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Archive for the ‘Fraud’ Category

The Law is for Protection of the People

—Kris Kristofferson

The late John Hays had a popular column in his weekly Ruston newspaper The Morning Paper that he called The Rumor Mill. Getting a mention in his Rumor Mill was something about as thrilling as having Mike Wallace show up at your door for a 60 Minutes interview.

LouisianaVoice would like to briefly reprise that column with the reliable rumor that Felicia Williams, chief judge for the Second Circuit Court, will be a candidate in the special election to fill the unexpired term of Louisiana Supreme Court Justice Marcus Clark, who has submitted his retirement to the Secretary of State, effective June 30, less than four years into his 10-year term. (Read Clark’s resignation story HERE.)

It’s important to note that Judge Williams assumed the mantle of chief judge by default in October, succeeding Judge Henry Brown, Jr., who was forced from the bench by the State Supreme Court. Technically, Brown “retired” a week after the Supreme Court ordered him to vacate the appeals court building. (Read that story HERE.)

LouisianaVoice has written numerous stories about the manner in which the state, abetted by the Second Circuit, screwed over contractor Jeff Mercer, a Mangham subcontractor on several construction projects for the Department of Transportation and Development (DOTD).

(Read those stories HERE, HERE, HERE, HERE, and HERE.)

And while LouisianaVoice was the only one pursuing this story for a while, it was just a matter of time before the twisted, incestuous series of sordid events would produce serious questions of alleged misappropriation, impropriety and ethics violations to such an extent that others would be drawn to the story.

Ruston’s Walter Abbott of the web blog Lincoln Parish News Online has done a great job of constructing a media timeline of news stories on the Jeff Mercer’s David vs. Goliath battle for justice. (Read his story HERE.)

Gary Hines, a former co-worker during my brief stint at the Shreveport Journal, and Jamie Ostroff have done a good job on an in-depth story for KTBS-TV of Shreveport that reads like a scaled-down version of the J. Howard Marshall/Anna Nicole Smith saga of 20 years ago. (You can read the KTBS story HERE.)

That story, instead of taking place in the city of Houston, involves the estate of a man named Houston and even the LSU School of Veterinary Medicine got drawn into the controversy.

You see, a woman named Hahn Williams (no relation to Judge Williams) was Houston’s financial adviser and it just happened that Judge Brown and Hahn Williams were tight.

When the LSU Vet school learned it was beneficiary of much of Houston’s estate, officials there naturally wondered why (a) they hadn’t been informed and (b) they hadn’t received any of the money.

So, the vet school did what anyone would do. It sued Hahn Williams.

Hahn Williams was subsequently ordered by a Caddo First District Court to pay the vet school $1.5 million. Broke, she sold her house to Judge Brown who (a) allowed her to remain living there and (b) eventually became her attorney in her legal efforts to fight off forced bankruptcy—raising the question obvious to most as to why Brown is even allowed to practice law at all in light of his egregious transgression while on the bench. In other words, why wasn’t he disbarred outright in light of of such a serious ethics breach?

Before Brown became her attorney, she appealed her adverse verdict to the Second Circuit where Judge Brown recused himself, but apparently attempted to lean on other judges, which eventually brought the wrath of the State Supreme Court down upon him, forcing his “retirement.”

Added to that, his law clerk, Trina Chu, was also Williams’s longtime friend and she downloaded documents to her own flash drives and emailed legal advice to Williams who then forwarded portions of those communications to Judge Brown via his Second Circuit court email address.

And here’s the real kicker: The Caddo Parish Sheriff’s Department concluded no criminal charges were warranted in the computer hacking.

The Caddo Parish District Attorney’s Office, however, was not quite satisfied and decided more work was needed as it took over the investigation. But DA James Stewart is himself a former judge on the Second Circuit Court of Appeal and worked with Chu and served on the court with Judge Brown, which would seem to give him a built-in conflict of interest in any investigation.

All of which may explain why the Louisiana Attorney General’s Office is now involved. But, given Attorney General Jeff Landry’s track record, that’s where criminal investigations go to die unless they can directly promote his political career.

Meanwhile, Mercer is seeking the entire case file, convinced it will aid him in his own pursuit of justice. He filed the appropriate public records requests which both the sheriff’s office and the DA’s office are fighting on the grounds the computer hacking is an ongoing investigation.

Of course, Mercer’s case is ongoing as well and the contents of those files could conceivably help him but no one in a position of authority seems to give a damn about that.

And, it turns out, the DA’s office got involved only after Mercer made his public records request, thus giving the DA justification for refusing his records request on the grounds that there was this “ongoing investigation.”

While district court judges would have to resign their positions to run for the Supreme Court, Judge Williams, as a member of the Court of Appeal, would not, giving her a distinct advantage.

Still, she would have one disadvantage in running.

Jeff Mercer will do everything within his power to legally see to it she is never elected.

And that goes, he said, for the other judges who served on the panel that overturned the unanimous trial court $20 million verdict in his favor.

Stay tuned.

 

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Pre-trial intervention (PTI) programs, in theory at least, are designed to give those charged with a first offense—such as driving while intoxicated (DWI), for example—to keep the conviction off their record by participating in a program of community service or a series of classroom sessions, usually extended over a period of several weeks.

The purpose of the programs, again in theory, is that not every person charged with an offense should be subjected to criminal prosecution and that there are those who can be prevented from becoming repeat offenders through proper intervention.

The problem with Louisiana’s PTI programs is that there is no uniform application or oversight, allowing local district attorneys complete autonomy in how the programs are administered.

Instead of serving their intended purpose, many local PTI programs have morphed into cash cows and as such, lend themselves to widespread abuses at the expense of other programs such as indigent defender boards and local law enforcement.

In May 2018, former Baton Rouge Advocate (now Associated Press) reporter Jim Mustian wrote an excellent story that illustrated that very point. His entire story may be seen HERE.

Mustian showed that from 2012 to 2017, two parishes in particular had taken advantage of the program to create a lucrative source of income for prosecutors while a third did even better during the years from 2012 to 2017.

Calcasieu Parish District Attorney John DeRosier saw income for his office increase threefold, from $556,000 in 2012 to $1.65 million in 2016. Jefferson Parish did even better with its income from PTI programs increasing four times, from $335,000 to $1.37 million during the same period.

But Rapides Parish DA Phillip Terrell has turned the practice into an art form, boosting his PTI revenue by a factor of seven, from $302,000 in 2012 to a mind-blowing $2.2 million in 2017.

Still, that influx of new dollars didn’t keep Terrell from requesting more than $2.5 million in parish funds for his office in 2018 despite a looming budgetary shortfall of $427,000 for the parish.

That was enough to attract the attention of online publication Politico, which normally devotes its attention to stories of national and international significance than to the budgetary problems of a parish situated in the middle of Louisiana. Politico’s story can been read in its entirety HERE.

Rapides Parish Treasurer Bruce Kelly wondered why the DA’s office was suddenly asking for more funds than at any time in his 30 years in the parish treasurer’s office knowing, as he did, that the DA had a new fleet of vehicles with leather seats.

He soon learned why.

Pre-trial diversion, otherwise known as pre-trial intervention, or PTI.

The DA’s income from court fines had dropped by nearly half, from $900,000 to $500,000 over the past three years. That corresponded with a similar drop in traffic tickets issued—from 12,000 per year to 7,000.

At the same time, however, Terrell’s office had significantly increased its PTI program, allowing offenders to pay money to the DA in exchange for charges being dropped and their cases dismissed, thus keeping their tickets or arrests off their records as though they never happened.

Offenders were charged dismissal fees ranging from $250 for traffic tickets, $500 for misdemeanors and as high as $1,500 for felonies.

And Terrell’s office, Kelly learned, was keeping that money for itself—money that should have gone into the parish’s general fund to be shared with indigent defender offices and the sheriff’s office.

Believing Terrell was depriving the parish of fine money to which it was entitled, Kelly and the parish leadership filed suit against Terrell’s office in an effort to get the court to force the DA to share its PTI revenue.

Terrell responded that he could make as much as he wanted through PTI because…well, because the law didn’t say otherwise.

And he was right in the assertion that there were no statewide standards to the implementation and operation of PTI programs and thus, no restrictions as to his ability to exploit the program.

To make his case, he brought in a hired gun in the person of Hugo Holland, a prosecutor who normally works only as a prosecutor in criminal cases and who appears to be on the payroll of several parish district attorneys simultaneously, from Caddo Parish in north Louisiana to Calcasieu Parish in the state’s southwestern extreme.

The battle between Terrell and Rapides Parish Police Jury took on true Trumpian overtones when Holland threatened the police jury members with investigations into their own use of funds if they did not agree to drop their fight with his client. When that tactic failed, Terrell filed a countersuit arguing that he did not owe any money to the parish and calling the police jury’s lawsuit “politically-driven.”

It’s easy to see why Terrell is so possessive of his sudden stream of income—and why similar battle lines could be drawn between prosecutors and parish governing bodies as more and more DAs are made aware of the untapped revenue windfalls currently available to them.

It’s also pretty easy to predict an intense lobbying campaign by the Louisiana District Attorneys Association (LDAA) to protect PTI programs from regulation should some state lawmaker have the temerity to introduce legislation to rein in such a lucrative enterprise.

I’m willing to bet even money that Arkansas would have a better chance of beating LSU today than any such bill would have of making it out of committee.

 

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Louisiana State Police (LSP), only two-and-one-half years removed from one of its darkest chapters, may be facing yet another serious problem perpetrated from within the State Police Training Academy.

LSP Public Information Officer Major Doug Cain on Tuesday confirmed that two cadets had been removed, or separated, from the current class currently undergoing training at the academy for cheating.

Cain said the two were involved in cheating on a test, but the problem may actually go much deeper than just two cadets cheating on an exam, LouisianaVoice has learned.

LouisianaVoice has received reports that a key test may have been made available to certain cadets via an online drop box. An internal investigation will likely take place with disciplinary action to follow if the allegations are borne out.

Independent sources have reported to LouisianaVoice that the test in question is the Police Officers Standards and Training (P.O.S.T.) test which all police officers at local, parish and state levels must pass in order to become certified as law enforcement officers.

That test is separate from the weekly exams given cadets, the source said.

The source said that “captains, instructors, cadets—all of the above—were involved in providing copies of the P.O.S.T. test to select cadets whom they favored.

If correct, that would rise to the level of a major scandal for LSP Superintendent Colonel Kevin Reeves, who succeeded Mike Edmonson, who was forced into retirement following a series of negative stories culminating in an unauthorized trip to San Diego by four troopers in a state vehicle.

In my research for an anticipated book tentatively entitled America’s Rogue Sheriffs: A Culture of Corruption (a sequel to Louisiana’s Rogue Sheriffs: A Culture of Corruption), it was found that sheriffs’ deputies in several other states were fired for obtaining copies of tests but this would be the first known such case involving law enforcement in Louisiana.

It was not immediately known how many cadets might be involved in the alleged P.O.S.T. cheating scandal, nor how many, if any, instructors may be implicated.

The academy was recently rocked with another TRAINING INCIDENT when at least 10 cadets were injured, some with broken bones, as part of hazing punishment when one cadet was found to be in possession of a cellphone. Defensive Tactics (DT) training has subsequently been suspended at the academy as a result of the injuries.

LouisianaVoice will follow up on details as they are learned.

 

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There’s a wide-open sheriff’s race in Iberia now that three-term incumbent Louis Ackal has decided to hang up his gun and badge.

Ackal probably waited at least four years too long to walk away from a controversy-plagued tenure of his own making pockmarked as it was with dog attacks on defenseless inmates, beatings and even deaths that resulted in millions of dollars of damages from lawsuit judgments and settlements—along with a half-dozen federal criminal convictions of deputies.

Four years ago, Ackal was forced into a runoff and had to resort to soliciting the endorsement of the third-place finisher in exchange for a job in order to win that election in what should have been declared a clear ETHICS VIOLATION had there been an ethics commission with any ethics of its own.

On October 12, Iberia Parish voters will be tasked with picking a successor from among six candidates—two Republicans, a Democrat and three with no party affiliation. In alphabetical order, they are:

  • Roberta Boudreaux (No Party), who lost that runoff election four years after third-place finisher endorsed Ackal and was rewarded with the newly-created position of director of community relations—not that such a position wasn’t sorely needed by Ackal.
  • Joe LeBlanc (No Party).
  • Fernest “Pacman” Martin (Democrat).
  • Murphy Meyers (Republican), a retired state trooper.
  • Tommy Romero (Republican), another former state trooper now retired from the Louisiana Attorney General’s office.
  • Clinton “Bubba” Sweeny (No Party).

For the moment, Murphy Meyers would appear to be the main story in this election.

That’s because while Meyers wants to be sheriff of Iberia Parish, there is a serious question about whether or not he actually resides in the parish, a qualification most folks would seem to desire of their sheriff.

Meyers has been the sole 100 percent owner of a residence located at 1000 Hugh Drive, St. Martinville, since 1991.

But back on July 12, 2016, Meyers did in fact register to vote in Iberia parish, using the address 210 L Dubois Road, New Iberia.

But on March 7, 2018, Meyers’ then-employer, the Louisiana Department of Public Safety, Office of Louisiana State Police, filed an updated “Request for Personal Assignment and/or Home Storage of State-Owned Vehicle.” The vehicle was a 2008 Dodge Charger assigned to Meyers as his personal take-home unit. The form was for the requested approval period of July 1, 2018, through June 30, 2019. He signed the form stating all information in it was accurate and correct. The listed address of the employee’s resident was 1000 Hugh Drive, St. Martinville.

The very next day, March 8, 2018, Meyers renewed his driver’s license using 2101 Dubois Road, New Iberia, as his correct physical address. (Note: A driver may be cited and fined if the address on his or her driver’s license does not correspond with the driver’s actual address of residence.)

A year later, on March 25, 2019, Malinda Meyers, wife of Murphy Meyers, contributed two in-kind donations to her husband’s campaign fund, according to state campaign finance records submitted September 10, 2019. Malinda Meyers gave her address as 1000 Hugh Drive, St. Martinville.

On August 9, 2019, Murphy Meyers officially qualified to run for Iberia Parish Sheriff in a sworn statement that he met all requirements set forth by Louisiana law, including residence requirements. On that form, he gave his place of residence as 210 L Dubois Road, New Iberia, further affirming that he not only currently resides at that address but has for at least the last year, as per state qualifications.

So, just who does own that property at 210 L Dubois Road in New Iberia that keeps popping up on forms filled out by Meyers?

That would be the home that belonged his mother-in-law, Malindayes Mattox Burks.  Courthouse records in New Iberia list her as 100 percent owner of a home valued at $71,400 and assessed at $7,140. Malinda Meyers inherited the home but she and Murphy Meyers still reside in St. Martinville at 1000 Hugh Drive.

Or do they?

This would seem to be a job for the State Ethics Commission to straighten out provided, of course, it had any ethics of its own.

 

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To paraphrase Ronald Reagan: here they go again.

The expenditure of public funds, under the law, is supposed to be just that: public.

But trying to pry an accounting of legal costs associated with the state’s defense of 4th Judicial District law clerk Allyson Campbell has proved to be somewhat problematic, to say the least, for a north Louisiana publication.

The Ouachita Citizen in West Monroe is the only newspaper willing to take on the powers that be and so far, it has encountered a huge stone wall.

[The unwillingness of the Monroe News-Star to involve itself in the fight for the public’s right to know may be attributed to two factors: (1) it’s a Gannett publication which in and of itself, lends itself to mediocrity, and (2) Campbell once worked part time as something of a gossip columnist for the paper. Of course, it didn’t hurt that her father was an executive with Regions Bank and is married to the daughter of influential attorney Billy Boles, or that Campbell is the sister of Catherine Creed of the prominent Monroe law firm of Creed and Creed. Got all that? If not, here’s a LINK to one of our earlier stories about Campbell.]

But back to the latest developments in this ongoing saga. The Citizen made a by-the-books public records REQUEST of the Division of Administration (DOA) in which it sought an accounting of legal costs in defending Campbell in a lawsuit brought against her by Stanley Palowsky, III, for damages incurred when she “spoliated, concealed, removed, destroyed, shredded, withheld, and/or improperly handled” his petition for damages against a former business partner.

It seems that some 52 writ applications went missing for more than a year only to be found in Campbell’s office where, incredibly and inexplicably, she was using them as an end table in her office.

So, how DOA respond to the Citizen’s request? Basically, it said attorney’s bills for legal services were exempt from production under an exception pertaining to pending claims.

That’s debatable. Yes, in ongoing litigation, communications between attorney and client are definitely privileged. But a simple accounting of expenditures for legal representation has nothing to legal strategy or negotiations. It’s an expenditure, pure and simple, and should be available as a public record.

The Citizen, in its story, pointed out that Christian Creed, Catherine Creed’s husband and law partner, contributed $5,000 to Attorney General Jeff Landry’s campaign in November 2015.

But more significantly, LouisianaVoice combed through campaign reports and found that Christian Creed, Catherine Creed, and the Creed Law Firm were quite active in their support of other candidates.

Gov. John Bel Edwards was the beneficiary of $25,000 in contributions from both Catherine and Christian Creed over the three-year period of 2015-2107, and Commissioner of Administration Jay Dardenne received $2,000 in contributions from Christian Creed in 2013 and 2014.

Attorney Scott Sternberg of New Orleans is representing the Citizen and by letter dated August 27, gave DOA until today (August 30) to comply with the request.

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