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Archive for the ‘Grant’ Category

Troy Hebert is nothing if not:

  1. inconsistent
  2. obfuscating
  3. controversial
  4. all the above

Hebert, Bobby Jindal’s brilliant (sarcasm, folks, sarcasm!) choice to succeed former Director of the Louisiana Office of Alcohol and Tobacco Control (ATC) Murphy Painter after Team Jindal set Painter up on bogus criminal charges, has stumbled into one administrative fiasco after another.

In fact, the manner in which Hebert has run his office might even be considered a microcosm of the Jindal administration, so frighteningly reminiscent is it to the way he seems to emulate his boss.

Just as Jindal attempted (unsuccessfully) to flex his muscles (figuratively, of course; it be absurd to suggest otherwise) after Painter refused to knuckle under to demands from former Chief of Staff Steve Waguespack that a permit be issued to Budweiser to erect a tent at major Jindal campaign donor Tom Benson’s Champion’s even though Budweiser had not met the legal permit requirements, so has Hebert attempted to destroy the careers of agents serving under him for reasons that consistently failed to rise above the level of political pettiness.

Jindal, who accused Painter of abusing his office, apparently overlooked the fact that Hebert, while serving in the Louisiana Legislature, nevertheless saw nothing wrong with working under a state contract for debris cleanup after Hurricane Katrina.

Not only was Painter acquitted in his federal criminal trial, but he then sued his accuser in civil court—and won.

Likewise, Hebert has been sued by former agents for racial discrimination and has been forced to settle at least one such claim. Other complaints are pending as this is being written. Part of the basis for those complaints was Hebert’s confiding in Tingle that he was “going to f**k with” two black agents and that he intended to break up the “black trio” in north Louisiana—in reference to agents Charles Gilmore, Daimian McDowell and Bennie Walters.

And in the case of Brette Tingle, Hebert went to the extreme of attempting to get three different agencies to say there was a criminal payroll fraud case against Tingle—and in each case he failed to get his needed approval. Tingle’s sin? He was listed as a witness for the three black agents who have lodged EEOC complaints against Hebert. That left Hebert with only one logical course of action (logical in Hebert’s mind, that is). He fired Tingle while Tingle was recuperating from a heart attack.

ATC employees Terri Cook and Sean Magee tracked GPS locations of agents and emailed agents and their supervisors on a daily basis so that any issues, discrepancies or inconsistencies raised by the GPS reports could be addressed in a timely manner.

Yet, despite Hebert’s claims that Tingle was not working when he said he was or that he made an unauthorized trip into Mississippi, the issues were never raised by Cook or Magee, according to Tingle’s attorney J. Arthur Smith.

In fact, Smith pointed out that Tingle traveled to Kiln, MS. On May 2, 2012—at Hebert’s express approval—“to obtain surplus gun cleaning kits from his (Tingle’s) Coast Guard unit which were then issued to agents in your (Hebert’s) presence at a meeting at the Baton Rouge ATC headquarters with all enforcement agents as well as business division employees present.”

Smith also said that Tingle “was assigned FDA compliance checks (for tobacco sales to minors) while out on sick leave.” Upon his return to work, Mr. Tingle informed (Hebert) that he could not complete the assigned compliance checks because of other collateral duties which Hebert had assigned him. “These collateral duties included meeting with Trendsic Corp. and newly hired IT employee Keith McCoy to discuss several ideas that Mr. Tingle brought to you and that you wanted implemented before Mr. Tingle left on military leave.

“In this conversation,” Smith continued in his March 10 letter to Hebert, “you instructed Mr. Tingle to ‘get someone else to do those checks.’ Mr. Tingle also served a hearing officer and Internal Affairs Investigator for the ATC. These collateral duties, as well as your special assignments to him, were not part of Mr. Tingle’s regular job duties. You never at any time excused Mr. Tingle from performing these additional responsibilities,” he said.

Moreover, Smith noted, Tingle, Hebert initiated reprisals against Tingle because of statements provided by Tingle in a federal EEOC racial discrimination action filed against the ATC and Hebert even though Tingle “received the highest marks on his annual performance evaluation of all ATC enforcement agents. You signed this evaluation in July 2012,” Smith said.

That same month Hebert contacted Tingle, who was on vacation, by telephone in July of 2012, Smith said, to inquire into specifics concerning programs and initiatives that were part of an ATC pilot program for the New Orleans area initiated by Tingle. Upon learning of Tingle’s participation as a witness in the discrimination matter, however, Hebert claimed on Oct. 4, 2012, that Tingle had committed payroll fraud and further told OIG investigators that no such pilot program existed, according to Smith’s letter to Hebert.

The pilot program, Tingle said, involved programs not being done in other parts of the state. For example, a plan promoted by the AARP to improve blighted areas. ATC, he said, worked with AARP to provide alternative business plans to bar owners who have had their licenses suspended or revoked.

Hebert and New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu held a joint press conference in July of 2012 to announce the program that Tingle initiated. http://www.nola.gov/mayor/press-releases/2012/20120717-mayor-landrieu-and-atc-commissioner-troy/

It was during this press conference that Hebert called a vacationing Tingle for information on the pilot program.

Tingle said Hebert has never followed through on any of the facets of the program.

In mid-January of 2013, Hebert launched an investigation into Tingle’s wife, Traci Tingle, who had recently retired from ATC, claiming that she had falsified state documents and that she had released personnel records to someone outside ATC.

The nature of the personnel records Hebert accused Traci Tingle of releasing was not made clear because Hebert never explained what they were. The state documents referred to, however, were inventory reports in which Traci Tingle had affirmed that the ATC had office equipment in an office in Vidalia, across the Mississippi River from Natchez. Hebert claimed “there was no Vidalia office,” Smith said, but when an ATC employee contacted the Vidalia Police Department about the matter, the Vidalia Police Department confirmed there was an ATC office in that town and that the office still contained ATC equipment.

It was unclear why Hebert would assert that ATC had no office in Vidalia unless the claim was made as a means of attempting to incriminate Traci Tingle.

What is clear, however, that Hebert is molding the agency into his personal fiefdom. He claims he has never fired a black agent but the evidence says otherwise. He also doesn’t say much about intimidating blacks—or transferring one from Shreveport to New Orleans without so much as day’s notice—to the point that they leave of their own accord.

The thing to keep uppermost in mind is that he is Jindal’s hand-picket director, specifically plucked from the legislature to succeed the man whom Jindal railroaded out of office with bogus criminal charges that were subsequently laughed out of court—all because that man, Murphy Painter, insisted that applicants (even those connected to big campaign donors like Tom Benson) conform to the rules when submitting applications for permits.

LouisianaVoice saw a railroad job then and we called it just that—when no other members of the media would come to the defense of Painter. We’re again seeing a railroad job and again, we’re calling it just that.

Jindal, of course, does not preside over the ATC Office but his policies, like a certain substance, flow downhill.

And right now, they’re stinking up the ATC Office.

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“That clanking sound you heard,” says blogger C. B. Forgotston, “was Louisiana’s proverbial fiscal can hitting the end of the road.” And he has been around state government long enough to know the signs.

“Like a kid behaving badly, we’ve been placed on probation,” added State Treasurer John Kennedy.

Both men’s assessments were in response to the double whammy of two investor rating services’—Moody’s and Standard & Poor’s—action to move Louisiana’s credit outlook from stable to negative on Friday and to threaten the more severe action of a downgrade.

“This should be a wake-up call that we need to stop spending more than we take in,” Kennedy said.  “We’ve drained our trust funds, we’ve relied on nonrecurring money and we’ve had to cut the budget in the middle of the fiscal year for too many years now.  Many have been warning that this day would arrive, and it has.”

The dual action by the two ratings services impacts $2.7 billion in outstanding general obligation debt and $1.25 billion in related debt.

Moody’s warned that continued structural imbalances, steep growth in pension costs, deterioration in financial liquidity and failure to contain costs in the state’s Medicaid system will result in a credit rating downgrade, making it more costly for the state to borrow money.

S & P added a warning that “Should budget adjustments fail to focus on recurring solutions or if the structural gap grows with continued declines in revenue or material reductions in federal program funding to the state, we could lower the rating” even further.

Gov. Bobby immediately attempted to put a positive spin on the bad news (or as Forgotston described it, tried to pour perfume on the manure pile to change the smell but not the content) by saying that the agencies didn’t lower the ratings on the existing outstanding General Obligation bonds.

But what Gov. Bobby did not say, according to Forgotston, was that the rating on those bonds was not lowered because the Louisiana State Constitution gives those bonds first call, even before employee retirement benefits, on all the money in the state treasury. “In other words, if the state goes bankrupt, those bonds will be paid,” he said, adding that future state borrowing will also cost more.

It could also mean that in the event of default, retirees won’t be getting their pension checks, something that should get the gray panthers up in arms.

At this point, we feel it important to point out—just in case anyone still needs reminding—that Gov. Bobby has been traveling all over the country (well, mainly to Iowa and Washington, D.C.) spewing his rhetoric about how he has cut the number of state employees, how Louisiana’s economy is out-performing other states, how new industry is locating to Louisiana, and how little it costs to attend LSU.

Except it’s all part of his big lie—except, of course, the part about hauling state workers out to the curb.

But if he is so hell-bent on claiming and then taking credit for all these wonderful events and trends (of course he never mentions the state’s high poverty rate, poor health care availability, our second lowest median household income, the eighth lowest percentage of citizens with a bachelor’s degree or higher, or our fifth highest violent crime rate), then he must shoulder the blame for the bad news as well.

Any coach will tell you that’s the way the game is played; if you take credit for the wins, you have to take the blame for the losses.

And of course, he never, never does that. Everything out of his mouth is about all the great accomplishments of his administration, and always spouted off in such rapid-fire fashion as to give little chance for argument from dissenters. It’s his style to overwhelm with statistics quoted by rote in his boring staccato delivery.

Well, Bobby, your rhetoric—and for that matter, you as well—are wearing a little thin.

The doubt began creeping in here in Louisiana midway of your first term and has continued to build until now the national media have caught on. Only last week, three or four national stories revealed the pitiful shape you are leaving our state in for your unfortunate successor to attempt to clean up.

Unfortunately, whoever follows you will most likely be a one-term governor because no one can clean up your mess in a single term and the voters are likely to grow weary of whoever is unfortunate enough to follow you and turn him or her out of office after four years in a desperate attempt to find a quick solution that in reality may take decades. You have set this state back that far (Thank you, Gov. Mike Foster for inflicting this plague upon us).

And, Gov. Bobby, you can just mothball your national political ambitions. Being President is a far distant fantasy by now and any prospects of a cabinet position are just as surely disappearing like so much sand through your fingers. You can now only accept that you will go down as one of, if not the most vilified governor in the history of this state. You have succeeded, by comparison, in making Earl Long appear to have been in full control of his mental faculties back in 1959.

And lest anyone think we are giving the legislature a free pass on this situation, think again. With only a handful of exceptions, those of you in the House and Senate have been complicit in this charade of governance. You have aided and abetted this pitiful excuse of a chief executive who, while pandering repeatedly that he had the job he wanted, nevertheless plunged full speed ahead toward his fool’s errand of seeking the Republican presidential nomination. Why, his own family was talking openly of his becoming President—at his first inauguration way back in 2008!

Moody’s and S &P were each quite thorough in laying out the reasoning for their simultaneous actions on Friday.

Moody’s said its action reflects a $1.6 billion structural deficit, continued budget gaps, the state’s large Medicaid caseload, job growth below the national average and significant unfunded pension liabilities.  “The negative outlook reflects the state’s growing structural budget imbalance, projected at $1.6 billion for fiscal 2016, or about 18% of the $8.7 billion general fund even after significant budget cuts of recent years,” Moody’s said. “The state has options for reducing the imbalance, including scaling back various tax credit programs, but the overall scale of balancing measures needed may further deplete resources and reduce the state’s liquidity, which has been one of its strengths.”

S & P was no kinder, citing Gov. Bobby’s reliance on non-recurring revenue which it said only served to increase future budgetary pressures. “In our view, the state’s focus on structural solutions to its general fund budget challenges will be a key determinant of its future credit stability.

“We could consider revising the outlook back to stable if revenue trends stabilize and if Louisiana makes material progress in aligning its recurring revenues and expenditures on a timely basis with a focus on recurring solutions. Should budget adjustments fail to focus on recurring solutions or if the structural gap grows with continued declines in revenue or material reductions in federal program funding to the state, we could lower the rating,” S & P said.

Forgotston, in his own unique way, tells us what Moody’s and S & P were really telling us: “Bobby, you and the legislators have made a big ‘number-two’ mess in your fiscal pants and we have no faith in your ability to clean it up. Folks, don’t let the legislators try to fool you; this is very bad news for us taxpayers and the legislators are the reason for it.”

Yes, it’s easy to blame Gov. Bobby because he has in his seven years initiated every Ponzi scheme one could imagine from giving away something like $11 billion in tax incentives (according to one recent story), to giving away the state’s charity hospitals, to robbing the Office of Group Benefits reserve fund, to attempting to rob the state’s retirement system, to refusing federal grants for needed projects, to rejecting Medicaid expansion and thus depriving the state’s indigent population access to decent health care which in turn led directly to the announced closure of the emergency room of a major Baton Rouge hospital. The list goes on.

But, as Gov. Bobby is so fond of saying, at the end of the day, it was the legislature, through the “leadership” of Senate President John Alario, House Speaker Chuck Kleckley and Appropriations Committee Chairman Jim Fannin that allowed him to do it by refusing to grow a collective set and stand up to this vindictive little amateur dictator.

This is an election year and Louisiana voters—particularly state employees, former state employees who have lost their jobs because of Gov. Bobby, teachers, retirees and the state’s working poor would do well to remember what this governor has done to them and which legislators voted to support the administration’s carnage inflicted upon this state.

There are those few in the House and Senate who have spoken up and tried to be the voices of reason but those voices have been drowned out by Gov. Bobby’s spinmeisters.

So when you vote for governor next fall, you would do well to ignore the TV commercials bought by those who want only to continue down this same path of economic destruction and growing income disparity and consider who you believe really has the best interest of the state, and not the special interests, at heart. In other words, think for yourselves instead of letting some ad agency do your thinking for you.

If you don’t get your collective heads out of the sand and in the most emphatic manner you can muster, tell your neighbors, your friends, your family, the clerk at the store where you shop for food and clothing, the cashier at the restaurant where you eat what this governor and this legislature have done to you and to them, then come next fall, you have no one to blame but yourselves.

The time for joking about Gov. Bobby is over. We’re at the end game now.

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What should Louisiana citizens know about a $12 million real estate deal in Iberville Parish between the Louisiana Department of Economic Development (LED) and a Russian Oligarch involving a proposed fertilizer plant on property surrounding a Louisiana National Guard facility?

Apparently nothing, if one judges from the status updates coming from the Jindal administration since the deal was made back in June of 2013.

Throw in a curious buy-back clause contained in the agreement between the state and EuroChem Louisiana LLC, an option for EuroChem to purchase a second tract in St. John the Baptist Parish, and talk about environmental emission credits that were supposedly promised to Eurochem but then appear to have evaporated into…well, thin air, and you have the makings of political intrigue with an international flavor.

Readers may remember our post last October 20 in which we revealed what appeared to be a sweetheart deal between the state and Vantage Health Plan whereby Vantage was allowed to purchase the former Virginia Hotel in Monroe for $881,000 without having to bother with a pesky public auction and sealed bids.

That transaction was made possible (even though there was another party interested in purchasing the building that had been serving as the State Office Building in Monroe) by Senate Bill 216 (SB 216) by Sens. Mike Walsworth (R-West Monroe), Rick Gallot (D-Ruston), Neil Riser (R-Columbia), and Francis Thompson (D-Delhi).

Well, it turns out there was considerably more to SB 216 (which became Act 127 upon the signature of Gov. Bobby Jindal). We saw the bill in its entirety at the time we wrote our story last October but did not understand the significance of a part of the bill entitled Section 3.

Until now.

Section 3 called for the sale of 2,150 acres of land within the town of St. Gabriel in Iberville Parish to a then unidentified “business entity that enters into a cooperative agreement” with the Department of Economic Development.

Not only was the prospective buyer not named in the bill (contrary to the other part of the bill that clearly identified Vantage Health and the purchase price of the Virginia Hotel), but the bill also contained no mention of a purchase price for the Iberville property. Neither the name EuroChem nor a purchase price is contained anywhere in the bill.

It is understandable that the buyer’s name might be left out of the bill, especially if the sale is still pending and nothing has been finalized. But when considering a proposal to dispose of a 2,150-acre tract of property for industrial purposes, one might be reasonably expected to ask how much money is involved before casting a vote on such a measure.

The bill passed the House by a 96-1 vote and by a 31-1 vote in the Senate. Voting against the bill in the House was Rep. Marcus Hunter (D-Monroe) while the lone dissenting vote in the Senate was cast by Sen. Dan Claitor (R-Baton Rouge). Seven senators and eight House members were absent or did not vote.

The Senate vote was on April 24, 2013, and the House approval followed on May 22. Gov. Bobby Jindal signed the bill on June 5 and the cooperative endeavor agreement was signed on June 14 by LED Deputy Secretary Steven Grissom—even though the bill did not become law until Aug. 1, 2013. PTDC3577

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The name of the Eurochem representative on the state documents obtained from LED was Ivan Vassilev Boasher, identified only as “Manager.”PTDC3576

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EuroChem, founded in 2001, is a Russian company owned jointly by Melnichenko (92.2 percent of shares) and CEO Dmitry Strezhnev, who owns the remaining 7.8 percent. It was Strezhnev, and not Melnichenko, who joined with Jindal in announcing plans for the $1.5 billion facility.

To secure the project, the state offered the company a competitive incentives package that includes a $6 million performance-based grant to offset the costs of site infrastructure improvements, the announcement said. In addition, EuroChem will receive the services of LED FastStart—the state’s workforce training program. “The company also is expected to utilize Louisiana’s Quality Jobs and Industrial Tax Exemption programs,” Jindal said in making the announcement on July 10, 2013.

“EuroChem is evaluating two final sites for its Louisiana plant,” he said. The Iberville Parish property had been on the market for more than two years through the Office of State Lands, and EuroChem deposited $12 million in an escrow account to buy the property. At the same time, EuroChem also secured an option to purchase a 900-acre, privately-owned tract in St. John the Baptist Parish. “Both Mississippi River sites are being evaluated for construction and logistics suitability, and the company will make a final site decision within the next year,” Jindal said. http://gov.louisiana.gov/index.cfm?md=newsroom&tmp=detail&articleID=4141&printer=1

Well, a year has come and gone and the option on the St. John property, identified by sources as the Goldmine Plantation in the Mississippi River’s east bank near the town of Edgard, which was for 330 days, has expired and was not renewed. No documents requesting permits have been filed with the parishes of St. John or Iberville, the town of St. Gabriel or the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

Meanwhile, during the 2014 legislative session—a year after approval of the sale of the Iberville Parish land to an unknown buyer for an undisclosed price—State Rep. John Bel Edwards apparently decided the deal was not a good one in light of the Ukraine crisis which erupted after approval of the cooperative endeavor agreement.

Edwards pushed through House Concurrent Resolution 209 (HCR 209) which requested that LED Secretary Stephen Moret “reevaluate and explore rescinding the cooperative endeavor agreement with the Russian-based company EuroChem.”

Of course the administration promptly ignored the resolution.

The 2,150 acre parcel in Iberville Parish is surrounded on three sides by the Mississippi River and the tract in turn surrounds the Carville Historic District that houses the National Hansen’s Disease Museum, the Gillis W. Long Military Center (Louisiana National Guard facility), and the U.S. Department of Labor’s Carville Job Corps Center. There are no exiting shipping terminals on the tract and the property is prone to flooding during times of high water.

One Iberville Parish official told our sources that he did not believe the project was going to move forward because of relations between the U.S. and Russia over the Ukraine crisis and because of current restrictions in Iberville on air emissions from existing plants which limits the amount of air emission credits available.

And it is those air emission, or carbon, credits that appear to be the key in the entire deal.

One person close to the St. John transaction, told our source that while the prospect of Eurochem’s building a plant in Louisiana is “still alive,” the purchase of the Iberville property “had to do with environmental credits.”

The credits, he said, were available from another company at the time they purchased the Iberville tract but are now gone. He refused to identify the company from whom credits were supposed to be available nor did he say what happened to those credits. “One was the deal (for construction) and one was about emission credits,” he said. “They purchased the Iberville land and continued to do business with us like it never happened.”

A spokesman for the Department of Environmental Quality explained that there are basically two geographic categories when considering air quality standards for permitting: attainment or nonattainment. When an area is considered to be in the nonattainment area, DEQ works with businesses to lower emissions to meet standards through “emissions credits.”

These “credits,” which are provided by the state, are gained by companies that make improvements to their current physical plants in order to reduce oxide and volatile organic compound (VOC) emissions. The credits can be bought and sold much like a commodity on the open market, he explained.

The credits also have to be acquired from companies within that particular designated geographic area that is considered in the nonattainment area.

Because Iberville Parish is within a nonattainment area, Eurochem would have to acquire the credits if planning to make an application for construction and would be required to demonstrate it had sufficient oxide and VOC credits to meet the application approval.

While no one is making any accusations, there is a flourishing international black market for emissions credits that has come under scrutiny by several investigative agencies, including Interpol, which calls carbon trading the “world’s fasting growing commodities market.” Guide to Carbon Trading Crime

http://www.interpol.int/en/News-and-media/News/2013/PR090/

Larry Lohmann, writing for New Scientist, says that the larger carbon markets are “poised on the edge of breakdown.” https://www.academia.edu/3152549/Regulation_as_Corruption_in_the_Carbon_Offset_Markets

Deloitte Forensic, Australia, calls carbon credit fraud “the white collar crime of the future.”

carbon_credit_fraud

Carbon credits also have become a favorite vehicle for money laundering schemes, according to investigative agencies. http://www.redd-monitor.org/2013/08/06/itv-series-fraud-squad-investigates-carbon-credit-criminals/

http://www.marymonson.co.uk/fraud-solicitors/carbon-credit-fraud/

There are too many unknowns about the Iberville Parish land sale, according to retired Gen. Russel Honoré, leader of the Louisiana Green Army coalition. “The state is broke and we’re making deals with foreign entities who are polluters in their own countries,” he said of the Iberville Parish land sale as well as a recent deal with a Chinese company that has had a poor environmental record.

“As much pollution problems and erosion problems as we have in this state, we don’t need to be bringing in these companies from other countries unless they have clean safety and environmental records,” Honoré said.

In EuroChem’s case, the company’s terminal in the Krasnodar region of Russia experienced a fertilizer spill IN 2010 and terminal personnel were seen dumping the spilled fertilizer into the sea. Days later the number of dead fish and dolphins experienced a dramatic increase. http://www.themoscowtimes.com/article.php?id=406281

In 2012, a EuroChem subsidiary, Phosphorit, was linked to a chemical leak into the Verkhpvskoy, a tributary of the Luga River which flows into the Gulf of Finland and another EuroChem subsidiary, SUEK, has been plagued in recent years with accidents, including the deaths of more than a dozen employees. http://www.interfax.com/newsinf.asp?id=391297

Still another unanswered question concerns that buy-back clause in the cooperative endeavor agreement between Eurochem and LED. The side of the ledger favoring EuroChem is the $6 million grant the state gave EuroChem, along with all the other tax incentives it is receiving—should the plant be built. But on the plus side for Louisiana is the clause that says if the fertilizer plant is not built, the state has the option of buying the land back at a reduced price or approving the buyer for re-sale.

So, what we have is a Russian entity purchasing 2,150 acres of land in Iberville Parish from the state for $12 million (and getting that $6 million grant and a laundry list of tax incentives—all conditional upon the plant’s becoming a reality) for the construction of a fertilizer plant that apparently will not be built there at all because the same Russian firm also signed an option on 900 acres in St. John the Baptist Parish but that option has now expired with no progress made toward construction at either site.

Moreover, word goes out that the reason for the St. John purchase option was to build the plant there while the reason given for the expenditure of $12 million in Iberville Parish was for emissions credits promised from some unknown source—credits which, by the way, no longer exist.

What could possibly be wrong with this picture?

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