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Word from inside the Louisiana Office of State Fire Marshal (LOSFM) is that state auditors have come calling and are taking a close look at agency expenditures.

Without being privy to any specific findings by the Legislative Auditor’s Office, it’s a pretty safe bet that the bean counters are going to find that the LOSFM likes to worm its way around the rules by making multiple purchases in amounts that fly—barely—under the radar, as it were, of minimum amounts for which quotes are required.

Other expenditures that might be questioned by auditors include meals at Mike Anderson’s Restaurant, purchases from a grocery store, a seafood market, a deli, a cookware outlet, association memberships and convention fees,

The  LOUISIANA PROCUREMENT CODE (LPC: that would be R.S. 39:1551-1755 for whoever is wearing military medals at LOSFM these days] does not require competitive bidding for purchases that are $5,000 or less. Purchases that are greater than $5,000, and up to $15,000, require quotes from at least three vendors by telephone, fax or other means. (emphasis ours.)

LouisianaVoice recently spent the better part of a week poring over and scanning stack upon stack of purchasing records by the fire marshal’s office. Several years’ worth of receipts, no less.

If LOSFM is an indication, the so-called state budgetary crisis is largely a myth and U.S. Sen. John Kennedy, erstwhile State Treasurer, was correct when he said the state didn’t have a revenue problem; it has a spending problem. (Kennedy, alas, not knowing when to call it a day, would go on to talk about drinking weed killer and quoting a mysterious Louisiana adage known only to him about how we should love one another but should also carry a handgun).

State Fire Marshal Butch Browning apparently makes a lot of photocopies and prints volumes of documents, judging from the toner purchases made by his office. But those notwithstanding, it became fairly obvious from our findings that Browning, his second in command, Brant Thompson, and other top honchos like to split their purchases so that they fall just under that magical mystical $5,000 amount.

We even stumbled across one purchase of $4,999.99 on September 6, 2016, from Broad Base of Harvey for the purchase of 10 washers and 10 dryers for the agency’s laundry trailer. Apparently, they learned well from the Jindal administration which would issue state contracts for $49,999 so as to avoid the laborious approval of the old Office of Contractual Review, a requirement that kicked in at $50,000 and above.

LOSFM also liked a well-dressed agent. In 2015, it spent $33,490 with Guidry Uniforms of Lafayette, with at least three of those purchases being in increments of $5,000 and another for $5,000.01 (oops).

On April 7, 2015, the fire marshal’s office spent $2,558.59 with Guidry’s and immediate recorded another purchase that same day for $685.83. Six days later, on April 13, another $5,000 was spent with Guidry’s, all apparently without benefit of the required three quotes as there were no such quotes provided along with the receipts.

In 2014, records were found for expenditures with Guidry’s of $4,531.53 (September 15) and $5,000 (November 14). Another $17,600 was spent at Guidry’s in 2016, including individual purchases of $1,069 on March 31 and payments on outstanding invoices of $4,932.67 in April 12 and $2,517.61 in April 20.

“Agencies should maintain documentation of each quote received,” the state law says. “Procurement amounts may not be artificially divided in order to circumvent the LPC.” (emphasis ours) Quotes may be taken by telephone, facsimile or other means. The quotes must, however, be in writing if the price exceeds $5,000. Awards shall be made to the lowest responsive quotation.

Other apparent split purchases made without obtaining the required three quotations:

  • Tri-Parish Communications of Baton Rouge: March 10, 2015 ($1,870.75), March 16 ($1,876 and $382.80), March 18 ($107.80 and $148.30), March 19 ($232.85) and March 24 ($274.85 and $359.85) for a total of $5,253.20.
  • Louisiana Office Solutions of Baton Rouge: January 14, 2016 ($269.32), January 21 ($2,668), and January 22 ($2,828) for a total of $5,765.32.
  • Preferred Data Voice Networks of Baton Rouge: April 5, 2016 ($1,873.60), April 12 ($3,248.80), April 19 ($4,970.80) for a total of $10,093.20 with all three purchases precisely one week apart (clever).
  • Quality Lapel Pins of Littleton, Colorado (we’ll have more on them later): February 21, 2016 ($3,569), March 9 ($3,569—yep, identical amounts in two separate purchases barely two weeks apart), and March 30 ($1,040) for a total of $8,178 over a span of five weeks.
  • Quality Lapel Pins: June 27 ($4,862), July 13 ($921.02), and July 18 ($1,828.20) for a total of $7,611.22 purchased over a period of three weeks.
  • Goodyear Commercial Tire of Baton Rouge: March 26, 2015 ($3,484.17) and March 30 ($2,677.43), a total of $6,161.60.
  • Ferrara Fire Apparatus of Holden: December 11, 2014 ($4,985), December 12 ($2,747.52), and December 22 ($2,190.14), a total of $9,922.66.
  • Ferrara Fire Apparatus: April 2, 2015 ($3,784.38) and April 8 ($1,712.16), a total of $5,496.54.
  • Ferrara Fire Apparatus: March 18, 2016 ($4,828), April 14 ($3,196 and $1,164), and April 26 ($4,342), a total of $8,702 (grand total of split purchases: $24,121.20). Additionally, LOSFM had individual purchases from Ferrara of another $10,321 in the years 2014-2016, including one purchase of $4,985, just $15 below the amount requiring quotations.
  • Teeco Safety of Shreveport: November 6, 2014 ($4,731.50) and November 14 ($4,994.50), a total of $9,726.
  • Teeco Safety: December 5, 2014 ($3,979.30) and December 11 ($3,248.32), a total of $7,227.62.
  • Teeco Safety: February 13, 2015 ($3,525, $564.30, and $711.76) and February 19 ($546), a total of $5,347.06.
  • Teeco Safety: November 6, 2015 ($2,763), November 12 ($4,763.14), and November 16 ($1,413.96), a total of $8,940.10.
  • Teeco Safety: December 18, 2015 ($3,606.79 and $179.76) and December 22 ($2,601.31), a total of $6,387.86.
  • Teeco Safety: September 9, 2016 ($4,587.96), September 14 ($3,433.92), and September 30 ($1,919.76), a total of $9,941.64. LOSFM also made individual purchases of $4,941.98 on October 30, 2014, and $4,777.80 on April 8, 2015, and had three purchases totaling $4,804 in December 2016.

Documents provided by LOSFM indicated that an occasional quotation was obtained from Teeco prior to purchases, but there were no quotes from other vendors.

Besides the four purchases of $5,000 each from Guidry’s and the $4,999.99 from Broad Base, the fire marshal’s office also chalked up at least a dozen one-time purchases that fell just below the $5,000 amount requiring quotations. Those purchases ranged from $4,000 to $4,900, $4,990 and $4,999—all without benefit of quotations.

That $4,900 expenditure was for a deposit to LR3 Consulting for creation of the “Louisiana Firefighter Proud” website. The State of Louisiana has IT personnel to perform such tasks.

Over a relative short span, from May 9 to September 22, 2016, LOSFM spent $9,600 at Best Buy on such items as juice boxes, computer and video cable, and other computer-related equipment.

Another $8,754 was spent on association memberships and sponsorship fees for conventions, records show. Those included:

  • $1,300 for 2015 memberships in the Merchant International Association of Arson Investigators (IAAI);
  • $1,875 for 2016 memberships in the Louisiana IAAI;
  • $1,175 for 2017 IAAI membership;
  • $1,404 for 2015 membership in the Automatic Fire Alarm Association (AFAA);
  • $700 for sponsorship of the Louisiana Municipal Association (LMA) 2015 convention;
  • $750 for sponsorship of the LMA 2016 convention;
  • $800 for sponsorship of the LMA 2017 convention;
  • $750 for sponsorship of the Louisiana Police Jury Association (LPJA) 2017 convention;

On December 3, 2015, LOSFM employees were treated to a Christmas meal at Mike Anderson’s Seafood Restaurant at a cost of $2,195. Another $1,014 was spent at LeBlanc’s Food Stores and $126.62 was dropped at Tony’s Seafood Market & Deli in January 2016, and $479.85 was spent at Jason’s Deli in April 2016.

On January 21, 2015, $895 was spent at Krazy Kajun Cookware for the purchase of a 30-gallon roll-around combo set, including the pot and accompanying paddles—apparently to compliment the purchase later that year (May 18) of a special service trailer for “emergency field food service” to support USAR events/emergencies. (A quick Google search of USAR came up with U.S. Army Reserve and Urban Search and Rescue.)

But that pales in comparison to more than $62,000 spent by the Louisiana Fire Marshal’s Office between May 2014 and September 2016 on such things as badges, ribbons, plaques, coins, medallions, stadium cups, lapel pins, and decals—all without benefit of obtaining quotations. A couple of those nudged right up against that $5,000 limit:

  • $5,000 with Quality Lapels and Pins in February 2016, $7,138 in two purchases of identical $3,569 on February 21, 2016 and again 16 days later, on March 9, and $4,862 on June 27;
  • $4,617 from Rebel Graphics of Baton Rouge in June 2016, and
  • $4,997 with Action Flags of Baton Rouge (no invoice date).

There was no indication if any of those purchases were for military medals to be worn by Browning.

 

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The Baton Rouge Advocate had a superb story today (Sunday, Feb. 22) that revealed that Gov. Bobby was out of state 45 percent of the time during 2014 at a direct cost of $314,144 to taxpayers in travel, lodging, meals and rental vehicles for state police security details. You can add another $58,500 (45 percent of his $130,000 per year salary) in additional costs for which taxpayers got no return while he was chasing the pipe dream of becoming president. http://theadvocate.com/news/education/11626690-63/frequent-flier

What you are about to read, though, is not about that. We’ve written about his travels before and The Advocate’s story thoroughly documents the actual costs of his travel to the extent that it would be redundant for us to beat that drum here.

Instead, this story, while much shorter than my usual posts, is simply about a Smart Phone.

And it says volumes about just how casually this administration takes its responsibility for the looming $1.6 billion state budget deficit.

It also says a lot about how certain people are not above helping themselves as they prepare to head out the door even as the institutions they are sworn to protect are swallowed by the expanding financial crisis—non unlike the captain abandoning a sinking ship with passengers still on board. We can only hope they remember to turn off the lights as they leave.

It speaks to the disdain contempt these people have for moral codes and legal constraints which require that they put the welfare of the state first and their own interests last.

And it practically shouts the double standard, the hypocrisy, and the lack of character ingrained in the makeup of the very people entrusted with running the state in the most economical, most responsible and yes, the most principled, manner possible—and their willingness to take ethical shortcuts even as they create and then walk away from a huge fiscal mess for someone else to clean up.

All this fuss over a Smart Phone?

Yes, because the entire affair is symptomatic of a much greater illness—official callousness, obliviousness and indifference—character flaws this state can ill afford in its leaders.

All over a Smart Phone.

You see, Commissioner of Administration recently decided she wanted a new Smart Phone.

Not a state-owned Smart Phone, one that would remain for her successor when she leaves office, but a Smart Phone for her very own personal use, owned by her.

And she wanted the State of Louisiana (taxpayers) to pay for it, according to our source inside the Division of Administration.

And she wasn’t shy about asking the Office of Telecommunications Management (OTM) to purchase one for her.

But OTM said no.

Nichols persisted.

OTM continued to say no.

Nichols finally relented.

But it was the very act of trying to get the state to pony up the money for a Smart Phone for her personal use that rubs salt into the state’s festering fiscal wound and calls into serious question the very integrity of the entire administration of Gov. Bobby.

It Nichols’ apparent disregard for well-defined rules and regulations disallowing just such actions that leaves the authenticity of everything she says and does subject to scrutiny and justifiable skepticism.

She should never have made such a request…and she knows it.

Her attempt at compromising her office and that of OTM, however, was only an extension of an attitude that runs throughout the upper levels of state government.

From the purchase of the luxury Eddie Bauer and Harley-Davidson trucks by former Insurance Commissioner Robert Wooley, to long-term Enterprise auto rentals for State Department of Education employees, to legislators who use campaign funds for LSU, Saints and Pelican tickets and for expensive meals, to last year’s unconstitutional attempt to bolster State Police Superintendent Mike Edmonson’s retirement by $55,000 a year, to Deputy Commissioner of Administration Ruth Johnson’s ordering of two desktop computers, a laptop and expensive furniture for her office, there is an attitude of entitlement that permeates the offices of those who impose a completely different set of standards on the rest of us.

And it’s an attitude that flows from the top down.

And the real tragedy is nobody will do a damned thing about it.

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Even as Gov. Bobby is busy handing out pink slips to state employees (a new round of layoffs is anticipated momentarily), LouisianaVoice has learned of a couple of unusual hiring practices—one involving yet another retire-rehire, this time by the Department of Public Safety, and a possible case of nepotism that has since quietly been resolved in the Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals (LADHH) with the timely transfer of the mother of a LADHH administrator to another agency.

DHH Deputy Secretary Courtney Phillips has accepted the position of Secretary of the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services (NDHH) and will begin her duties there on April 1, according to a press release from LADHH Secretary Kathy Kliebert.

Courtney Phillips has been employed by LADHH since 2003 when she began as a management intern. She was appointed Deputy Secretary on May 10, 2013, at a salary of $145,000, according to information obtained by LouisianaVoice from LADHH.

Her mother, Sheila Phillips was initially hired by LADHH on June 19, 2012, as an Administrative Coordinator at a salary of $37,500.

“At no point in time did Courtney Phillips serve in a supervisory role over Sheila Phillips,” said LADHH spokesperson Olivia Watkins in an email Thursday to LouisianaVoice. “Regarding her time as deputy secretary, Courtney Phillips did not officially begin her tenure as deputy secretary until May 10, 2013. Sheila Phillips ended her employment with DHH on May 9, 2013, and is currently an employee with the Department of Environmental Quality.

Civil Service records reflect that Sheila Phillips actually resigned on May 8, 2013, two days before her daughter’s promotion, and began working on May 9, 2013, for the Department of Environmental Quality as an Administrative Assistant 4 and currently makes $40,560 per year.

And while Courtney Phillips did not begin as deputy secretary until two days after her mother left the agency, her curriculum vitae that she submitted to the State of Nebraska notes that she served as Chief of Staff at LADHH from September of 2011 until her promotion to deputy director—which was during the time when her mother was hired.

State statute, according to Watkins, specifically says that “no member of the immediate family of a member of a governing authority or the chief executive of a governmental entity shall be employed by the governmental entity.”

The statute defines “agency head” as chief executive or administrative officer of an agency or any member of a board or commission who exercises supervision over the agency, Watkins said.

“Based on consultation with Civil Service, agency head would not include the chief of staff position, precluding any violation of the state nepotism law during her tenure in that role. Furthermore, as chief of staff, Courtney Phillips did not have legal appointing authority or supervise any DHH program office, including the Office of Public Health where Sheila Phillips worked from 06/09/2012 through 05/09/2013.

“Given that definition and the facts of the employment of Courtney Phillips and Sheila Phillips, nepotism was not a concern,” Watkins said.

Her resumé, however, says her Chief of Staff duties involved the planning and direction of “all administrative, financial, and operational activities for the department’s Secretary, Deputy Secretary, and Undersecretary” and that she acted “as a point of contact between top management and employees, as well as developing, overseeing and maintaining the budget for the executive office. She also said in her resumé that she served as a “key member of the executive management team responsible for the central coordination of activities and ensuring timely flow of information to and from the executive office.”

Moreover, on various LADHH organizational charts obtained by LouisianaVoice, Courtney Phillips served directly under the position of agency undersecretary during the tenures of both Bruce Greenstein, who resigned in March of 2013, and Kliebert.

As a “key member of the executive management team,” she was also a member of and regularly voted on matters coming before the LADHH Statewide Governance Board and signed off on letters to top legislators dealing with LADHH policy.

Meanwhile, an Information Technology (IT) Director 4 who retired from his $140,500 a year job at the Division of Administration (DOA) on Oct. 31, 2014, began working on Dec. 8, just over a month later, for the Governor’s Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness (GOHSEP) as a technology consultant at $70 per hour, Civil Service records show. Jeya Selvaratnam

SELVARATNAM GOHSEP

Prior to his four-month stint with DOA, which began on June 23, 2014, and ran through Oct. 31 (he was retired for little more than a month, from Nov. 1 through Dec. 7), Jeya Selvaratnam worked first as an IT Deputy Director 2 for the Department of Public Safety’s (DPS) Office of Management and Finance from Sept. 25, 2006 through Aug. 27, 2008 at which time he was promoted to IT Director 4 for the same office. He remained at that post until June 22, 2014, when he moved over to DOA.

The Louisiana Board of Ethics prohibits former state employees from working for the same agency within two years of their retirements. The statute (R.S. 42:1111-1121) says, “During the two year period following the termination of public service as a public employee, these individuals may not assist another for compensation, in a transaction, or in an appearance in connection with a transaction involving the agency in which the former public employee participated while employed by the agency nor may the former public employee provide on a contractual basis to his former public employer, any service he provided while employed there.”

GOHSEP spokesperson Christina Dayries, however, said when retirees are rehired by state agencies, they are allowed to earn half of what they collect in state retirement. He was earning $140,500 per year and with more than 30 years of service, qualifies for at least 75 percent of his base salary in retirement. That computes to more than $105,000 in retirement, plus 50 percent of that amount as a re-hire up to $158,000—nearly $18,000 more than he made full time.

The project on which Selvaratnam now works as a part time capacity is the DPS FirstNet National Public Safety Broadband Network.

The project calls for the expenditure of up to $135 million of a State and Local Implementation Grant (SLIGP) provided by the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) to provide emergency responders with their first nationwide, high-speed broadband network dedicated to public safety, according to a Power Point presentation given on Jan. 21 and 22 of this year to provide an overview of the program created under the federal Middle Class Tax Relief and Job Creation Act of 2012.

The $135 million 80-20 federal-state grant is only for the planning of the project. Implementation of the nationwide network is expected to cost $7 billion with funding expected to come from spectrum auction. By law, the network is to be self-sustaining upon expending the $7 billion.

There are 10 regional teams set up to implement the program on a nationwide basis. Louisiana is a member of Team 6, along with New Mexico, Texas, Oklahoma and Arkansas.

The program’s staffing chart shows Selvaratnam serving under the supervision of Program Manager Allison McLeary.

While at DPS, he represented the department as a member of the Statewide Interoperability Executive Committee (SIEC) SIEC which is responsible for the ability of emergency service agencies to communicate across disciplines and jurisdictions, particularly during times of emergency. SIEC membership is composed of all appropriate first responder and support organizations and has “full authority to design, construct, administer and maintain a statewide interoperable communications system…in support of full response to any emergency event,” according to GOHSEP’s web page. http://www.gohsep.la.gov/interop.aspx

As the DPS representative on the SIEC, he also served as chairman of the SIEC Broadband Subcommittee. Accordingly, he had duties and responsibilities for the SLIGP program during that time and is again providing those same services.

Louisiana State Police Superintendent Col. Mike Edmonson, for whom Selvaratnam worked at DPS, is the “State Point of Contact” for the FirstNet project, according to the Power Point presentation, with the Office of State Police listed as the SLIGP grant recipient and GOHSEP as the grant administrator.

A law meant to bring retirees back for short-term help was used by almost 200 current, full-time employees in the Department of Corrections. An oversight in the writing of the law even allowed “retired” employees to continue accruing money into their pension plans, according to a story on Governing, a web-based site on state and local government. http://www.governing.com/topics/public-workforce/Double-Dip-Dilemma.html

The issue of retire-rehire sparked considerable debate in 2010 when Higher Education Commissioner Sally Clausen resigned and rehired herself two days later, a move that netted her a $90,000 payout for unused sick leave and vacation time and entitled her to $146,400 in retirement pay. http://www.nola.com/politics/index.ssf/2010/06/higher_education_commissioner.html

 

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           As 2014 winds down, we decided that everyone else does a year-end wrap-up of the year’s significant events, so why not us?

            Accordingly, here is our review of the first six months of LouisianaVoice installments. The last six months will appear on Wednesday (Dec. 31).

JANUARY

IT Contractor linked to Obamacare, other problems:

A company holding two contracts with the State of Louisiana worth $32.8 million was the lead IT contractor of the ill-fated Affordable Health Care enrollment web page rolled out late last year.

CGI Technologies and Solutions, headquartered in Quebec, has experienced problems with other contracts in Canada and the U.S. even before the Obamacare debacle.

CGI Technologies and Solutions was awarded a $32.5 million contract with the Office of Community Development’s (OCD) Disaster Recovery Unit (DRU) on March 2, 2012 to provide computer software hosting, support and training for OCD’s Hazard Mitigation Grant Program (HMGP), small rental programs.

That contract is scheduled to run out on March 1, 2015.

CGI executives have been involved with at least 20 other troubled government IT projects, including one contract to automate retirements for millions of federal employees that went $60 million over budget and despite $2.3 billion in contracts with two dozen federal agencies, the company was rejected by the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) because of “performance issues” in carrying out an earlier contract.

HGI ties to Jindal, Christie:

MSNBC and the Wall Street Journal have begun focusing attention on a Louisiana firm with more than $200 million in contracts with both the Chris Christie and Jindal administrations for federally-funded relief to hurricane victims.

Hammerman & Gainer, Inc., or HGI, of Lutcher, was awarded a $68 million contract in May of 2013 to oversee two programs distributing $780 million in federal money to Sandy victims. That contract was cancelled only six months later, on Dec. 6, 2013, because of mounting complaints about delays in processing claims.

New Jersey homeowners say they have been unable to get answers, paperwork has been misplaced and HGI employees, most of whom are temporary employees, could not be reached by phone and that the company’s recovery centers change rules midstream and that no reconstruction program grants to thousands of applicants already approved have yet been awarded.

HGI also just happens to hold a $60 million contract with the Louisiana Office of Community Development’s Disaster Recovery Unit to administer the state’s Road Home Program. That contract began on March 20, 2012, and ends on March 19, 2015. Prior to that contract, HGI had a similar contract for $83.3 million which ran from March 20, 2009 to March 19, 2012. The $83.3 million contract replaced a $912 million contract with ICF Emergency Management Services of Baton Rouge.

In New Jersey, HGI hired Glenn Paulsen, former chief of the Burlington County Republicans, as its legal counsel when it submitted its bid to run the two Sandy relief programs. Paulsen’s law firm Capehart Scatchard, made a $25,000 contribution to the Republican Governors Association which Christie now heads.

HGI contributed $15,000 to Jindal in three equal contributions in 2007, 2008 and 2009. The company also gave $7,500 to Robert Wooley ($2,500 in 2003 and $5,000 in 2002), $5,000 to the Republican Party of Louisiana, $5,000 in 2011, to New Orleans mayor Ray Nagin in March of 2006, only months after Hurricane Katrina, and $7,500 to his successor Mitch Landrieu in equal contributions of $2,500 in 2010, 2011 and 2012. In addition, HGI President Larry Oney gave $5,000 to Jindal’s campaign in 2008.

Alvarez & Marsal gets fat at state trough:

Jindal also awarded a four-month contract to Alvarez & Marsal for a tad more than $5 million that called for the firm to deliver $500 million in savings to the state.

A & M’s cozy if disastrous relationship with state government goes back further than Jindal. In December of 2005, the Orleans Parish School Board adopted Resolution 59-05 on the advice of the consulting firm.

The resolution, passed in the aftermath of disastrous Hurricane Katrina was specifically cited in the ruling earlier this week by the 4th Circuit Court of Appeal that upheld a lower court decision the school board was wrong to fire 7,500 teachers, effective Jan. 31, 2006.

Then-State Superintendent of Education Cecil Picard chose Alvarez & Marsal to prevail upon the school board to replace acting parish Superintendent Ora Watson with an Alvarez & Marsal consultant.

So, Watson was replaced, 7,500 teachers were fired, the teachers sued and won, leaving the Orleans School Board and the state liable for a billion-five and the firm that started it all is hired by Jindal to find a $500,000 savings.

Alvarez & Marsal is specifically cited—by name—no fewer than six times in the first 51 pages of a 2009 report calling for the privatizing the state’s charity hospital system. Alvarez & Marsal performed that bit of work under a $1.7 million contract that ran for nine months in 2009, from Jan. 5 to Sept. 30.

The firm also received a $250,000, contract of a much shorter duration (10 days) from Jindal on April 9, 2013, to develop Jindal’s proposal to eliminate the state income taxes in favor of other tax increases. That plan was dead on arrival during the legislative session and Jindal quickly punted before a single legislative vote could be taken.

The obvious next step for Jindal was to

Problems continue at OGB:

Charles Calvi and Patrick Powers are out at the Office of Group Benefits (OGB) and Susan West, late of the Office of Risk Management has been named Interim CEO—the fourth person to head OGB in less than three years.

Meanwhile, that $540 million reserve fund balance OGB had on hand to pay benefits at the time of Gov. Bobby Jindal’s infamous raping of the agency now sit at $240 million and is dwindling at a rate of $20 million per month, no doubt the result of Jindal’s 7 percent premium reduction six months before the January 2013 takeover of OGB by Blue Cross Blue Shield (BCBS) of Louisiana.

FEBRUARY

Adley’s not-so-hidden agenda:

State Sen. Robert Adley (R-Benton) filed Senate Bill 79 which was designed to give Jindal even more power by giving him greater freedom in appointing members of a levee board, specifically the Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authorities of both the east and west banks.

The bill was a counteroffensive to attempts by the east bank authority to push for a historic lawsuit that would hold oil and gas companies responsible for damages to coastal wetlands.

The Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority East (SLFPAE) was attempting to force the oil and gas companies to pay for the state’s coastal restoration efforts.

The lawsuit claimed that the companies destroyed the state’s coastal wetlands by dredging canals that contributed to erosion. The marshes had served as a natural buffer that mitigated storm surge. The suit, if successful, could cost the companies billions of dollars.

Adley’s bill should come as no surprise, given his opposition to the lawsuit but some might question why Adley would oppose the legal action against the companies in the first place.

One consideration could be that he has owned pelican Gas Management Co. since 1993, was president of ABCO Petroleum from 1972 to 1993, is affiliated with the Louisiana Oil and Gas Association, and has been the recipient of more than $150,000 in campaign contributions over the years from companies, political action committees, and individuals affiliated with or controlled by oil and gas interests.

Adley’s bill was assigned to the Senate Transportation, Highways & Public Works Committee. The chairman of Transportation, Highways & Public Works?

Robert Adley.

Jindal tantrum goes national:

Jindal’s outburst upon exiting a meeting between the nation’s governors and President Barack Obama Monday was a petulant display of immaturity that only served to underscore his disgraceful scorn for Louisiana’s working poor in favor of pandering to the mega-rich Koch brothers in the apparent hope that some of their Americans for Prosperity (AFP) money might find its way into his campaign coffers.

His shameless promotion of the proposed Keystone XL pipeline project coupled with his criticism of Obama’s push for a minimum wage increase comes on the heels of word that Jindal is literally stealing from the blind in drawing down more than half of a trust fund established to assist blind vendors in state buildings to purchase equipment, to pay for repairs and to pay medical bills.

That trust fund shrank from $1.6 million to about $700,000, apparently because of yet another lawsuit the administration found itself embroiled in over the delivery of food services at Fort Polk in Leesville that sucked up $365,000 just for the state’s 21 percent share of attorney fees.

Jindal said of Obama’s push for an increase in the minimum wage that the president “seems to be waving the white flag of surrender” and that Obama’s economy “is now the minimum wage economy.”

CIA kidnap accomplice locates in Bossier City

A photo in the Shreveport Times shows a grinning Gov. Bobby Jindal shaking hands with David Zolet, executive vice president and general manager of the North American Sector of Computer Sciences Corp. (CSC) as the two jointly announced that the company plans to open a technology center at CSC’s national Cyber Research Park in Bossier City.

CSC will be the anchor tenant of the research park and will partner with Louisiana Tech University to account for 1,600 new jobs over the next four years, thanks in part to $14 million in state funding over the next decade to expand higher education programs to increase the number of computer science graduates per year.

CSC customers, meanwhile, were being urged to boycott the company over allegations that it took part in illegal CIA rendition flights in the U.S. “war on terror.”

Court documents have linked CSC to the rendition of German citizen Khaled El-Masri who was abducted on Dec. 31, 2003, after being mistaken for a known terrorist by the CIA.

El-Masri was blindfolded, beaten, imprisoned for 23 days, stripped, sodomized, chained, drugged, flown to Afghanistan where he was again beaten and imprisoned for another four months, interrogated, threatened, denied legal representation, force fed and finally flown in a CSC-chartered plane to Albania, where he was left on a remote road in the middle of the night some 1500 kilometers from his home.

CSC was contracted for the flight as well as for other illegal CIA renditions, according to human rights charity Reprieve. CSC has so far refused a request by Reprieve to sign a pledge of “zero tolerance to torture,” and has also declined to respond to questions from Computer Weekly about the allegations.

Germany has paid the company some $405 million since 1990 and over the past five years, the country has awarded more than 100 contracts to CSC and its subsidiaries.

The story said it is “no coincidence” that the company’s various German offices are often located near U.S. military bases.

Barksdale AFB, home of the U.S. Air Force’s 2nd Bomb Wing and Global Strike Command, and Cyber Research Park are nearly adjacent in their proximity to each other, with the proposed CSC facility and Barksdale separated only by I-20.

MARCH

Jindal contributor benefits from state road work

The controversy over that 55,000 hunting lodge that straddles three central Louisiana parishes has taken a new and curious twist as the result of a $1.7 million highway resurfacing project that conveniently runs right past the entrance to the lodge that is owned by a major contributor to Gov. Bobby Jindal and to unsuccessful congressional candidate State Sen. Neil Riser.

The overlay of LA. 127, also known locally as the Olla-Sikes Highway, started on Feb. 20 at the Caldwell Parish line and run 5.5 miles east in Winn Parish to LA. 1238, according to an announcement by the Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development (DOTD).

The LA. 127 project ends at the camp entrance and at the property of TV reality show Swamp People star Troy “Choot ‘em” Landry, whose campsite is located within the hunting camp.

A search of political campaign contributions show that camp owner Bill Busbice and his wife, Beth each contributed the maximum allowable $2,600 ($5,200 total) to State Sen. Neil Riser’s campaign for the 5th Congressional District seat won by Vance McAllister.

Jindal also picked up $20,000 from Busbice and Alfred Lippman of Morgan City, the registered agent for Olla Productions, LLC., one of Busbice’s may business entities.

Busbice contributed $5,000 to Jindal in April of 2009 and Beth Busbice gave another $5,000 in December of that same year, while Lippman contributed $5,000 in October of 2003, $3,500 in April of 2009 and his firm, Lippman, Malfouz, Tranchina & Thorguson of Morgan City gave another $1,500 in September of 2010.

Additionally, one of Lippman’s law partners, David Thorguson and his wife contributed $1,300 to Jindal, Jindal campaign records show.

Appel’s shrewd investments:

State Sen. Conrad Appel (R-Metairie) purchased Discovery Communications stock in 2010 a week before a major announcement of a partnership between Discovery Education and the Louisiana Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, Capitol News Service has learned.

On Dec. 7, 2010, Discovery Education, a division of Discovery Communications, announced that Louisiana and Indiana had joined Oregon in adopting the Discovery Education Science Techbook as a digital core instructional resource for elementary and middle school science instruction.

Appel is Chairman of the Senate Education Committee and was in a unique position to know not only of the pending deal between Discovery Education and the Louisiana Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE) but also of the company’s recent agreement with Indiana and Oregon, as well as Texas and Florida.

Appel’s financial disclosure form obtained from the State Board of Ethics indicates his Discovery Communications stock purchase was for “between $5,000 and $24,999.”

Discovery Communications is traded on NASDAQ and on the date of Appel’s purchase, the company’s shares opened at $40.96 and closed at $40.78.

And while there was no significant movement in the stock’s prices on the date of and on the day’s following Discovery’s announcement of the agreement with BESE, the stock hit a high of $90.21 per share on Jan. 2 of this year, meaning Appel’s on-paper profit after a little more than three years was in excess of 100 percent. The stock closed on March 27 at $75.72, still an 85 percent gain for Appel.

Appel’s 2012 financial report reveals that he also purchased between $5,000 and $24,999 of Microsoft stock on June 4, 2012, the same date that the Louisiana Legislature adjourned its 85-day session.

Ten days earlier, on May 25, the Louisiana Legislature approved the implementation of Common Core in Louisiana after a major push by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation which poured more than $200 million to develop, review, evaluate, promote and implement Common Core.

APRIL

Deputy Sheriff dabbles in private background checks:

A former DeSoto Parish sheriff’s deputy may have violated state law by using his office to run background checks for a company in which he owned a major interest, according to a report by the Legislative Auditor’s office in Baton Rouge.

Lagniappe and Castillo Research and Investigations ran 41,574 background checks through the sheriff’s office during an 11-month period between April 1, 2012, and February 28, 2013, the report says. Robert Davidson, retired chief investigator for the DeSoto Parish Sheriff’s Office, is 50 percent owner of Lagniappe and Castillo. He was employed by DPSO from 1980 until his retirement in May of 2013.

The report, released on Monday, also noted that three DeSoto Parish Sheriff’s Office (DPSO) employees were paid nearly $2,000 by Lagniappe and Castillo Research and Investigations for running the background checks between January 2011 and May 2013, duties they would normally perform as part of their jobs with the sheriff’s office.

The company charged its customers $12 for each background report and paid the sheriff’s office $3 for each report. That represents an income of more than $374,000 and a profit of more than $372,000 for owners Robert Davidson and Allan Neal Castillo.

Extortion claimed on state highway project:

A six and one-half-year-old lawsuit took a dramatic turn following a Mangham contractor’s claim that the Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development (DOTD) denied payments for work performed by his company because he resisted shake-down efforts by a DOTD inspector.

Jeff Mercer owner of the now-defunct construction company that bears his name, worked as a subcontractor to several prime contractors on six different projects for which he has not been paid. He first filed his lawsuit against DOTD on Sept. 7, 2007, in state district court in Monroe, claiming that the state owes him nearly $9 million for actual work done for which he was never paid, plus interest and delay costs which bring the total to more than $11.6 million.

The $500 million savings report by Alvarez & Marsal (A&M) was finally released on Monday only minutes before adjournment of the 2014 legislative session.

The 425-page report, produced under a $5 million contract, while projecting a savings of $2.7 billion over five years (an average of $540 million a year).

Most of the projected cost savings were based on assumptions for which A&M offered little or no supporting data other than arbitrary estimates and suppositions that could have been produced at a fraction of the report’s $11,760 per-page cost.

MAY

It pays to play I:

If there are any lingering doubts that politicians are beholden to the special interest who bankroll their campaigns, consider the money that has been spread among our state lawmakers—just from the oil and gas interests:

  • The 144 incumbent legislators have received more than $5.8 million in campaign contributions by a single special interest group—oil and gas. That comes to an average of $40,357 per legislator.
  • For the 39 current members of the Louisiana Senate, the aggregate is a little north of $2.8 million, or $51,100 each.
  • A total of $2.99 million was distributed among the 105 House members—an average of $40350 each, the figures show.

So, by obtaining a dismissal of litigation that could conceivably cost oil companies several hundred million dollars—before it ever goes to trial or even to the discovery stage—by spreading $5.8 million around represents a nice return on investment.

And make no mistake about it: campaign contributions are just that—investments.

It pays to play II:

The Senate Finance Committee on Sunday (Sen. Dan Claitor discarded their oaths of office—their sworn duty to protect the interests of the people of Louisiana—in favor of political expedience of the very lowest sort by ripping $4.5 million from the budget for Louisiana’s developmentally disabled and allocating the money for a Verizon IndyCar Series race at the NOLA Motorsports Park in Jefferson Parish.

LouisianaVoice conducted a search of the Secretary of State’s web page to learn the identities of the NOLA Motor Club corporate officers and whose name should pop up as one of the principals? Laney Chouest, that’s who.

So, who is Laney Chouest, you ask?

Well, he also showed up as an officer in a few other corporations run by the politically active Chouest family of Galliano. Their main business is in shipbuilding and Laney Chouest was listed as an officer in Edison Chouest Offshore, Inc., Alpha Marine Service Holdings, LLC. and Beta Marine Services, LLC., to name only three.

So, armed with that information we did a campaign contribution search of only the last name of Chouest and we hit the mother lode.

Between 2007 and 2010, members of the Chouest family and their various businesses contributed $106,500 to Jindal.

JUNE

Legislator’s firm cited for environmental infractions:

A citation and a cease order issued to Dual Trucking Co. by the Montana Department of Environmental Equality for dumping oilfield radioactive waste from the nearby Bakken Oilfield, it turns out, is not the only problem State Rep. Gordon Dove (R-Houma) has experienced with environmental authorities, Capitol News Service has learned.

Vacco Marine, Inc., a company owned by Dove, who chairs the House Committee on Natural Resources and Environment, has been the subject of several investigations, negative reports, citations, and compliance orders by and from the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) over a period of several years, records show.

Last week, while presiding over a meeting of the Natural Resources Committee, he joined 12 other members in passing an amendment to SB 469 that made the prohibition against suing oil companies for damages to the state’s wetlands and marshes retroactive.

Dove also serves as a member of the Louisiana Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority.

Lobbyists swarm to protect BP:

By now, most people who have followed the bill authored by Sen. Bret Allain (R-Franklin) but inspired by Sen. Robert Adley (R-Benton) know that big oil poured money and thousands of lobbying man hours into efforts to pass the bill with it accompanying amendment that makes the prohibition against such lawsuits retroactive to ensure that the SLPFA-E effort was thwarted.

Most followers of the legislature and of the lawsuit also know that up to 70 legal scholars, along with Attorney General Buddy Caldwell, strongly advised Jindal to veto the law because of the threat to the pending BP litigation.

Altogether, the 144 current legislators received more than $5 million and Jindal himself received more than $1 million from oil and gas interests. Allain received $30,000 from the oil lobby and Adley an eye-popping $600,000.

So, when BP lobbyists began swarming around the Capitol like so many blow flies around a bloated carcass, the assumption was that BP somehow had a stake in the passage of SB 469 and that infamous amendment making the bill retroactive.

John Barry, a former SLFPA-E who was given the Jindal Teague Treatment but who stuck around to pursue the lawsuit, said, “During the last few days of the session, we were very well aware that the BP lobbyists were extraordinarily active. They were all over the place. We all assumed there was definitely something it in for them.”

Something in it for them indeed.

Blogger Lamar White, Jr. observed that former Gov. Edwin Edwards spent eight years in a federal prison for accepting payments from hopeful casino operators for his assistance in obtaining licenses—all after he left office. New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin was similarly convicted of using his position to steer business to a family-owned company and taking free vacations meals and cell phones from people attempting to score contracts or incentives from the city.

So what is the difference between what they did and the ton of contributions received by Adley and Jindal? To paraphrase my favorite playwright Billy Wayne Shakespeare, a payoff by any other name smells just as rank.

And while big oil money flowed like liquor at the State Capitol (figuratively of course; it’s illegal to make or accept campaign contributions during the legislative session), what many may not know is that Jindal may have had an ulterior motive in going against sound legal advice to sign the bill into law, thus protecting the interests of big oil over the welfare of Louisiana citizens who have seen frightening erosion of the state’s shoreline and freshwater marshes.

The Washington, D.C., law firm Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher is one of the firms that represented BP in negotiating a $4.5 billion settlement that ended criminal charges against the company. Included in that settlement amount was a $1.26 billion criminal fine to be paid over five years.

An associate of Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher who has defended clients in government audit cases and in several whistleblower cases is one Nikesh Jindal.

He also is assigned to the division handling the BP case.

Nikesh Jindal is the younger brother of Gov. Piyush, aka Bobby Jindal.

Suddenly, John Barry’s words take on a little more significance: “We all assumed there was definitely something it in for them.”

Something in it for them indeed.

By now, most people who have followed the bill authored by Sen. Bret Allain (R-Franklin) but inspired by Sen. Robert Adley (R-Benton) know that big oil poured money and thousands of lobbying man hours into efforts to pass the bill with it accompanying amendment that makes the prohibition against such lawsuits retroactive to ensure that the SLPFA-E effort was thwarted.

Most followers of the legislature and of the lawsuit also know that up to 70 legal scholars, along with Attorney General Buddy Caldwell, strongly advised Jindal to veto the law because of the threat to the pending BP litigation.

Altogether, the 144 current legislators received more than $5 million and Jindal himself received more than $1 million from oil and gas interests. Allain received $30,000 from the oil lobby and Adley an eye-popping $600,000.

So, when BP lobbyists began swarming around the Capitol like so many blow flies around a bloated carcass, the assumption was that BP somehow had a stake in the passage of SB 469 and that infamous amendment making the bill retroactive.

John Barry, a former SLFPA-E who was given the Jindal Teague Treatment but who stuck around to pursue the lawsuit, said, “During the last few days of the session, we were very well aware that the BP lobbyists were extraordinarily active. They were all over the place. We all assumed there was definitely something it in for them.”

Something in it for them indeed.

 

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The photo in the Shreveport Times shows a grinning Gov. Bobby Jindal shaking hands with David Zolet, executive vice president and general manager of the North American Sector of Computer Sciences Corp. (CSC) as the two jointly announced that the company plans to open a technology center at CSC’s national Cyber Research Park in Bossier City.

http://www.shreveporttimes.com/article/20140218/NEWS05/140218014/Computer-Sciences-Corporation-bring-800-jobs-Bossier-City

The company, partially owned by Lloyds Banking Group of London through its Scottish Windows funds, offers IT services, including cloud solutions, cyber security, technology consulting and, according to several sources, secret CIA flights for the purposes of interrogation and torture. http://www.theguardian.com/business/2012/may/06/lloyds-computer-sciences-corporation-cia-rendition

CSC will be the anchor tenant of the research park and will partner with Louisiana Tech University to account for 1,600 new jobs over the next four years, thanks in part to $14 million in state funding over the next decade to expand higher education programs to increase the number of computer science graduates per year.

Louisiana Tech is scheduled to receive the bulk of the $14 million as it plans to quadruple its number of undergraduate degrees in computer science, computer information systems and cyber engineering over the next five or six years, Jindal said, adding that Bossier City was selected over 133 other sites in the U.S. He said the company’s decision will help northwest Louisiana to become “one of America’s new technology hubs, enabling the region to attract technology partners of CSC as well as other technology companies attracted to the growing IT work force here.”

And while Louisiana Tech will get most of the initial funding, the lease payments for the 116,000 square-foot technology center that will be constructed and leased to CSC by Cyber Innovation Center will be paid with $29 million in state funds. City and parish governments will chip another $5 million each to purchase data center equipment for the building while CSC will invest in the servers and other computer technology.

While we are not sure of the identities of the other “technology partners” of CSC, it’s somewhat interesting to note that CSC customers are being urged to boycott the company over allegations that it took part in illegal CIA rendition flights in the U.S. “war on terror.”

Court documents have linked CSC to the rendition of German citizen Khaled El-Masri who was abducted on Dec. 31, 2003, after being mistaken for a known terrorist by the CIA. http://www.computerweekly.com/news/2240160206/Customers-urged-to-boycott-CSC-over-CIA-torture-flights

El-Masri was blindfolded, beaten, imprisoned for 23 days, stripped, sodomized, chained, drugged, flown to Afghanistan where he was again beaten and imprisoned for another four months, interrogated, threatened, denied legal representation, force fed and finally flown in a CSC-chartered plane to Albania, where he was left on a remote road in the middle of the night some 1500 kilometers from his home.

CSC was contracted for the flight as well as for other illegal CIA renditions, according to human rights charity Reprieve. CSC has so far refused a request by Reprieve to sign a pledge of “zero tolerance to torture,” and has also declined to respond to questions from Computer Weekly about the allegations.

Documents provided by Reprieve include invoices that show that CSC chartered N982RK, a Gulfstream jet, on the date El-Masri was abducted and logs provided by the civil-military air traffic safety regulator EuroControl show that N982RK few in stages from Washington to Kabul on May 26, 2004, and then to Kucova air base.

Aviation authorities of Bosnia and Herzegovina called attention to the unusual flight patterns of the plane which had requested diplomatic permissions under a CIA identifier.

The U.S. has since admitted the abduction to German premier Angela Merkel.

“We think CSC was at the top of the contracting tree for this (CIA operation),” said Reprieve researcher Dr. Crofton Black. “It’s becoming increasingly clear that CSC was the prime contractor between the government and the companies that ran the flight operations.”

German ministries have been sharing IT services with the CIA and NSA and now it is learned that the German government does business with a company involved in abduction and torture—at a pretty handsome profit. http://international.sueddeutsche.de/post/67143760611/outsourcing-intelligence-sinks-germany-further-into

For years, CSC was one of the CIA’s largest contractors and records show that the CIA paid the firm $11 million to have el-Masri picked up in Kabul and subsequently tortured for months on end before finally being released as a victim of mistaken identity.

One online news story about the company notes that CSC is a “massive company,” with at least 11 subsidiaries in 16 locations in Germany alone. CSC and its subsidiaries are part of a secret industry, the military intelligence industry but do the “traditionally reserved for the military and intelligence agencies,” but at cheaper rates and under “much less scrutiny.

Germany has paid the company some $405 million since 1990 and over the past five years, the country has awarded more than 100 contracts to CSC and its subsidiaries.

The story said it is “no coincidence” that the company’s various German offices are often located near U.S. military bases.

Cyber Research Park and Barksdale AFB, home of the U.S. Air Force’s 2nd Bomb Wing and Global Strike Command, and nearly adjacent in their proximity to each other, with the proposed CSC facility and Barksdale separated only by I-20.

Coincidence?

We certainly hope so.

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