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Archive for the ‘Fraud’ Category

On Thursday, WAFB-TV in Baton Rouge posted a story that was welcome news to the August 2016 flood victims, yours truly included.

The gist of the story was that the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development had waived the duplication of benefits provisions, clearing the way for flood victims who had to settle for SBA loans to rebuild their homes to receive compensation from FEMA through Restore Louisiana.

Until that provision was waived, anyone who did not receive FEMA funding was forced to accept the SBA loans. In some cases, as with me, victims were directed by FEMA reps to the SBA table to apply for loans. This was done without FEMA’s bothering to tell flood victims that if they accepted—or if they were even offered and declined—an SBA loan, they were automatically ineligible for other federal assistance.

So, as you might surmise, news of the waiver of the duplication of benefits stipulation was welcome news.

That story by WAFB-TV was posted at 8:41 a.m.

At 5:57 p.m., a scant eight hours later, I received my first scam call about my eligibility for federal assistance.

The call from Morgan City, my caller ID said. I know no one in Morgan City, but I answered anyway, thinking perhaps it may be someone with a tip for a story for LouisianaVoice.

Instead, it was a woman asking for me by name, although it took me about three or four tries to understand whom she was asking for. Then she launched into her spiel about my application, saying she need to confirm certain information. It took several times for that information to get through, which was just as well as it gave me time to wonder why someone would be calling from Morgan City about my FEMA application.

After asking her to repeat herself several times, the call was suddenly disconnected. When I tried to call back, I got the usual message on robo calls that the call could not be completed.

So, there you have it, folks. The scam artists are already busily scheming to prey on flood victims, some of whom still are not back in their homes and some, like me who, at 75, is saddled with a brand-new 30-year $125,000 mortgage.

The purpose of this is not to whine about my misfortune because to be honest, we fared better than many flood victims: we got an excellent general contractor who did everything he promised to do at the price he quoted—and he did excellent work.

The purposed of this is to put other victims on notice that the scammers are actively trying to steal your identity to bilk you out of anything you may have coming to you. You need to be alert to these people and NEVER divulge any personal information, including your Restore Louisiana application number, your social security number or anything else.

And just because my call showed up on caller ID as being from Morgan City (Area Code 985), that doesn’t mean diddly. They steal numbers so that it appears you are getting a local call. Your call may be from Hammond, Lafayette or anywhere, and from any area code.

DO NOT BE A VICTIM!

 

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Emails sent to the medical staff by the CEO of Our Lady of the Lake Regional Medical Center (OLOL) Scott Wester and the CEO of the Franciscan Missionaries of Our Lady Health Systems (FMOL) Dr. Richard Vath attacked what Vath described as “a troubling article” by the Baton Rouge Business Report which Wester said included “a number of negative allegations about Our Lady of the Lake, and me in particular.”

The Business Report article, by Editor Stephanie Riegel, was published on April 24 and described in detail administrative and financial problems encountered by OLOL and FMOL and hinting at a connection between the firing of former FMOL CEO Michael McBride and the embezzlement of $810,000 from the foundation involving its former chief fundraiser John Paul Funes.

McBride, brought in to shore up FMOL, lasted a year. An outsider, he attempted to oust local power Wester but was himself shown the door.

If all that isn’t confusing enough, consider this: the two emails by Vath and Wester went out on April 23, the day before the article’s online publication.

Damage control isn’t unusual but damage control in advance of a “troubling article” is less common, to put it mildly. Especially in light of a paragraph in Riegel’s story: “Attempts by Business Report to reach Wester for comment were unsuccessful and OLOL officials declined to make him available for an interview for this story.”

It just seems to me that if you’re not going to avail yourself to an opportunity to tell your side of the story, you waive any rights to attack the messenger—especially the day before the story’s publication.

Which, of course, raises the question of just how did Vath and Wester get their hands on an advance copy of the story?

Something about the timing of all this just doesn’t pass the smell test.

For those who might need a refresher or for those living out of the Baton Rouge media coverage area, FMOL and OLOL were rocked late last year by the revelation that $810,000 had been embezzled from a foundation, established by OLOL to raise funds for projects like the new OLOL Children’s Hospital.

Chief fundraiser Funes, whose salary was listed at $283,000, subsequently fired.

But Riegel’s story went further by quoting McBride as saying the Funes scandal “was a symptom,” not the cause, of bigger problems at OLOL. McBride was quoted as attributing low OLOL employee morale to the “good ol’ boys’ network,” adding, “It is no coincidence that seven-plus years of stealing went unreported until new senior leadership was in place.

She described inroads into the Baton Rouge market by Ochsner Health Systems of New Orleans, quoting sources as implying that OLOL’s fees are currently about 25 percent higher than its competition at Ochsner and Baton Rouge General.

Those were the points with which the two emails obtained by LouisianaVoice appear to disagree, although neither email addressed any specific errors in the story, both choosing instead to deliver a “feel good” message aimed at lifting morale and deflecting from points made by Riegel.

“I believe the article paints an inaccurate picture,” Wester wrote. “I could easily make the case about why the ministry is strong and how the Sisters and System’s leadership have us on the right path. Instead, I want to apologize.”

Vath took a similar approach, writing, “The article is misleading and inaccurate in several ways and attempts to use recent leadership transitions as the starting point for several lines of attack against our ministry.”

“When reading the emails, it was impossible to know what Mr. Wester and Dr. Vath were talking about unless one received the Baton Rouge Business Report in published form,” said one OLOL employee.

“Both of the emails are camouflaging and obfuscation, and don’t address any facts or specifics of the article—nor of anything going on at the hospital.

“Just from the form and tone of the two emails, I was pretty confident that I’d agree with over 50 percent of the article even before I actually read it the next day,” the employee said. “Now that I’ve read the article, I agree with almost 100 percent of it—at least the parts I know about from working at OLOL.

“I’d love to have Mr. Wester and Dr. Vath tell us which parts of the article are not factual and/or untrue.”

 

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Try for a moment to imagine that:

  • You were born in England of Indian parents, moved to Louisiana at the age of 10 with your parents and twin brother;
  • You graduated from the prestigious Louisiana School for Math, Science & and the Arts and the LSU School of Dentistry;
  • You’ve practiced dentistry for the past 16 years in Monroe;
  • You have devoted your entire adult life to serving those less fortunate;
  • The Dean of the LSU School of Dentistry recommended you for a seat on the Louisiana State Board of Dentistry;
  • You were appointed to the board by the governor of the State of Louisiana in January 2019;
  • Three months later, you learned your appointment had been abruptly rescinded because the incumbent board member pitched a hissy fit and called in political favors.

If your name is Dr. Jeetendra S. Patel, you don’t have to imagine because that scenario is all too real to him.

Along the way, he has learned several valuable lessons they don’t teach in high school civics classes:

  • Power is bestowed upon those who best know how to abuse it;
  • Once in possession of that power, they are quite reluctant to relinquish it;
  • Not everything in politics is done above-board—far from it;
  • Without the right connections, there are no slam-dunks;
  • There are many avenues to obtaining power but conniving, back-stabbing, deception, treachery and outright lies are the preferred methods.
  • Power is never achieved for the purpose of doing good; it is for one purpose only: crushing your opponents, both perceived and real;
  • The simultaneous possession of power and idealism are incompatible;

But, hey! That’s the new reality. You study hard, make good grades, do well in college, work hard, provide for your family, help the underprivileged, get involved in your kids’ schools, cheer for your favorite team and then see you idealism, your dreams smashed against the cold, hard rocks of political favoritism, back-room deals, good ol’ boy cronyism, and big-money politics.

In short, your American Dream has morphed into an American nightmare—and you never saw it coming.

That’s the story—the disillusionment, really—of Dr. Jeetendra S. Patel.

In an April 12 (Friday) email to State Sen. Francis Thompson (D-Delhi), Patel wrote:

The Louisiana State Board of Dentistry has been in the hot seat the last several years. The board needs diversity and some fresh faces. On Monday, October 1st, 2018, I was nominated to be on the board and to represent Electoral District 4. Dr. Richard Willis (who has already served a 5-year term) and Dr. Robert Spatafora were also nominated. These nominations were submitted to the Governor. On January 18th, 2019, I was appointed to the Louisiana State Board of Dentistry by the Governor. As of today, I have been on the state board almost 3 months and have already participated in the first meeting of 2019 as well as reviewed a board complaint case against a dentist. I have had the pleasure of meeting all the board members.

Unfortunately, I found out from a colleague today that I will not be confirmed by the Senate. Please help me understand why this is the case. I have been practicing dentistry in Monroe for 16 years and have attended most Northeast Louisiana Dental Association (NELDA) meetings since 2003. On September 18th, 2018, Dr. Willis sent an email out to all practicing dentists in our district stating that there would be a nominating meeting for the District 4 vacancy (a vacancy that did not exist). The meeting was to be held at his practice/office. How is this fair?  He had all his friends, most of whom were older dentists, come to the meeting.  A few of the dentists present don’t even practice dentistry anymore and I have never seen them at a meeting. Most of the dentists that came to his office usually are not present at our association meetings. Dr. Willis also had all 3 of his dental partners present. Nowhere in the bylaws, is there a ballot vote required. I questioned Dr. Willis that night about this unfairness in voting and his words were that’s what we are going to do.

This whole situation was handled poorly and with bias. Our first NELDA meeting of 2019 was held at The Taste of India on Thursday, January 17th. Dr. Willis was present that evening and was to give a state board report to all dentists who were present. When he found out that I was going to be appointed the next day, he stormed out of the restaurant and never gave his report. To make matters worse, he had one of his associates call me the following week to see if I would step down from the board. On Monday, April 1st, 2019, an anonymous email went out to all 4th district dentists asking for a new vote on the state board member appointment. This was a survey that any person could vote on. To make matters worse, the email stated that “At our recent legislature dinner, our local legislators requested a new vote on the state board member appointment.” The very next day, the Alternate Director to the LDA and the President of NELDA, sent out an email stating that this was not discussed.

So, basically, here’s what we have:

  • Willis has completed a five-year term on the board;
  • By law, the governor’s office solicits three names for nomination to succeed him;
  • The names of Patel, Willis and a third dentist were submitted;
  • Patel was selected from the three and nominated to the board—and has even attended a board meeting;
  • Willis didn’t want to go;
  • Willis tries an end-run around the governor’s office to call a new vote, a vote which state regulations do not allow;
  • An anonymous email was sent out (apparently on Willis’s behalf) announcing that a new vote had been requested by area legislators. This time, unlike the first, anyone who had a body temperature of approximately 98.60 would be eligible to vote;
  • Those in attendance of a meeting at which Willis walked out say no such discussion was ever held;
  • Patel’s nomination, nevertheless, was yanked and now Willis is scheduled for Senate confirmation within the next few days.

The words ruthless come to mind here.

And unless Gov. Edwards intervenes in this power play and reinstates Patel, this could become a campaign issue. It’s at least the second such case of a board appointment suddenly being rescinded by the governor’s office and if this is indicative of a trend, it’s an ugly one.

Many state boards in general and the Louisiana State Board of Dentistry and the Louisiana State Board of Medical Examiners in particular have become tight little cliques and outsiders need not apply.

It’s far past time that once and for all, the unequivocal point needs to be driven home that the memberships of these boards are not for personal enrichment or to destroy competition, but to serve the citizens of the State of Louisiana.

That point has been lost somewhere along the way.

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As reports of financial improprieties in the LSU BASKETBALL program, the SCHOOL of VETERINARY MEDICINE and a children’s foundation at a Baton Rouge HOSPITAL compete for headlines, another scandal has been quietly brewing across town that thus far has managed to fly under the radar of news reporters and investigators.

It’s nothing on the magnitude of the pay to play story that has rocked higher education at the nation’s elite universities, but it is indicative of a growing problem of a deterioration of trust, integrity and morality behind the walls of academia.

Once considered paragons of virtue, propriety, and incorruptibility, our colleges and universities have become politicized by draconian budgetary cuts to the point that schools find themselves searching for their collective moral compasses even as they strive for funds to remain afloat.

But budgetary cuts alone can’t account for the some of the shenanigans we see taking place on our college campuses. Sometimes it’s just outright contempt for the rules of common decency.

Take Southern University, the state’s largest predominantly black university, for example.

The school has, with nobody taking notice, become embroiled in a dispute involving the firing of four faculty members in the Department of Speech-Language Pathology/Audiology.

The firings occurred when the faculty members refused to go along with:

  • The creation of a so-called shadow, or non-existent curriculum to benefit a single student;
  • The falsifying of another student’s grade from F to B so that she could graduate even though she failed to attend the class;
  • Allowing a student to enroll despite her being under suspension from the university;
  • Permitting a major course to be offered as an independent study when the department does not have independent study, again to benefit a single student;
  • Nepotism;
  • Bullying and threatening behavior by administration officials when faculty members questioned the legality or propriety of their actions;

The four, Dr. Elaine Lewnau, Dr. Christy Moland, Dr. Terrilynn Gillis, and Dr. Marilyn Seibert, are represented by Baton Rouge attorney J. Arthur Smith, III.

During Monday’s hearing by the Southern University System-wide Grievance Committee, committee chairperson academic counselor Marla Dickerson consistently interrupted Smith with a barrage of questions despite Smith’s repeated requests that he be allowed to complete his statements to the committee.

The entirety of Monday’s hearing was the very definition of a kangaroo court as the four faculty members were also interrupted time and time again as they attempted to give their opening statements.

Then, without a motion or vote to do so, Dickerson called an executive session, saying the hearing was not a public meeting and the committee was not a public body even though any decision it may make is clearly defined as an official action by a public body under state law. Dickerson’s saying otherwise does not change that.

The state’s OPEN MEETING STATUTE, R.S. 42:16 (A)(25) reads:

In order for a public body to enter into an executive session, a vote of 2/3 of members present at an open meeting, for which proper notice was given pursuant to R.S. 42:19, is necessary — along with an accompanying statement of the reason for entering into the executive session. The vote of each member on the motion to enter into executive session along with the reason for entering the executive session must be recorded and entered into the minutes. (emphasis added)

So, the “Grievance Committee” violated the state’s open meetings statutes which require public hearings of grievances should those filing grievances request a public hearing, which all four in fact, did request.

The same section says:

Further, the public body may not enter into executive session for the purposes of this discussion, if the individual requests that the matter be discussed in an open meeting. (emphasis added)

Dickerson, in calling the closed session, ejected not only LouisianaVoice, but also the four professors and their legal counsel (Smith) as well as the legal counsel for the university itself (Winston Decuir), thus preventing legal counsel for each side from hearing any testimony by witnesses.

The grievance was filed against Dr. James Ammons, executive vice president and executive vice chancellor of Southern University.

For the 2018 Spring Semester, a shadow curriculum consisting of three courses, was approved for a single student, even though there is no record of a syllabus for such courses and no record of student performance in the courses for which she received a grade of A. “This is grade fraud,” Smith said, because “The department chair did not know that these courses were being given to the student” and “there is no record of ASHA (American Speech-Language-Hearing Association) certification standards achieved in any of the courses.

“Because these courses were put into (the student’s) schedule without any knowledge of the department chair (or) graduate program director, in other words, illegal courses, and taught by…illegally appointed department chair and graduate program director, respectively,” Smith said. The previous department chair and graduate program director were removed by Ammons without reason, in violation of school policy, Smith said.

Smith said a major course was offered to a single student as an independent study in the 2018 Fall semester even though the Speech Pathology Department does not offer independent study, which Smith said violates the accuracy of the ASHA accreditation report where no independent study has ever been reported. Again, Smith said this constituted grade fraud.

Further, Smith said Dr. Stephen Enwefa removed Dr. Lewnau from her duties of teaching the course without reason and appointed his wife, Dr. Regina Enwefa, to teach the course. “This is nepotism despite the insistence by Dr. Ammons and President (Ray) Belton’s general counsel that the university is not in violation of the state’s nepotism laws.”

The student was to have completed an unauthorized clinic in the 2018 Spring semester, Smith said, but neither the site nor the clinical hours were approved by the Clinical Education director. The student was given an F because she attended only two weeks of the eight-week clinic, but Ammons changed her grade to a B. “The grade of B that was authorized by Dr. Ammons is fraudulent,” Smith said.

“Because Dr. Moland refused to give credit for something of which she had no record; because she would not falsify records for this student and lie, Dr. Ammons fired her,” Smith said.

Likewise, Dr. Gillis said she was fired for refusing to violate the ASHA professional ethics and because she “refused to submit to the illegal orders of Dr. Ammons.”

Dr. Seibert said she entered into an agreement with Southern whereby she would be paid $20,000 for teaching in the Speech-Language Pathology Department during the 2018 Fall semester but was subsequently paid only $7,500.

Dr. Lewnau added, “As chair of the admissions committee for the master’s degree program in speech-language pathology, Dr. Gillis had been contacted several times about the admission of 6 students who had applied and been denied because they did not meet the minimum admissions requirements.

“These contacts came from various offices on campus, including the President’s office, the Board of Supervisors’ office and the office of the Executive Vice President/Executive Vice Chancellor and someone who claimed to be a member of the Southern University Alumni Association, for the purpose of trying to get these students into the master’s degree program.

“Dr. Gillis had to repeatedly stated that the students just did not qualify for admissions. After Dr. (Donna) Dejean and Dr. Lewnau were removed from their administrative offices and replaced by the husband and wife team of Drs. Stephen and Regina Enwefa, and Dr. Gillis was given a letter of termination from the University, effective May 2019, these students were admitted to the master’s degree program by the Enwefas.

“Bear in mind, these students were admitted by the Enwefas who together and without any input from the rest of the faculty admitted them and without re-opening the admissions process to other students who might interested.

“The invitation was extended to these students who had been supported by individuals from the offices cited above. We believe that this was a contributing factor to Dr. Gillis’ being terminated. She refused to bow to the pressure placed upon her in the matter of these admissions. Since then all admissions, undergraduate and graduate, are administered by Stephen and Regina Enwefa; there is no longer an admissions committee as there had been in the past. Once again, nepotism!”

 

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The Louisiana Legislative Auditor’s office, as required by law, issued its Report on Fiscal Deficiencies, Inefficiencies, Fraud, or Other Significant Issues Disclosed in Governmental Auditors for the first quarter of Fiscal Year 2019 last October.

And now, six months down the road, it’s a pretty good bet that no more than a handful of legislators, at best, have even glanced at the five-page REPORT that nine state agencies and one local agency for 17 deficiencies or irregularities totaling more than $245.7 million. Some of the deficiencies reported go back as far as 2008.

In fact, the smart money says that no more than a half-dozen of the 28 House members and 19 Senators who comprise the Joint Legislative Committee on the Budget have even picked up a copy of the report.

After all, there are campaign funds to be raised and lobbyists to be kept happy and one must have priorities.

And these are the ones who are charged with watching the purse strings on the state budget:

Joint Legislative Committee on the Budget (JLCB)

HOUSE
Henry, Cameron                           Chairman                          
Abraham, Mark                           Member                          
Abramson, Neil C.                           Member                          
Amedée, Beryl                           Member                          
Armes, James K.                           Member                          
Bacala, Tony                           Member                          
Bagley, Larry                           Member                          
Berthelot, John A.                           Member                          
Billiot, Robert E.                           Member                          
Carter, Gary                           Member                          
Chaney, Charles R.                           Member                          
Edmonds, Rick                           Member                          
Falconer, Reid                           Member                          
Foil, Franklin J.                           Member                          
Harris, Lance                           Member                          
Hodges, Valarie                           Member                          
Leger, Walt III                           Member                          
McFarland, Jack                           Member                          
Miguez, Blake                           Member                          
Miller, Dustin                           Member                          
Pylant, Steve E.                           Member                          
Richard, Jerome                           Member                          
Simon, Scott M.                           Member                          
Smith, Patricia Haynes                           Member                          
Zeringue, Jerome                           Member                          
Jackson, Katrina R.                           Interim Member                          
Stokes, Julie                           Interim Member                          
Barras, Taylor F.                           Ex Officio                          

 

SENATE
LaFleur, Eric                           Vice Chair                          
Allain, R. L. Bret                           Member                          
Appel, Conrad                           Member                          
Barrow, Regina                           Member                          
Bishop, Wesley T.                           Member                          
Donahue, Jack                           Member                          
Fannin, James R.                           Member                          
Hewitt, Sharon                           Member                          
Johns, Ronnie                           Member                          
Martiny, Daniel R.                           Member                          
Morrell, Jean-Paul J.                           Member                          
Tarver, Gregory                           Member                          
White, Mack “Bodi”                           Member                          
Chabert, Norbèrt N. “Norby”                           Interim Member                          
Morrish, Dan W. “Blade”                           Interim Member                          
Thompson, Francis C.                           Interim Member                          
Walsworth, Michael A.                            Interim Member                          
Alario, John                            Ex Officio                          
Long, Gerald                           Ex Officio                    

 

I base my opinion on the premise that had any of them read the report, they would—or should—be raising holy hell over such things as:

  • For the sixth consecutive report, the Department of Environmental Quality has not fully implemented effective monitoring procedures over the Waste Tire Management Program (WTMP) to ensure that waste tire date used to calculate subsidized payments to waste tire processors is reasonable. “We first reported weaknesses in controls over payments to WTMP processors in our engagement that covered fiscal years 2008 and 2009,” the report says. For the period from July 1, 2007, through June 30, 2017, DEQ paid out $99.4 million in subsidies to six waste tire processors.

Other major deficiencies cited included:

Governor’s Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness (Hazard Mitigation):

  • Expense reimbursements not supported by invoices, receipts, lease agreements, contracts, labor policies, time records, equipment logs HUD settlement statements, appraisals, elevation certificates, duplication of benefits verification, engineer plans inspection photographs or other documentation: $1.8 million;
  • Contracts and purchases did not comply with applicable federal and state procurement requirements: $1.47 million.

Governor’s Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness (Public Assistance):

  • Completed work not within the scope of an approved project: $2.3 million;
  • Expense reimbursements not supported by invoices, receipts, lease agreements, contracts, labor policies, time records, equipment logs, inventory records or other documentation: $40.1 million;
  • Contract and purchases did not comply with applicable federal and state procurement requirements: $11.95 million;
  • Work reflected in the expense reimbursements did not comply with applicable FEMA regulations: $9.4 million;
  • GOHSEP’s cost estimating tool and/or expense review form either omitted or contained duplicate and/or incorrectly categorized expenses: $956,000.

Attorney General:

  • The AG did not deposit money into the Fraud Fund in fiscal year 2016 in accordance with state law: $713,000.

Louisiana Department of Health:

  • LDH did not deposit money into its Fraud Fund between fiscal years 2012 and 2017 in accordance with state law: $2.8 million;
  • LDH incorrectly deposited money into the Medicaid Fraud Fund in fiscal year 2012 that should have been deposited into the Nursing Home Residents’ Trust Fund: $323,000;
  • LDH spent money from the Medicaid Fraud Fund in fiscal year 2017 for salaries that do not appear to meet the intended purpose of the Fraud Fund: $477,000;
  • LDH spent money from the Medicaid Fraud Fund in fiscal 2012 on software that could not be implemented due to system compatibility issues: $643,000.

Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority (Oil Spill):

  • Amounts requested/invoiced not supported by invoices, receipts, lease agreements, contracts, labor policies, time records, equipment logs

It’s somewhat puzzling when people like Reps. Cameron Henry (R-Metairie) and Taylor Barras (R-New Iberia) try to fight the governor’s budgetary proposals at every opportunity (including his attempt to increase teachers’ pay) but you never hear a peep out of them about a paltry $245 million.

And Henry just happens to be chairman of the JLCB and Barras just happens to be Speaker of the House.

As our late friend, C.B. Forgotston was fond of saying, “You can’t make this stuff up.”

 

 

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