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Archive for the ‘Lobbyist’ Category

A question for Public Service Commissioner Mike Francis:

How much is enough?

And that’s not a rhetorical question. We really want to know what your limits are.

According to Francis, a wealthy man in his own right, he should be entitled to a free lunch.

Literally.

You see, the political campaigns of Public Service Commission (PSC) members, the Louisiana Insurance Commissioner and judges at every level are financed in large part by the very ones they regulate or do business with on a daily basis.

But apparently that association is not cozy enough for Francis, who wants to remove all restrictions on accepting free meals from representatives of utilities, motor carriers, and others regulated by the PSC.

Granted, the PSC purports to hold itself to a higher standard than actual ethics rules allow. Legally, elected officials are allowed to accept up to $60 per day in food and beverage under the guise of “business” lunches or dinners. But, as Baton Rouge Advocate columnist and resident curmudgeon JAMES GILL writes, the PSC, at the urging of members Foster Campbell and Lambert Boissiere, rammed through a rule barring all freeloading.

That didn’t sit well with Francis, who is financially solvent enough to daily feed the entire commission out of his petty cash account.

Saying he wanted the commission to be run like a business, he sniffed that a working lunch is “pretty standard procedure in the real work world.”

Our question to Francis then is this: since when is government run like a business? Businesses are run to make a profit; government is run to provide services for its citizens. The two concepts are like the rails on a railroad track: they never cross though they often do appear to converge.

And then there is our follow up question to Mr. Francis: isn’t it enough that you manage to extract huge sums of money from the industries you regulate in the form of campaign contributions? Why would you need a free lunch on top of that?

After all, your campaign finance reports indicate you received $5,000 from AT&T, $5,000 from ENPAC (Entergy’s political action committee), $5,000 from Atmos Energy Corp. PAC, $2,500 from the Louisiana Rural Electric Cooperative, $2,500 from Dynamic Environmental Services, $2,500 from ADR Electric, $2,500 from carbon producing company Rain CII, $2,500 from Davis Oil principal William Mills, III, $2,500 each from Jones Walker and the Long law firms, each of whom represents oil and energy interests. There are plenty others but those are the primary purchasers of the Francis Free Lunch.

LouisianaVoice would like to offer a substitute motion to the Francis Free Lunch proposal. It will never be approved, but here goes:

Let’s enact a law, strictly enforced, that will prohibit campaign contributions from any entity that is governed, regulated, or otherwise overseen by those elected to the Public Service Commission, the Louisiana Insurance Commission, judgeships at all levels, Attorney General, and Agriculture Commissioner.

  • No electric or gas companies, oil and gas transmission companies, or trucking and bus companies or rail companies could give a dime to Public Service Commission candidates.
  • Lawyers would be prohibited from contributing to candidates for judge or Attorney General.
  • Insurance companies would not be allowed to make contributions to candidates for Insurance Commissioner.
  • Likewise, companies like Monsanto, DuPont, Dow, Syngenta, Bayer and BASF, who control 75% of the world pesticides market, and Factory farms like Tyson and Cargill, which account for 72 percent of poultry production, 43 percent of egg production, and 55 percent of pork production worldwide, could no longer attempt to influence legislation through contributions to candidates for Agriculture Commissioner.
  • Members of the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE) could no longer accept contributions from individuals or companies affiliated in any way, shape or form with education.

While we’re at it, the Lieutenant Governor’s office oversees tourism in the state. In fact, that’s about all that office does. So why should we allow candidates for Lieutenant Governor to accept campaign contributions from hotels, convention centers, and the like?

This concept could be taken even further to bar contributions from special interests to legislators who sit on committee that consider bills that affect those interests. Education Committee members, like BESE members, could not accept funds from Bill Gates or from any charter, voucher or online school operators, for example.

Like we said, it’ll never happen. That would be meaningful campaign reform. This is Louisiana. And never the twain shall meet. The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) would see to that.

But wouldn’t it be fun to watch candidates scramble for campaign funds if such restrictions were to be implemented?

We might even see a return of the campaign sound trucks of the Earl Long era rolling up and down the main streets of our cities and towns after all the TV advertising money dries up.

Ah, nostalgia.

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A couple of reports, unconfirmed to this point, have been swirling about concerning the ongoing investigation into that San Diego trip taken by State Police Superintendent Mike Edmonson and 16 or so subordinates, including the four who went by state vehicle via Las Vegas and the Grand Canyon. Altogether, the jaunt cost Louisiana taxpayers more than $73,000.

But there also are confirmed developments that might have raised some concern on the part of those who want to see an unbiased investigation that will lead to appropriate action on the part of Gov. John Bel Edwards. It seems, however, that initial concern has been defused.

First, the unsubstantiated reports that, while lacking official confirmation, come from those close to the investigation who are considered reliable.

  • Attorney General Jeff Landry’s office is said to have begun an investigation on its own, separate and apart from that of the governor’s office. A spokesperson for the AG said that could be neither confirmed nor denied. “Our office has a policy of not commenting on such matters so as not to compromise any investigation it may be conducting,” she said.
  • Another well-placed source said the FBI is also conducting an investigation of Edmonson and LSP, though Edmonson earlier denied any such investigation. Our source of that story said he initially provided information to the FBI but now that the agency’s investigation is underway, he has not been involved in further dialog with agents.

Conspicuously absent is any report that the Office of Inspector General, that fiercely independent investigative agency, has undertaken any effort to look into possible criminal wrongdoing at LSP. That could, of course, be because OIG isn’t as independent of the governor’s office as it likes to claim.

It likewise would be reassuring if East Baton Rouge Parish District Attorney Hillar Moore initiated a grand jury investigation or at least weighed in if for no other reason than to say he was taking a wait and see approach to the governor’s investigation. After all, any crime committed in the East Baton Rouge Parish falls under his jurisdiction.

The two unconfirmed reports aside, LouisianaVoice has learned that Mark Falcon, an attorney for the Division of Administration (DOA), is assisting DOA auditors in their investigation of LSP. Richard Carbo, communications director for the governor’s office, said, “He is not the lead investigator; he is assisting the auditors in their work.”

Mark Falcon did, however, assauge concerns when he offered full disclosure in informing Commissioner of Administration Jay Dardenne that he is the brother of Floyd Falcon, legal counsel for the Louisiana State Troopers Association (LSTA), the lobbying arm of LSP.

It was LouisianaVoice’s story about the LSTA’s practice of laundering illegal campaign contributions through the personal bank account of its executive director David Young more than a year ago that prompted Floyd Falcon to refer to me as “a chronic complainer,” a characterization that has likely only intensified in his mind, given the manner in which the LSP saga has played out thus far.

But Mark Falcon’s voluntary disclosure of his relationship with Floyd Falcon and the manner in which he presented it is encouraging and provides optimism that the DOA investigation will be complete and above-board.

That is particularly important because two of those who took that trip to San Diego had their travel and lodging expenses on the trip picked up by the LSTA. Only the meals for Trooper Alexandr Nezgodinsky, a native of San Diego, and Lt. Stephen Lafargue were paid for by the state. Several others who made the trip are also LSTA members but had their expenses paid by the state.

In another development, LouisianaVoice received a rather dubious response to a public records requests regarding other trips Edmonson took to receive various awards.

Here is a copy of our request:

From: Tom Aswell
Sent: Wednesday, February 22, 2017 3:55 PM
To: ‘Michele Giroir’; ‘Doug Cain’
Subject: PUBLIC RECORDS REQUESTS

Pursuant to LA. R.S. 44.1 (et seq.), I hereby submit my formal request for the opportunity to review all travel records, including airfare, other travel, lodging, meals, registration fees and any and all other expenses incurred by all personnel (by name) who attended the presentation of any and all of the below awards bestowed upon Col. Mike Edmonson:

  • FBI Washington DC, Top 25 Police Administrators Award, 2009;
  • Sheriff Buford Pusser National Law Enforcement Officer of the Year Award, 2013;
  • Human Trafficking, Faces of Hope Award, 2013
  • Inner City Entrepreneur (ICE) Institute—Top Cop Award, 2013
  • American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators Martha Irwin Award for Lifetime Achievement in Highway Safety, 2014
  • New Orleans Convention and Visitors Bureau, Captain Katz Lifetime Award for Outstanding Achievement in Public Safety, 2015.

 Also, please provide me with the opportunity to review:

  • all travel records, including airfare, other travel, lodging, meals, registration fees and any and all other expenses incurred by all personnel (by name) who attended the Louisiana Sheriffs’ Association annual conventions/conferences in Destin/Sandestin, Florida for the years 2008 through 2016;
  • all travel records, including airfare, other travel, lodging, meals, registration fees and any and all other expenses incurred by all personnel (by name) who attended the Washington (D.C.) Mardi Gras festivities for the years 2008 through 2017;
  • all travel records, including airfare, other travel, lodging, meals, registration fees and any and all other expenses incurred by all personnel (by name) who attended the New Orleans Mardi Gras festivities for the years 2008 through 2016 (exclusive of security details assigned to the event).

Here is the response I received yesterday (Monday, March 6):

From: Michele Giroir
Sent: Monday, March 6, 2017 8:12 AM
To: Tom Aswell
Cc: Doug Cain; JB Slaton; Faye Morrison
Subject: RE: PUBLIC RECORDS REQUESTS

Mr. Aswell, in partial response to your below public records request, I have been advised that LSP does not maintain any records relating to travel expenses, etc., for attendance at the presentation of the following awards bestowed upon Col. Mike Edmonson:

  • FBI Washington DC, Top 25 Police Administrators Award, 2009;
  • Sheriff Buford Pusser National Law Enforcement Officer of the Year Award, 2013;
  • Human Trafficking, Faces of Hope Award, 2013
  • Inner City Entrepreneur (ICE) Institute –Top Cop Award, 2013
  • New Orleans Convention and Visitors Bureau, Captain Katz Lifetime Award for Outstanding Achievement in Public Safety, 2015

 The remaining requests are still being handling and further responses will be forthcoming.

Any questions that you may have should be addressed to Major Doug Cain.

With kindest professional regards, I am,

Sincerely,

Michele M. Giroir

Attorney Supervisor

 Not complete sold on that explanation, I emailed Cain:

“Doug, I find it inconceivable that LSP has no record of expenses for these trips. Is it the position that LSP keeps no such records or are you saying no expenses were incurred?”

His response? “No expenses.”

“Not even for those who went with him?” I wrote back (because we know by now he rarely travels alone).

“No sir,” he responded.

So the bottom line is we are being asked to believe that Edmonson, who packed 15 of his people off to San Diego, all of whom combined to run up expenses of more than $73,000, including salaries and travel, lodging and meal expenses, either took no one with him on the other trips and he didn’t consume any meals on his trips or perhaps he took traveling companions, none of whom spent a dime of state funds.

Either scenario requires a leap of faith to believe.

(To be incredulously continued.)

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One thing we’ve learned about the Louisiana State Troopers Association (LSTA), the independent lobbying organization for Louisiana State Police (LSP), is that despite a recent $5,000 fine for illegally making political contributions, the organization was far from through.

At the 2016 LSTA retreat in New Orleans held at the Omni Hotel Jan. 18-20, former Speaker of the House Chuck Kleckley (R-Lake Charles), who was front and center on state police pay raise issues, was rewarded for his work on behalf of State Police while in office.

While retiring state troopers are usually given a watch, the LSTA board voted to purchase a handgun costing several hundred dollars for Kleckley.

Technically speaking, the presentation of a handgun by a grateful LSTA was not a “political” contribution, given the fact that term limited Kleckley had left office on Jan. 11, a whole week before he was given the gift.

It’s interesting to note that state ethics laws strictly prohibit the receipt of anything of value by state employees but do not apply to barely out of office legislators.

LSTA New Orleans / January 20, 2016

Meeting with Command Staff

Col. Edmondson, Major Jason Starnes and Col. Dupuy addressed the board of directors. Command Staff covered LSP issues, Legislative issues and LSTA issues.

A Motion was made by Mr. Rodney Hyatt for the LSTA to purchase a handgun for Mr. Chuck Kleckley, seconded by Mr. Badeaux with no objections, the motion passed.

Here is the State Board of Ethics agenda item dealing with the LSTA contributions:

Louisiana State Board of Ethics Agenda

Friday, January 20, 2017
Docket No. 15-1385

Assigned Attorney: Jennifer Land
Re: Consent opinion regarding the Louisiana State Troopers Association making campaign contributions in the name of its executive director and then later reimbursing him for those contributions.
Law: La. R.S. 18:1505.2A(1) provides that no person shall give, furnish, or contribute monies, materials, supplies, or make loans to or in support of a candidate or to any political committee, through or in the name of another, directly or indirectly.
Facts:The Louisiana State Troopers Association and its executive director, David Young, signed a consent opinion for violating La. R.S. 18:1505.2A(1) and paid a civil penalty of $5,000.

 *(Source: Louisiana Ethics Commission’s Internet web page)

It is well-documented here as it has been elsewhere that when Bobby Jindal refashioned the Louisiana Board of Ethics in 2008, ethics laws for public officials were effectively gutted and the Ethics Board rendered all but impotent. His ethics “reform” prompted mass resignation of ethics board members who were the only ones at the time to understand the significance of what he had done. Besides usurping the board’s enforcement powers, the move effectively dismissed outstanding ethics violations charges against several of Jindal’s legislative allies.

But even the Ethics Board in its weakened condition was able to do what attorney Taylor Townsend, hired to investigate the LSTA’s campaign contributions, could not. Townsend, hired to investigate what appeared to be a money laundering type of scam to conceal illegal political campaign contributions by Louisiana state troopers could find no reason to even file a written report, let alone take any definitive action against troopers involved in the decision to make the contributions.

So, perhaps Mr. Townsend, in light of the Ethics Board’s actions on Docket No. 15-1385 cited above, can tell us just what he did to earn that $75,000 stipulated in his contract. He certainly doesn’t appear to have investigated anything.

While Townsend may not have been able to find any reason for punishing those responsible for the decision to funnel Louisiana State Troopers’ Association’s (LSTA) funds through its Executive Director David Young in an obvious attempt to circumvent civil service or in this case, Louisiana State Police Commission rules, retired State Trooper Leon “Bucky” Millet isn’t giving up so easily.

Millet has filed a formal complaint with both State Police Internal Affairs and with the Louisiana Office of Inspector General.

In an apparent effort to held Inspector General Stephen Street prove that his office is something more than expensive window dressing and to assist him in any investigation his office may choose to pursue, Millet also included a 2001 decision by the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeal. That decision upheld a lower court ruling that the City of Kenner was justified in firing members of the executive board of the Kenner police association for making political contributions.

Rather than read the entire ruling, the key passage in the court’s decision is highlighted in yellow on pages 1, 3, and 4.

Of course no good deed goes unpunished. When Millet and three other retired state troopers voiced their objections to the political contributions (which included $10,000 each to Bobby Jindal and John Bel Edwards over a period of two election cycles), they became marked men by their brothers in blue—at least by those on the LSTA board.

With only two “no” votes (by Troop Presidents Chris Brown of Troop B and Larry Badeaux of Troop C), the four retirees were unceremoniously kicked out of the LSTA, their combined memberships of half a century revoked—with no reason given other than that it could. So much for backing the blue from within. So much for any pretense of inviting, or even allowing differing opinions. Get caught laundering money and punish the whistleblowers. It’s the classic “shoot the messenger” type of action that LSP is supposed to be above.

Unfortunately, LSTA has shown it is run by petty, vindictive people unwilling to accept responsibility for their own actions.

Here is the portion of the minutes to the Nov. 2, 2016, LSTA Board meeting in which the votes were taken to expel the four retirees:

Louisiana State Troopers Association

November 2, 2016 Meeting Minutes

Meeting Title: Louisiana State Troopers Association Board Meeting

Date of Meeting: November 2, 2016

Where: LSTA Office, 8120 Jefferson Highway Baton Rouge, LA 70809

Start Time:          9:00 AM

The meeting was called to order by President Jay O’Quinn. The meeting opened with the pledge of allegiance led by Jay O’Quinn followed by a prayer by David Young.

Jay O’Quinn called roll as follows:

Derek Sentino, Troop A President

Chris Brown, Troop B President

Larry Badeaux, Troop C President

Chance Thomas, Troop D President

Chris Wright, Troop E President

Andy Stephenson, Troop F President

Hack Willis, Troop G President

Dale Latham, Troop I President (Absent)

Heath Miller, Troop L President

Rodney Hyatt, HQ President

Doussan Rando, Retiree Rep (Absent)

Jay O’Quinn, LSTA President

David Young, Executive Director

Old Business:

David Young updated the board on the Ethics Board investigation and its findings. The ethics board has ruled against the LSTA and fined the LSTA $5000.00.

A MOTION was made by Derek Sentino to accept the advice of our attorneys, acknowledgement of the facts of the Ethics Board ruling and pay the $5000.00 fine.  Seconded by Chance Thomas. No opposition.  The motion passed.

A MOTION was made by Derek Sentino to remove LSTA members Jesse Perry, Blaine Matte, Leon “Bucky” Millet and Tanny Devillier and for each removal of a member to be voted on separately. Seconded by Heath Miller. 

Roll Call Vote: Jesse Perry

Derek Sentino, Troop A President – Yes

Chris Brown, Troop B President – No

Larry Badeaux, Troop C President – No

Chance Thomas, Troop D President – Yes

Chris Wright, Troop E President – Yes

Andy Stephenson, Troop F President – Yes

Hack Willis, Troop G President – Yes

Dale Latham, Troop I President – Absent

Heath Miller, Troop L President – Yes

Rodney Hyatt, HQ President – Yes

Doussan Rando, Retiree Representative – Absent

Vote: 7-2, Passed

Roll Call Vote: Leon Millet. 

Derek Sentino, Troop A President – Yes

Chris Brown, Troop B President – No

Larry Badeaux, Troop C President – No

Chance Thomas, Troop D President – Yes

Chris Wright, Troop E President- Abstain

Andy Stephenson, Troop F President – Yes

Hack Willis, Troop G President – Yes

Dale Latham, Troop I President – Absent

Heath Miller, Troop L President – Yes

Rodney Hyatt, HQ President – Yes

Doussan Rando, Retiree Representative – Absent

Vote: 6-2, Passed

Roll Call Vote: Tanny Devillier

Derek Sentino, Troop A President – Yes

Chris Brown, Troop B President – No

Larry Badeaux, Troop C President – No

Chance Thomas, Troop D President – Yes

Chris Wright, Troop E President – Abstain

Andy Stephenson, Troop F President – Yes

Hack Willis, Troop G President – Yes

Dale Latham, Troop I President – Absent

Heath Miller, Troop L President – Yes

Rodney Hyatt, HQ President – Yes

Doussan Rando, Retiree Representative – Absent

Vote: 6-2, Passed

Roll Call Vote: Blaine Matte

Derek Sentino, Troop A President – Yes

Chris Brown, Troop B President – No

Larry Badeaux, Troop C President – No

Chance Thomas, Troop D President – Yes

Chris Wright, Troop E President – Abstain

Andy Stephenson, Troop F President – Yes

Hack Willis, Troop G President – Yes

Dale Latham, Troop I President – Absent

Heath Miller, Troop L President – Yes

Rodney Hyatt, HQ President – Yes

Doussan Rando, Retiree Representative – Absent

Vote: 6-2, Passed

A MOTION was made by Derek Sentino to send a letter to the four members who have been removed from the LSTA. Seconded by Chris Brown. No Opposition, the motion passed.

So no one on the board had the nerve to tell them to their faces. They were notified by letter.

Real class.

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There are times when, after you break a major story about official wrongdoing and after the requisite denials by those involved, everything gets quiet and the story seems to have hit a dead end. Or at least been placed in a state of suspended animation.

But generally, if you are willing to be patient and wait long enough, the story gets new life with the surfacing of new information.

So it was a year ago when LouisianaVoice and New Orleans Fox8 News investigative reporter Lee Zurik simultaneously broke a STORY that Troy Hebert, former director of the Office of Louisiana Alcohol and Tobacco Control (and furtive candidate for the U.S. Senate last fall—he got one-half of one percent of the vote), was under investigation by the FBI for:

  • Extorting sex from a New Orleans woman, Sarah Palmer, in exchange for approval of a liquor license for the French Quarter restaurant she managed, and
  • Illegally steered applicants for liquor licenses to attorney Chris Young for representation through Young’s sister, Judy Pontin, executive management officer for the New Orleans ATC office.

Now, thanks to a wrongful termination lawsuit filed against Hebert by a former ATC agent, those same issues have surfaced again.

Documents concerning still another issue, the suppressing of an investigation into a Baton Rouge bar following a 2012 accident involving a patron of the bar who had a blood alcohol content of .307 when he struck and killed two cyclists, killing one and injuring the other.

LouisianaVoice wrote in a February 2016 POST that Hebert wrongfully took control of the investigation and personally exonerated the Bulldog Bar from any wrongdoing. Chris Young was legal counsel for the Bulldog.

The only problem for fired ATC agent Brett Tingle, who filed the lawsuit against Hebert, it’s possible that none of Hebert’s repeatedly invoking the Fifth Amendment in a deposition will be allowed into testimony.

Federal Judge John DeGravelles of Louisiana’s Middle District in Baton Rouge, currently has under advisement Hebert’s motion for protective order filed by attorney Renee Culotta which would, if granted, prohibit Tingle’s attorney, J. Arthur Smith, III, from posing any questions at trial about Hebert’s relationship with Palmer and/or Young.

In Hebert’s deposition taken in December in preparation for trial in the Tingle matter, Hebert repeatedly invoked the Fifth Amendment when Palmer’s name was brought up by Smith, as illustrated by the following exchanges:

  • Smith: “Do you recognize this (redacted) document?”
  • Hebert: “I’m going to exercise my Fifth Amendment right.”
  • Smith: “Do you know a lady by the name of Sara (sic) Palmer?”
  • Hebert: “I’m going to exercise my Fifth Amendment right.”
  • Smith: “Have you engaged in any infidelity during your marriage to Dawn Vick?”
  • Hebert: “I’m going to exercise my Fifth Amendment right.”
  • Smith: “That’s not a Fifth Amendment matter.”
  • Smith” I’m going to show you Exhibit No. 9 (redacted). What is this document, sir?
  • Hebert: I will exercise my Fifth Amendment right.”
  • Smith: “So with respect to Exhibit No. 9, you’re exercising your Fifth Amendment right”
  • Hebert: “I answered the question.”
  • Smith: “I’ll show you (exhibit) No. 10 (redacted). Do you recognize the Exhibit No. 10?”
  • Hebert: “I will exercise my Fifth Amendment right.”

While the exhibits were redacted in Hebert’s Memorandum of Support for obvious reasons, the motion did note that exhibits eight and nine were “documents concerning” Louisiana Oyster House, dba Star Steak and Lobster (the restaurant managed by Palmer), notably a notice of violation and renewal applications. Exhibit 10, Culotta said, “concerned Chris Young documents previously attached to Hebert’s deposition as Exhibit 10-12.”

Interestingly, in his Memorandum in Support of his Motion for Protective Order, Hebert said that while he has not been indicted and there is “no active criminal case” against him… “It is clear Hebert has been under investigation by the FBI, and should he provide answers to these questions, he could face indictment and criminal prosecution.” (Emphasis added.)

And this memorandum, we should point out, was written by Hebert’s attorney, Renee Culotta, who is being paid thousands of dollars while under contract to the Attorney General’s office as a contract attorney—just as she was in a previous lawsuit against ATC, that of Lisa Pike, a former ATC employee who also sued Hebert. The terms of that settlement have been held confidential by the court.

LouisianaVoice has made a public records request for Culotta’s billing for legal representation in the Pike matter. Her billing in the defense of the Tingle lawsuit would not be made available because the case is ongoing.

Culotta said in the memorandum that allegations by Palmer against Hebert “occurred in January 2016, well after Tingle’s work for and termination from the ATC. Tingle did not participate in any issue concerning Sarah Palmer and/or Steak and Lobster, and no facts about Palmer or Steak and Lobster are contained in (Tingle’s) complaint.

“Likewise, the issues concerning Chris Young (i.e., whether Hebert gave preferential treatment to Young and/or referred clients to Young as part of an illegal scheme) are also not a part of this lawsuit and are not relevant to and have no bearing on whether Hebert allegedly retaliated against Tingle because of Tingle’s participation in the race discrimination charges and lawsuits filed by three African-American employees.

Tingle’s counsel’s questions and discovery concerning Chris Young and/or Sarah Parker were only meant to embarrass and harass Hebert,” Culotta said in her memorandum.

“Hebert cannot fully defend himself in the civil case (i.e., by explaining his position concerning Young, Palmer and (t)he Star Steak and Lobster license renewal) while the threat of criminal prosecution is looming.

“Plaintiff cannot have it both ways: if he intends to pursue this evidence, he then must agree to a stay in order that Hebert can defend himself without threat of criminal prosecution.

“Defendant Troy Hebert respectfully requests (that) this court issue a protective order forbidding plaintiff’s counsel from discovering, asking any questions about or referencing Chris Young, Sarah Palmer and/or the Star Steak and Lobster restaurant going forward in this litigation. To the extent plaintiff claims these issues are relevant, then Hebert respectfully asks the court to stay the proceedings until the statute of limitations has run on any criminal charges that could be brought in connection with these matters.” (Emphasis added.)

Now I don’t pretend to be a legal scholar. Journalism schools (or at least the one I attended) sadly do not require any courses in law even though any career journalist is going to be covering courtroom procedure at some point during his career.

That said, it appears to me that someone is one helluva lot more concerned with potential criminal exposure than any civil liability.

But then, that’s understandable. If a public official is convicted of criminal wrongdoing, he is the one who is penalized. If, on the other hand, a civil verdict is returned against that same individual, it is the taxpayer who ultimately pays whatever judgment is assessed.

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There was a popular game about 40 years ago called “Whack-a-mole.” (For all I know, it may well still be around.) Anyway, the object of the game was for a player to “whack” a rodent with a rubber mallet each time it appeared out of one of five holes. The problem was each time a mole was “whacked”, it invariably popped up again from one of the remaining four holes.

So it is with certain news stories that just when you think you’ve written about all there is to say on the subject, up pops another angle to pursue.

This time though, two separate—and seemingly unrelated—stories that have been covered extensively in the past by LouisianaVoice have now converged to warrant a fresh look at old news.

Before I go any further, I should acknowledge the ever-sharp eyes of my bronchitis-infected friend and Ruston High School classmate John Sachs (Class of ’61). It is he, after all, that brought an otherwise routine local news story in the Farmerville Gazette to my attention. (I guess I’m going to have acquiesce and give him that honorary Deputy Ace Reporter badge he’s been clamoring for.)

Eagle-Eye John called me about efforts to hire a private prison management company to take over management of the 380-bed Union Parish Detention Center. You may recall that LouisianaVoice had a couple of stories about the facility last year, on MAY 10 and MAY 31 about a convicted rapist who was allowed out of his cell to rape a female prisoner. Twice.

That incident, deplorable as it certainly was, is not what this is about, however.

The Gazette story recounted the reason for the decision by LaSalle Corrections to decline Union Parish’s offer. Those reasons dealt with the potential shortage of prisoners if Gov. John Bel Edwards is successful in reducing the number of state inmates and the financial impact of such a move.

Another factor, said LaSalle Chief of Operations Johnny Creed, was the size of four other facilities in north Louisiana managed by LaSalle: Richwood Correctional Center (1,129 inmates), Jackson Parish Correctional Center (1,285), LaSalle Correctional Center (785) and Catahoula Correctional Center (835).

image-13

(CLICK ON IMAGE TO ENLARGE)

And then Creed said the thing that caught Sach’s eye, prompting him to call me with his croaking voice and rattling cough: “As small as (Union Parish Detention Center) is, we would need to bring our work release inmate that work for Foster Farms from our Richwood facility.”

Wait. What?

Foster Farms has 100 work release inmates working at its cotton-pickin’ chicken-pluckin’ plant in Farmerville?

Isn’t this the same plant that Bobby Jindal, with the support of State Sen. Mike Walsworth (R-West Monroe), gave $50 million to in order to get Foster Farms to take over the plant from Pilgrim’s Pride back in 2009?

Wasn’t Foster Farms supposed to provide up to 1,100 jobs with that $50 million?

Does Foster Farms get a $2,400 tax credit for each inmate it employs in the work release program?

And aren’t work release programs something of a cash cow for sheriffs and private prisons farming out prisoners to work for just a smidgen more than minimum wage?

Yes,

Uh-huh.

Yep.

Hell, yes.

You mean to tell me Foster Farms gets a $240,000 tax credit (that’s credit, not a deduction, meaning that’s $240,000 income on which Foster Farm pays no taxes) for hiring 100 prisoners at $7.75 per hour (about 60 percent of which goes to the local sheriff), jobs that should be going to local folks?

Very perceptive, Grasshopper.

This, folks, is yet another lingering smell that hits our olfactory like a pair of dirty socks but which we affectionately call the Jindal Legacy.

The work release program is such a golden egg that sheriffs all over the state, reading the tea leaves shaped like dollar signs, rushed to build their own programs, complete with barracks and vans for workers. And to make sure the beds stayed filled, which is the only way they can get the maximum state dollars, the accommodating Louisiana Sheriffs’ Association lobbied (read parties, booze, women and campaign contributions) Louisiana’s law and order legislators to be more law and order-oriented and pass stiffer penalties for even the most insignificant crimes.

To see just how lucrative this could be for a small parish like Union, let’s run the numbers.

State law allows the sheriff or operator of the private prison to take up to 62 percent of a prisoner’s earnings. One hundred prisoners working 40 hours per week for 50 weeks per year at $7.75 per hour. That comes to $1.55 million earned by the prisoner.

The Union Parish Detention Center is unique in that it is the only such facility in the state in which neither the sheriff nor a private company has operational controls. It is operated by committee comprised of a member of the Union Parish Police Jury, the district attorney and parish police chiefs. Lincoln Parish at one time was run in the same manner but it is now run by the sheriff.

If the parish takes “just” 60 percent, that’s $930,000 per year for the sheriff/operator. And that’s over and above the rate the state pays the sheriff/operator to house the prisoners. More than six years ago, LOUISIANA VOICE published a story that examined some of the housing contracts between the state and several Louisiana parishes.

Despite the money generated by the work release program, the Union Parish Detention Center has continued to lose money. That is the reason for the unsuccessful attempt to lure LaSalle into managing the center.

We followed our December 2010 post with a story in AUGUST 2015 that illustrated the abuses that can occur when someone with the right connections can use that advantage to manipulate a system like work release for his own monetary gain.

Jail operators, be they sheriffs or private corporations, love the money the work release program brings in to augment that paid by the state for housing the prisoners.

And businesses like Foster Farms love being able to hire 100 prisoners at near-minimum wage and receive a $240,000 tax credit in the process.

It’s a win-win for everyone but the taxpayers.

So, bottom line: Thar’s gold in them thar jails.

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