office, or a local gravity drainage district, represented by the district attorney, has a decided advantage in terms of manpower and financial resources, giving the individual little realistic chance of prevailing.

In Broussard’s case, he did not. Mercer, at least, won at the trial court level, but the process can wear anyone down and that’s just what the state relied upon when it appealed.

With virtually unlimited resources (I worked for the Office of Risk Management for 20 years and I saw how an original $10,000 defense contract can balloon to $100,000 or more with few questions asked), the government can simply hunker down for the long haul while starving out the plaintiff with delays, interrogatories, requests for production, expert costs, court reporter costs, filing fees and attorney fees. Keeping the meter running on costs is the most effective defense going.

The same applies, of course, to attempts to fight large corporations in court. Huge legal staffs with virtually unlimited budgets and campaign contributions to judges at the right levels all too often make the pursuit of justice a futile chase.

And when you move from the civil to the criminal courts where low income defendants are represented by underfunded indigent defender boards, the contrast is even more profound—and tragic, hence a big reason for Louisiana’s high incarceration rate.

The idea of equal treatment in the eyes of the law is a myth and for those seeking remedies to wrongdoing before an impartial court, it is often a cruel joke.

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