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This is a story that Troy Hebert asked us to write.

It is also a story with much ado about formers.

Former Louisiana Office of Alcohol and Tobacco Control (ATC) Director and current candidate for U.S. Senator Troy Hebert emailed LouisianaVoice earlier this week with a copy of a news story from the New Orleans CityBusiness Report, which quoted from a Baton Rouge Advocate story that Hebert had been cleared of wrongdoing in connection with alleged preferential treatment of certain applicants for liquor licenses from ATC. http://www.theadvertiser.com/story/news/2016/09/19/fbi-clears-former-atc-commissioner-troy-hebert/90714008/

With all the third-person reporting swirling around FBI agent Maurice Hattier Jr., former liquor lobbyist Chris Young, his brother, former Jefferson Parish President and former candidate for Lieutenant Governor John Young, and former State Sen. Julie Quinn, it’s rather difficult to stay focused on the actual legal proceedings in which Chris Young was asking Middle District Federal Court in Baton Rouge to formally dismiss child pornography charges against him.

Okay, that’s formal, not former, but you get the drift.

Chris Young, you will remember, was indicted on child porn charges after he forwarded a text containing a video of an underage boy having sex with a donkey (this sounds more and more like a Farrelly Brothers comedy https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Farrelly_brothers).

Hattier allegedly tried (rather crudely, if true) to lean on Chris Young to give up Hebert in order to grease the skids on his investigation of Hebert.

(Putting Hebert’s guilt or innocence aside, it is disconcerting to note that the FBI more and more relies on strong-arm tactics and witness intimidation to produce the desired results in its efforts to obtain indictments and convictions instead of traditional, less tainted methods.)

The sister of John and Chris Young was hired by Hebert for the New Orleans ATC office and sources told LouisianaVoice that anyone desiring a liquor permit from the state was referred to Chris Young for legal representation. Those same sources said that Chris Young rarely, if ever, actually appeared before an ATC hearing. Instead, sources said, all the details were worked out by Chris Young and Hebert behind closed doors.

The CityBusiness story said Hattier testified that the FBI had closed its investigation of claims of public corruption on Hebert’s part.

But things got really weird.

While correctly citing a joint effort by LouisianaVoice and Lee Zurick of WVUE-TV in New Orleans as the original source of the FBI investigation, CityBusiness then veered far off course when it reported, “Speculation centered on New Orleans attorney Julie Quinn as the source” of our story.

While CityBusiness is correct in saying we relied upon anonymous sources (because the sources feared retaliation if their identities were revealed) we can say with absolute certainty that Julie Quinn was not—repeat, was not—one of our sources.

Moreover, Quinn, a former state senator and former fiancé of John Young, was also described by CityBusiness as having competed with Chris Young for alcohol clients and having had “a rocky relationship with Chris Young while dating John Young.

“Quinn’s legal clients have run into ATC trouble with various permit issues and a strip club sting (Operation Trick or Treat was a statewide sting joint operation of ATC and Louisiana State Police last October) that involved drugs and prostitution.

Quinn on Monday told LouisianaVoice she had never represented a client before ATC. “I don’t do liquor licenses and I have never in my career represented a single client in a liquor permit matter,” she said.

Here is a copy of the email we received on Monday from Troy Hebert:

From: Troy Hebert [mailto:troyhebert@yahoo.com]

Sent: Monday, September 19, 2016 10:03 AM

To: Subject: Fw: Press Release: FBI clears former ATC Commissioner Troy Hebert

All,

Please see the following article from the New Orleans Business Report. I respectfully ask that your media outlet give this story the same coverage/space/time to clear my good name as when/if your media outlet first reported the story. 

Sincerely,

Troy Hebert

U.S. Senate Candidate

No problem, Troy. Perhaps this will jump start your campaign and get your poll numbers up to 1 percent.

Top of Form

 

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co–opt

verb \kō-ˈäpt\

  • to use or take control of (something) for your own purposes

LouisianaVoice and The Hayride come down on the same side of an issue about as often as Bobby Jindal balanced the State Budget without imposing draconian mid-year cuts.

We are both in accord in the belief that there’s something that doesn’t pass the smell taste in the suspicious manner in which an investigation of political contributions by State Troopers was quietly dropped by the attorney hired to conduct the investigation—only to see that attorney retained to represent the state in a high-dollar lawsuit against oil companies over coastal land loss.

But the folks over at The Hayride should check the time line a little more carefully before trying to claim credit for breaking the story.

In its Thursday (Sept. 8) post, The Hayride said, “our own John Binder was at the forefront in reporting on the (contribution) scandal, following up with updates on the investigation, and exposing how deep it goes.”

That’s a pretty interesting claim given that LouisianaVoice and The Baton Rouge Advocate have attended every meeting of the Louisiana State Police Commission (LSPC) meeting (except when Advocate reporter Maya Lau was pulled off the story following the police shootings in July).

John Binder has yet to make an appearance at any of those meetings.

Moreover, to our knowledge, Binder’s first story about the contributions being laundered through Louisiana State Troopers Association (LSTA) Executive Director David Young was posted on Jan. 14 of this year. http://thehayride.com/2016/01/trooper-gate-illegally-funneling-money/

That was more than a month after our Dec. 9, 2015, story. https://louisianavoice.com/2015/12/09/more-than-45000-in-campaign-cash-is-funneled-through-executive-director-by-louisiana-state-troopers-association/

Moreover, The Hayride gave attorney Taylor Townsend credit for revealing that three members of the LSPC also had made political contributions in violation of state law when in fact, LouisianaVoice announced that fact before Taylor’s revealed it to the commission. https://louisianavoice.com/2016/04/14/two-more-members-of-lspc-quit-over-political-contributions-while-pondering-probe-of-lsta-for-same-offense/

Co-opt.

But enough of that. At least we’re in accord in our conviction that there’s something rotten in Denmark over the sleazy way in which it was announced that (1) no witnesses were interviewed, thus no written report was generated, (2) because there was no report, there are no findings to be provided the media, ergo (3) it’s nobody’s damned business what his “official investigation” found.

That’s correct, public records requests have hit the proverbial stone wall. In fact, LouisianaVoice has learned that there is a recording of a meeting of the Troop I affiliate of LSTA at which a member acknowledged that the LSTA violated the law in the manner in which the donations were approved by LSTA directors, funneled through Young, who was then reimbursed for “expenses.”

When a request for a copy of that recording was made of Townsend, he never denied the existence of the tape but said that because the tape was never introduced into evidence, it is not public record.

First of all, why was the recording not included as evidence? Second, why did Townsend not interview a single member of the LSTA?

So the obvious lesson here is if you don’t want your buddies (or one of your appointees) to be found guilty of some impropriety or if you don’t want to embarrass the agency you head, the obvious solution is to terminate the “investigation” short of interviewing witnesses or introducing key evidence (like an incriminating recording) and never issue  written report. That way, you keep your “findings” away from the nosy media. Hell, Nixon could’ve learned from these guys.

For a $75,000 contract, taxpayers deserve a little more thorough effort on the part of their “investigator.” To call Townsend’s efforts at a legitimate investigation and his lame explanation to the commission an exercise in duplicity would be charitable.

It would be enough if that were the end of the story. But it’s not…and it gets worse.

The fact that Gov. Edwards selected J. Michael Veron of Lake Charles and Gladstone Jones of New Orleans to represent the state in the legal action against the oil companies doesn’t concern us so much because (1) a lawsuit to force big oil to bear the cost of cleaning up after itself is long overdue, and (2) both men have proven track records in such litigation, having major decisions in the past. After all, in litigation with so high stakes, you want the best—even if they were major contributors to Edwards’ campaign—which they were. http://www.theadvocate.com/baton_rouge/news/environment/article_36a72414-6fd3-11e6-84fb-533941a35403.html

The fact that he chose to include Townsend, basically inexperienced in such litigation but a major Edwards fundraiser, on the heels of a complete—and shameful—whitewash in a probe that at least peripherally involved State Police Superintendent Mike Edmonson, re-appointed by Edwards, only reinforces our skepticism and our belief that the “investigation” was ordered quashed from the very top—by Edwards.

Of course Attorney General, in kicking off his 2019 gubernatorial campaign (can anyone seriously doubt he’s running?) has refused to concur in the attorneys’ appointments, which is an entirely different sideshow that’s certain to get even more interesting.

The Advocate’s Lau reported that Matthew Block, Edwards’ executive counsel, said the governor was not aware that Townsend had been hired by the LSPC until after it happened. http://www.theadvocate.com/baton_rouge/news/politics/article_2d629298-712d-11e6-b66b-4f996a7bf239.html

Block’s claim, to say the least, stretches credulity.

And then there was Thursday’s closed door meeting of the LSPC.

The commission went into executive session not once, but twice and that second time may have been in violation of the state’s open meeting laws.

At issue was the promotion of Maj. Jason Starnes to the position of Department of Public Safety Undersecretary to succeed Jill Boudreaux who retired (for a second time) earlier this year.

Starnes, a classified member of LSP, had been transferred by Edmonson to an unclassified non-state police service position as Interim Undersecretary, Custodian of Records of the Office of Management and Finance within the Louisiana Department of Public Safety and Corrections (DPS). https://louisianavoice.com/2016/06/06/starnes-promotion-pulled-by-edmonson-after-complaint-governor-fails-to-sign-lsp-pay-plan-rescinded-by-lspc/

That move, the complaint says, was in violation of Rule 14.3(G), which says:

  • No classified member of the State Police shall be appointed, promoted, transferred or any way employed in or to any position that is not within the State Police Service.

When the matter of a rule change to allow the appointment came up on the agenda, the commission went into closed session a second time.

When we pointed out state law prohibits carte blanche closed-door meeting, Townsend said the executive meeting was to discuss “personnel matters,” which is permitted under law.

La. R.S. 42:17 Exceptions to open meetings

  1. A public body may hold an executive session pursuant to R.S. 42:16 for one or more of the following reasons:

(1) Discussion of the character, professional competence, or physical or mental health of a person, provided that such person is notified in writing at least twenty-four hours, exclusive of Saturdays, Sundays, and legal holidays, before the scheduled time contained in the notice of the meeting at which such executive session is to take place and that such person may require that such discussion be held at an open meeting. However, nothing in this Paragraph shall permit an executive session for discussion of the appointment of a person to a public body or, except as provided in R.S. 39:1593(C)(2)(c), for discussing the award of a public contract. In cases of extraordinary emergency, written notice to such person shall not be required; however, the public body shall give such notice as it deems appropriate and circumstances permit.

(2) Strategy sessions or negotiations with respect to collective bargaining, prospective litigation after formal written demand, or litigation when an open meeting would have a detrimental effect on the bargaining or litigating position of the public body.

(3) Discussion regarding the report, development, or course of action regarding security personnel, plans, or devices.

(4) Investigative proceedings regarding allegations of misconduct

But, we said, the executive was not to discuss personnel matters, but to discuss policy, which must be discussed in open meeting.

You can guess who prevailed in this mini-debate. Townsend, again earning his fee, decided that since Edmonson claimed he never actually “appointed” Starnes because that can only be done by the governor, there was no need for action by the commission. Neither Townsend nor Doss bothered to mention that while Edmonson said he never “appointed” Starnes, the Louisiana State Police (LSP) Web page first listed Starnes as Undersecretary but then took the page down following the official complaint registered by retired State Trooper Bucky Millet of Lake Arthur.

As for the first executive session, it appeared to be legal. It was to discuss a settlement proposal in a legal matter, which was ultimately rejected by the commission.

A proposal by Commission President T.J. Doss to revamp the duties of the LSPC Executive Director was tabled following complaints by other members that they had not had an opportunity to review the changes.

Doss was caught off guard but recovered after we asked if the proposed changes, which would sharply curtail the executive director’s powers and responsibilities by transferring them to the LSPC, represented a power grab by Edmonson. The proposals certainly left that impression but Doss denied that was the motive behind the proposed changes.

The commission also rejected Doss’ call for a three-member “executive committee,” saying that was simply another layer of bureaucracy.

Nice to know there is still a sliver of sanity on the commission.

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Cameron, Vermilion, Plaquemines and Jefferson are attempting to accomplish what Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority-East could not: hold oil and gas companies responsible for the destruction of Louisiana’s coastline.

On July 28, Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry expressed his “disappointment” that Vermilion Parish had the audacity to file a lawsuit over damages to the parish coastline Vermilion District Attorney Keith Stutes said was caused by drilling activities of several dozen oil and gas companies.

Gov. John Bel Edwards and Landry, in a rare display of political accord, intervened in the lawsuit with Edwards asking the oil and gas industry to settle the litigation and to assist the state in footing the cost of restoring the cost, which is expected to reach tens of millions of dollars over the next half-century. http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2016/jul/28/vermilion-sues-oil-and-gas-companies-over-coastal-/

Calling lawsuits filed by Cameron and Jefferson parishes as well as Vermilion “counter-intuitive,” Landry said, “We cannot allow these differing and competing interests to push claims which collectively impact the public policy for our coast and our entire state.”

Two weeks later, on Aug. 10, Landry was practically effervescent as he all but took full credit when 24th District Judge Stephen Enright dismissed a similar lawsuit by Jefferson Parish. “I intervened in this lawsuit because I was concerned that the interest of the State of Louisiana may not have been fully represented or protected.

“I accept the court’s ruling because addressing the issues associated with permit violations through the administrative process is a cost-effective, efficient way to resolve any violations,” he said. “That was clearly the purpose of the Legislature creating this regulatory scheme.”

Funny how Landry would choose to use the word scheme.

Scheme, after all, would appear to be appropriate, considering how much money the industry has invested in campaign contributions to Louisiana politicians.

Copy of Campaign Contributions

And there’s certainly no mystery why Landry is so protective of the industry. In fact, he might be described as Jindal 2.0 because of his determination to protect the industry to the detriment of the citizens od Louisiana.

After all, of the $3.3 million Landry received in campaign CONTRIBUTIONS between July 1, 2014 through Dec. 31, 2015 (during his campaign for attorney general), more than $550,000 came from companies and individuals with strong ties to the oil and gas industry.

Moreover, more than $600,000 in campaign contributions to Landry came from out-of-state donors, with many of those, such as Koch Industries ($10,000), one of America’s biggest polluters, also affiliated with the oil and gas industry.

http://www.rollingstone.com/politics/news/inside-the-koch-brothers-toxic-empire-20140924

http://www.forbes.com/sites/christopherhelman/2013/06/10/americas-20-worst-corporate-air-polluters/#10b98e794c70

http://www.greenpeace.org/usa/global-warming/climate-deniers/koch-industries/koch-industries-pollution/

(Koch Industries, by the way, with ties dating back to the right-wing extremist group, The John Birch Society—Fred Koch, Charles and David Koch’s father, was a charter member—has run afoul of federal law on numerous occasions, including fraud charges in connection with oil purchases from Indian reservations.) http://www.corp-research.org/koch_industries

One $5,000 donor, Cox Oil & Gas, was from St. Thomas, Virgin Islands, according to Landry’s campaign finance records. That contribution date was May 20, 2014 but Cox Oil Offshore, LLC, Cox Oil, LLC, and Cox Operating, LLC, all of Dallas, contributed $5,000 each three weeks earlier, on April 28, 2014, those same records show.

Besides the Cox companies, Landry received more than $300,000 from firms and individuals from Texas, many of those from Houston and the surrounding area.

Landry, like Jindal and the bulk of legislators, has sold his soul to an industry that has ravaged our coastline, polluted our land and waterways, and failed to restore property to its original state when operations have concluded, all while reaping record profits and enriching stockholders.

LouisianaVoice has long adhered to the idea that there is far too much money in politics and that most of it comes from special interests. The reality is that citizens have long been removed from the political process.

If you don’t believe that, drop in on a House or Senate committee hearing on some controversial issue. Invariably, the issue will have already been decided by a quiet influx of special interest money and intense lobbying. As you sit and watch and listen to testimony of citizens, pay close attention because you will be the only one besides those testifying who will be doing so.

Watch the committee members. They will be checking emails or texts on their phones, talking and joking among themselves or just milling around, exiting the rear door of the committee room to get coffee—anything but listening to citizens’ concerns. Only on the rarest of occasions could a committee member give you a summation of the testimony.

The only time many legislators really take their jobs seriously is when they are discussing a bill with a lobbyist and that is unfortunate.

Once you’ve heard committee testimony go upstairs to the House or Senate chamber and take a seat in the front row of the spectator gallery. Observe how few of the senators or representatives is actually paying attention to the proceedings. The scene below you will underscore the adage that there are three things one should never see being made: love, sausage, and laws.

And while you’re at it, watch the lobbyists working the room. As you observe the absence of interaction between legislators and average citizens, do the math and deduce the way lawmakers are influenced. You won’t get far before you encounter the old familiar $.

Like him or not (and in Louisiana, it’s fairly accurate to say most don’t though they can’t give you a really sound reason why), President Obama pretty much nailed it when he was running for re-election in 2012.

Jane Mayer, in her excellent book Dark Money, quoted Obama from his speech in Osawatomie, Kansas (the same town where Theodore Roosevelt demanded in 1910 that the government be “freed from the sinister influence or control of special interests”), about the U.S. Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision of 2010 and the ensuing glut of Super PAC money into the political arena:

  • “Inequality distorts our democracy. It gives an outsized voice to the few who can afford high-priced lobbyists and unlimited campaign contributions, and it runs the risk of selling out our democracy to the highest bidder.”

Meanwhile, Landry ramps up his war of words and political ideology with Gov. Edwards (perhaps in an effort to deflect attention away from his own flawed agenda). The most recent salvo was fired last week over the administration’s hiring of former Sen. Larry Bankston, a one-time convicted felon as legal counsel for the State Board of Contractors—never mind the fact that Landry also hired an employee formerly convicted of fraud for the attorney general’s fraud section. http://www.theadvocate.com/baton_rouge/news/article_fe56114c-6ad7-11e6-8e7e-6f06140ad60e.html

It would appear that in Louisiana, the state has long since been sold out to the highest bidder as witnessed by the combined efforts of Jindal, Landry, legislators, and the courts to protect big oil at all costs.

As further evidence of this, consider the words of Gifford Briggs, Vice-President of and lobbyist for the Louisiana Oil and Gas Association (LOGA) in the run-up to the 2015 statewide elections immediately after Landry had indicated he might oppose then incumbent Attorney General Buddy Caldwell.

Asked if LOGA would support Landry, Briggs, the son of LOGA President Donald Briggs, said, “We can’t officially endorse any candidate. Our PAC can, but not us. Having said that, Jeff Landry is looking like a very good candidate for Attorney General.”

 

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quid pro quo

ˌkwid ˌprō ˈkwō/

noun

A favor or advantage granted or expected in return for something.

Unless decisive action it taken over the next few days, our theory that nothing gets done about official chicanery, shady dealings and outright corruption will have been validated at the highest levels of state government.

And lest there are those who think I’m beginning to sound like a broken record, let me assure them that I will keep pounding the keyboard as long as I am physically and mentally able to put the glare of the spotlight on them and their deeds.

At one point in 2015, someone said to me, “Once Bobby Jindal leaves office, you won’t have anything to write about.”

Not a chance.

Unfortunately, as long as politicians are intoxicated by money and power, there will be plenty to write about. And, as Johnny Mathis sang his song The Twelfth of Never, “that’s a long, long time.”

Take Kristy Nichols, for example. Someone, please. (Sorry, Henny Youngman.)

Or, just for fun, compare the strikingly similar cases of Ascension Parish President Kenny Matassa and Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry.

Kristy, as LouisianaVoice reported last September, jumped the Jindal ship to join Ochsner Health System as Vice President of Government and Corporate Affairs (read: lobbyist).

https://louisianavoice.com/2015/09/17/more-on-kristys-new-job-it-seems-ochsner-gets-17-6-million-for-running-chabert-hospital/

The only problem with that was that as Commissioner of Administration for Jindal, she presided over virtually every facet of state government except the legislative and judicial branches, but worked closely with those as well. State law prohibited her from lobbying the administrative and legislative branches but apparently there was nothing to prevent her from lobbying local governmental entities.

On November 5, 2015, less than two months following our story, Kimberly L. Robinson, an attorney with the Jones Walker law firm, acting on behalf of Ochsner, requested an advisory opinion on the question of whether or not Kristy could legally lobby the state.

A month later, Gov.-elect John Bel Edwards named Robinson as the new Secretary of the Department of Revenue, prompting her resignation from Jones Walker.

http://www.nola.com/politics/index.ssf/2015/12/john_bel_edwards_appoints_kimb.html

Robinson was replaced by R. Gray Sexton as counsel for Kristy.

Sexton was an obvious choice, given his years as Chief Administrator for the Louisiana Board of Ethics. His knowledge of the system was so keen that in 2007, he pulled his own end-run when he resigned and the board immediately rehired him in a new capacity which allowed him to skirt a requirement under a newly-passed ethics law that he disclose clients in his private law practice (how’s that for irony?).

http://blog.nola.com/times-picayune/2007/07/ethics_administrator_quits_the.html

But back to Kristy’s dilemma.

On December 16, Sexton submitted a request to the ethics board to withdraw the request for an advisory opinion. Then, on January 22, 2016, Sexton submitted an Application for Declaratory Opinion on behalf of Kristy. That was followed by a request to withdraw the Application for Declaratory Opinion on March 31. The board granted the request to withdraw at its April 15 meeting.

The chronology was provided to LouisianaVoice in an e-mail Tuesday (Aug. 2) from Deborah S. Grier, Executive Secretary for the Board of Ethics. Here is that email:

——– Original message ——–

From: Deborah Grier <Deborah.Grier@LA.GOV>

Date: 8/2/16 9:14 AM (GMT-06:00)

To: azspeak@cox.net

Subject: RE: Opinion on Kristy Nichols: Public Records Requests

Good morning, Mr. Aswell:

Pursuant to your public records request of July 29, 2016 regarding an opinion issued by the Board with respect to former Commission of Administration Kristy Nichols’ employment as a lobbyist by Ochsner Health System, please be advised of the following:

A request for an advisory opinion dated November 5, 2015 was submitted by Kimberly L. Robinson with the Jones Walker law firm on behalf of Ochsner Health System and Kristy Nichols.  Ms. Robinson subsequently left the private practice of law and was replaced by R. Gray Sexton as counsel for Ms. Nichols as indicated in correspondence to our office from Mr. Sexton dated December 11, 2015.  On December 16, 2015, a request to withdraw the request for an advisory opinion was submitted to our office.  The Board considered and granted the request to withdraw the request for an advisory opinion at its December 18, 2015 meeting.

 Mr. Sexton, by correspondence dated January 22, 2016, submitted to the Board an Application for Declaratory Opinion on behalf of Ms. Nichols.  A request to withdraw the Application for Declaratory Opinion was received by this office on March 31, 2016.  The Board considered and granted the request to withdraw the Application for Declaratory Opinion at its April 15, 2016 meeting.
No opinion has been rendered by the Board with respect to this issue.
Should you have any questions or need additional information, please do not hesitate to contact me.

Sincerely,
Deborah

Deborah S. Grier
Executive Secretary
Louisiana Board of Ethics

So, what does all that mean?

Could it be that Ochsner and Kristy have decided to let sleeping dogs lie? After all, if she proceeds with lobbying efforts and no one files an official complaint, then it’s no harm, no foul, right? That would certainly run true to form for Jindal’s Gold Standard of Ethics.

A quick check by LouisianaVoice, however, revealed that Kristy is not registered among any of Ochsner Health System’s 10 lobbyists. Sexton told LouisianaVoice today that Ochsner had apparently decided not to pursue the matter and it was his understanding that the company was pursuing “other plans” for Nichols. “Ochsner has a number of other lobbyists,” he said.

So if she is not a registered lobbyist, then just what is it that she does to earn her keep as Vice President of Government and Corporate Affairs?

Or was her employment simply some form of payback as we initially suggested in light of the $31 million Ochsner received in takeover of the Leonard Chabert Medical Center by Southern Regional Medical Corp. and Ochsner as part of Jindal’s haphazard state hospital privatization plan?

https://tomaswell.files.wordpress.com/2015/09/terms-of-the-ochsner-deal-at-leonard-chabert-medical-center.pdf

We’d no sooner received Ms. Grier’s email on Tuesday than the Baton Rouge Advocate posted a couple of stories, also on Tuesday, that caught our eye.

The first involved a claim by Gonzales City Council candidate Wayne Lawson that Ascension Parish President Kenny Matassa and Gonzales businessman Olin Berthelot attempted to bribe him not to seek a city council seat against incumbent Neal Bourque.

The Pelican Post news website first published the report that Matassa and Berthelot had offered Lawson $1,200 and a parish job if he would withdraw from the race. The deadline to withdraw was last Friday (July 29) at noon. Lawson, after posing for a photograph with the cash, a parish job application form and candidate withdrawal forms, returned the money and documents to Berthelot’s office without completing either of the forms.

http://www.theadvocate.com/baton_rouge/news/communities/ascension/article_d9fda80a-58df-11e6-884c-d3779607197c.html

Ricky Babin, District Attorney for the 23rd Judicial District, said his office would investigate Lawson’s claims. He said the Ascension Parish Sheriff’s Office and the Louisiana Attorney General’s Office are also investigating the allegations.

The Attorney General’s Office may be in something of a quandary as it embarks on that investigation, however.

The second Baton Rouge Advocate story, by reporter Gordon Russell, conjured up the ethics complained filed against Iberia Parish Sheriff Louis Ackal.

http://www.theadvocate.com/baton_rouge/news/politics/article_6f7a7990-58e9-11e6-9cd1-a36f0eb42bbf.html

https://tomaswell.files.wordpress.com/2016/03/ethics-complaint.pdf

https://louisianavoice.com/2016/03/03/between-beating-guilty-pleas-sexual-harassment-lawsuit-and-ethics-complaint-iberia-sheriff-louis-ackal-has-his-plate-full/

https://louisianavoice.com/2016/03/09/one-week-after-louisianavoice-story-feds-hand-down-three-count-indictment-of-iberia-parish-sheriff-ackal-top-deputy/

In his story, Russell said that Landry, after trailing incumbent Buddy Caldwell by two percentage points in the primary election for Attorney General last October, received the endorsement of third place finisher Geri Broussard Baloney of Garyville in St. John the Baptist Parish, who had polled 18 percent.

With her endorsement in his back pocket, Landry, a former U.S. Representative, easily won the November runoff over Caldwell (who can forget Caldwell’s concession speech?). Soon thereafter, Baloney’s daughter, Quendi Baloney, was given a $53,000-a-year job by Landry.

At the time of her hire, all would-be employees of the AG’s office were required to sign a form agreeing to background checks and were also asked, in writing, if they had any criminal record.

In her case, she did. In 1999, she was charged with 11 felony counts of credit card fraud and theft, eventually pleading guilty to three counts, according to court records from Henrico County, Virginia. She was sentenced to six years in prison, all of it suspended.

Her new job? Well, it’s in the AG’s fraud section. More irony.

But in the end, her background is of less interest, given that her conviction was 17 years ago, than the fact that she was given her job as apparent payback for her mom’s endorsement of Landry following the first primary election in October.

A spokesperson for the AG’s office, Russell wrote, did not respond to questions about whether other candidates had applied for Quendi Baloney’s job or whether Landry had hired any other convicted felons.

For her part, Quendi Baloney told The Advocate that her arrest and conviction were “devastating,” but had made her a “stronger, harder-working ethical adult…”

She forwarded to The Advocate a link to the state’s new “Ban the Box” law which prevents state agencies from asking applicants about their criminal records. That law, however, did not take effect until after she was hired.

It’s going to be more than a little interesting to see how Landry’s investigation of Matassa and Berthelot unfolds in light of the same day’s revelations about his own actions.

But we’re willing to wager that when the dust settles on the issues of Matassa, Berthelot, Nichols, Ackal (the state ethics complaint, not the federal indictment) and Baloney, we’ll still be able to say:

Nothing gets done.

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Earlier this week, we posted our story about growing frustration over the fact that time after time, when official corruption and wrongdoing are exposed, nothing is done.

https://louisianavoice.com/2016/07/25/in-a-state-where-graft-and-corruption-abound-honesty-and-law-enforcement-have-taken-a-permanent-leave-of-absence/

And it isn’t just the wrongdoing or questionable activities exposed by LouisianaVoice that feeds our exasperation. It doesn’t seem to matter if it’s a member of the media or a state agency, the fact is the vast majority of the cases are quietly ignored until they go away. Ignored, that is unless it’s some hapless inner city resident caught with a couple of joints or a civil servant fudging her timesheets because her agency’s budget has been cut to the bone, forcing shortcuts on her so she can maintain an overburdened caseload.

In those cases, justice is swift and severe.

But for those in positions of power and influence, it’s quite another story.

Only in Louisiana would a sheriff under federal indictment for beating defenseless prisoners and turning vicious dogs on them and who even threatened a federal prosecutor have the gall to petition the courts to give him his gun back. (Well, perhaps Maricopa County, Arizona, Sheriff Joe Arpaio would be so brazen, but we digress.)

http://addictinginfo.org/2016/07/20/violent-sheriff-who-threatened-federal-prosecutor-wants-gun-back-because-hes-scared-video/

Nowhere is Louisiana’s chronic case of legal periodontitis more evident than with the state’s “gold standard of ethics” presented to us way back in 1984. Because of his gutting state ethics laws, the Louisiana Ethics Commissions by all appearances is unable to collect more than $1 million in fines and penalties it has assessed against 248 political candidates. These candidates run the gamut—from sheriffs to current and former legislators and a member of the Board of Elementary and secondary Education.

Thank you, Bobby Jindal.

Jindal’s ethics reform was of such a high “gold standard” that it removed all enforcement powers of the Ethics Board and handed those duties to an administrative judge appointed by the governor—in this case, Jindal. The reform had the effect of making ethics enforcement just another political animal controlled by the governor in the same fashion as the Office of Inspector General, neither of which now have any real powers.

Ten of the 11 Ethics Board members immediately resigned in protest.

Perhaps it was only coincidence, but just 10 days after taking office—and before Jindal introduced his ethics reform bill—he was himself hit with a $2,500 ethics fine after failing to report that the Republican Party of Louisiana spent $118,265 on direct mail to promote his successful 2007 candidacy.

http://www.nola.com/news/index.ssf/2008/01/jindal_to_pay_ethics_fine.html

Jindal spokesperson at the time, Melissa Sellers, said Jindal would pay the fine to avoid a public hearing. The only trouble was, she said his campaign would pay the fine, an ethics violation in itself. Ethics Commission regulations prohibit the use of campaign funds for personal expenses, including ethics fines.

Political consultant Elliott Stonecipher of Shreveport remembers the backroom dealings in drafting the ethics reform of 2008. “By way of my pro bono consulting for the old Ethics Board, I knew details of what House Speaker Jim Tucker (R-Terrytown), Rep. (later Senator) Rick Gallot (D-Ruston), Sen. Bob Kostelka (R-Monroe), Jindal’s Executive Counsel Jimmy Faircloth, Chief of Staff Timmy Teepell, and Ann Wise were concocting,” he would later write.

The new laws bestowed upon Wise, an unclassified employee serving at the pleasure of the governor, the responsibility of selecting administrative law judges who would hear and rule on future ethics cases. “She was, in fact, working with Tucker, Gallot, Kostelka, and one Jindal insider identified her as one of the first people Tucker brought aboard their operation,” Stonecipher said. “At the time all of this was going on, Bobby refused to meet with Hank Perret, Chairman of the Ethics Board, with whom I was working. Under pressure, Jindal finally agreed to a half-hour meeting but would not meet without Teepell there and (Jindal) ultimately used the thirty minutes to command the discussion—never allowing it to approach what Hank was there to tell him,” he said.

“The top players and designers (Tucker, Gallot, and Kostelka) had (at the time discussions were ongoing) active and serious ethics charges against them winding through the system,” Stonecipher said (emphasis added). “Tucker had two charges and Gallot had seven. When the smoke cleared after the new laws took effect, each of them beat the rap in all cases.” Stonecipher said the top political reporters in Louisiana were informed all those details. “None of them ever wrote a story,” he said. “My articles which went to them were never acknowledged.”

http://www.nola.com/politics/index.ssf/2009/09/rep_rick_gallots_ethics_charge.html

http://www.thegramblinite.com/news/view.php/396049/Appeals-court-upholds-Gallot-ruling

So Gallot, Chairman of the House and Governmental Affairs Committee and a key Jindal ally in pushing for changes in the state’s ethics laws, was the subject of seven conflict-of-interest charges involving his legal representation of a company in business dealings with Grambling State University and the University of Louisiana System Board of Supervisors on which his mother was simultaneously serving.

Ethics Board Chairman at that time Frank Simoneaux of Baton Rouge (he was not re-appointed by Jindal when his term expired) called the Gallot case the first real test of state ethics laws since the Jindal reforms went into effect.

Another case pending at the time was that of Lafourche Parish Sheriff Craig Webre. He was charged with a conflict of interest because he was part-owner of Smart Start of Louisiana. He was accused of using his office for financial gain by selling ignition interlock devices to drivers convicted of driving while intoxicated.

It’s interesting to note that neither Webre nor Gallot denied the facts laid out in the charges. Instead, each invoking a statute of limitations in claiming that the board had only one year to file the charges while ethics board attorneys said the time limit for prescription was two years.

In November 2009, a panel of three administrative judges dismissed the charges against Webre.

So, to recap:

  • Jindal’s campaign paid his fine for him.
  • Webre was exonerated.
  • Kostelka, Tucker and Gallot all “beat the rap.”

Tucker was chosen Speaker of the House during Jindal’s first term.

And Gallot?

Well, he went on to be elected to the State Senate and on Tuesday (July 26), he was unanimously chosen by the University of Louisiana System as the new President of Grambling State University. To be fair, though, at least his mother no longer sits on the board.

http://www.theadvocate.com/baton_rouge/news/education/article_d8c82986-5350-11e6-b653-a7be43e9ff0c.html

Gallot even found the time to write an op-ed in the Baton Rouge Advocate in which he addressed his close relationship to the state’s movers and shakers and outlined his plans for Grambling. Oddly, he never got around to discussing ethics in his column.

http://www.theadvocate.com/baton_rouge/opinion/article_24c4f454-55a4-11e6-8f90-93862ea22176.html

For now, Louisiana appears to be stuck with a real albatross: A State Ethics Board that is powerless to collect more than $1 million ethics fines from those 248 candidates, some of them dating as far back as 25 years. The amount represents an average fine of $4,252 per candidate, though of that 248, there were 20 who had fines in excess of $10,000. Of that 20, six had fines of $20,000 or more; four were on the books for $30,000 or more and one was for $41,440.

Of the $1,054,487 in fines assess since 1991, only $57,665, or a scant 5 percent, has been paid, records show.

Court records show that in the majority of cases, fines assessed prior to 2015 that have gone unpaid have resulted in the filing of lawsuits by the Board of Ethics and in many of those cases, judgments against the individuals have resulted.

To be fair, the recipient of that $41,440 levy, James Fahrenholtz, has paid nearly half ($19,342) of his fine. That’s not to say Fahrenholtz, a former member of the Orleans Parish School Board doesn’t have other problems. In an unrelated matter, he was arrested in April 2015 for theft of a lobbyist’s iPad tablet.

Besides Fahrenyholtz, those owing $10,000 or more include:

  • Donald Pryor, former candidate for Orleans Parish Registrar (paid $1,757 to date);
  • Albert Donovan, former legal counsel to Gov. Edwin Edwards and a candidate for Secretary of State: $31,000 (paid $5,453 so far);
  • Gary Wainright, former candidate for Orleans Parish District Attorney: $30,200 (paid nothing on assessment);
  • Percy Marchand, former candidate for State Representative: $26,660 (paid nothing to date);
  • Thomas Robichaux, candidate for Orleans Parish School Board: $20,060 (paid $800);
  • James Perry, candidate for State Representative: $18,060 (paid nothing);
  • Edward Scott, candidate for U.S. Representative: $17,380 (paid nothing);
  • Robert Murray, candidate for State Representative: $17,080 (paid $160);
  • Jason Wesley, candidate for East Baton Rouge Parish Metro Council: $16,000 (paid nothing);
  • Isaiah Marshall, candidate for East Baton Rouge Parish Metro Council; $14,600 (paid $1,240);
  • Patrick Tovrea, candidate for Jefferson Parish School Board: $14,220 (paid nothing);
  • Joel Miller, candidate for Washington Parish Sheriff: $12,360 (paid nothing);
  • Melva Vallery, office unknown: $12,000 (paid nothing);
  • Marvin Frazier, candidate for Sabine Parish Sheriff: $11,800 (paid $4,031);
  • Myron Lee, candidate for State Representative: $10,900 (paid nothing);
  • Sandra Hester, candidate for Orleans Parish School Board: $10,660 (paid nothing);
  • Remic Darden, office unknown: $10,600 (paid $350);
  • Thelma Brown, candidate for East Baton Rouge Parish Metro Council: $10,000 (paid nothing);
  • Ali Moghimi, candidate for Monroe Mayor: $10,000 (paid nothing).

Other notable personalities hit with ethics fines and the amounts paid on their fine include:

  • State Rep. John Bagneris: $4,680 (nothing paid);
  • Livingston Parish Council Chairman Ricky Goff: $1,760 (nothing paid);
  • State Rep. Michael Jackson: $2,000 (nothing paid);
  • Former U.S. Rep. Vance McAllister: $1,260 (nothing paid);
  • Former Plaquemines Parish Sheriff Ernest Wooton: $2,000 (nothing paid);
  • Board of Elementary and Secondary Education member Kyra Orange Jones: $2,500 (nothing paid).

Here is a complete list of UNPAID fines assessed by the Board of Ethics

In January, the Ethics Board staff drafted an opinion on former Commission of Administration Kristy Nichols and her job as a lobbyist for Ochsner Health System which typically, was not adopted by the full board.

http://www.theadvocate.com/baton_rouge/news/politics/article_22f710cd-dda5-5b79-9545-db933add8f6e.html

That opinion said state law would prohibit Nichols from advising Ochsner on any matter involving the Division of Administration (DOA) until October 2017. It also said she could not deal with legislators who handle the state budget (and that should include all 105 representatives and 39 senators because they all must vote on the state budget.

http://www.ethics.la.gov/AgendaAttachments/27389/PublicAgendaAttachment.pdf

Rather than making a definitive decision, which was—and is—its responsibility, the Louisiana Board of Ethics boldly postponed action—at the request of Ochsner—until February.

Well, February has come and gone and the Ethics Board has yet to post anything online and we are now back to our original lament: Nothing gets done.

 

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