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Archive for the ‘Media’ Category

By Ken Booth

Guest Commentator

Employees at the Monroe Veterans’ Home were rushed into recalling a mysterious incident five years ago this month at the Home which has until now remained undisclosed. Two employees were called upon to sign affidavits about the unusual episode that occurred on August 10, 2012. Their affidavits were signed only this Tuesday (Aug. 1).

This, following my public records request issued on August 1 to the Louisiana Department of Veterans Affairs in Baton Rouge for a work order to a West Monroe security firm to remove and replace the hard drive from the Monroe Veterans Home’s security set-up.

Documents from the security firm show the work was requested by Ken Houston, the former Home administrator who abruptly ‘retired’ last week.

The signed employee affidavits stated it was Houston who on that day asked them to “open the door to the telephone room” presumably to allow the security technician access to the hard-drive in question, before shooing the maintenance worker away, telling him he didn’t need help and “I’ll take it from here.”

An invoice detailing the security company’s work issued to the NELA Home indicates it charged a total of $281 for the job, which included $218 for a new hard-drive.

What happened to the hard-drive which was replaced is not known. In fact, none of this was known until last Tuesday when our records request startled employees at the Veterans Home, some of whom had no knowledge themselves this had ever happened.

Why Houston may have wanted that hard-drive removed and replaced is not known. Why this was done outside the knowledge of other Home officials is also unknown.

However, this is not the first time matters which might be considered curious in nature at the Home have been hidden away out of public view.

You may recall that it was in August of just last year that agents from the office of Louisiana Inspector General and auditors from the Office of Legislative Auditor were digging into allegations of alleged mistreatment of Home residents which also, ironically, dated back to 2012.

Those allegations were documented and filed with the Secretary of the Dept. in Baton Rouge but somehow escaped being publicly disclosed until July of last year when an anonymous letter, slipped under the door of Congressman Abraham, triggered action by LDVA Secretary Joey Strickland to investigate why all of those allegations had never seen the light of day.

At the time, James Ken Houston was administrator at the Monroe Veterans Home. Tommy Shoemaker was the assistant administrator.

Amid the renewed probe, Shoemaker was arrested and charged with felony theft of $9000 from a 69-year-old resident of the Home, Roland J. Matheny. Matheny is now deceased. His family is said to be seeking restitution.

Now we know that computer system hard drive was removed and for some reason replaced about a week before Shoemaker and Vets Home accountant Misti Dawn Westbrook both signed a check in the amount of $9000 from the fiduciary account of Mr. Matheny ostensibly to pre-pay for his burial. Those expenses were never paid. The money was deposited into Matheny’s private account at Progressive Bank but on August 6, four days before the hard-drive was replaced, about $2000 was paid to an Orchard Bank credit card account in the name of Thomas W. Shoemaker.

In addition, bank records show a number of ATM cash withdrawals from Matheny’s account totaling about $3200 as well as another $1200 in retail purchases made on Matheny’s ATM card.

We could find no written authorization by Matheny for Shoemaker to make these withdrawals from his Progressive Bank account.

Ken Houston, then administrator, imposed a one pay period reduction in Shoemaker’s salary from $2,076 to $1,453 bi-weekly.

Fast-forward to last week when James Ken Houston abruptly “retired” from his job at the NELA Veterans Home. Ironically, his swift departure announcement came within 24 hours to the very day five years ago Shoemaker and Westbrook signed that $9000 check.

—Ken Booth, now residing in Arizona, is retired from KNOE-TV in Monroe, where he worked for many years as a highly-respected investigative reporter.

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“I certainly take responsibility for the fact that these documents, these notices, were labeled a subpoena under our administration […] It was improper, it was incorrect for us to label those notices as a subpoena, that was incorrect. That was improper, and I take responsibility for that.”

—Orleans Parish District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro, in an April 27 interview with New Orleans WWL-TV. Curiously, he never said the practice was a mistake or that he was genuinely sorry.

 

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If you ever decide to step out of your routine and launch a search for the poster child for corruption within the Louisiana justice system, you might wish to begin your search in New Orleans.

It will be a short but successful search. Guaranteed.

Without delving too far into Orleans Parish’s sordid history, there was the removal of U.S. District Judge G. THOMAS PORTEOUS JR. by the U.S. Senate in 2010 and four more judges got themselves caught up in the FBI OPERATION WRINKLED ROBE in adjacent Jefferson Parish back in 2003.

Corrupt judges are bad enough but after three straight administration changes, it appears the Orleans Parish District Attorney’s Office still can’t get its act together.

The most egregious was the late Harry Connick, Sr., HARRY CONNICK, SR., who earned a well-deserved national reputation for consistently withhold exculpatory evidence that would have exonerated defendants he sent to Angola for extended prison terms—one of whom spent 18 years on death row before the discovery of withheld evidence finally freed him.

He was followed by the derby-wearing Eddie Jordan, who previously served on the federal prosecuting team that won a conviction of former Gov. Edwin Edwards.

The first hint that things were a bit askew was when Jordan, a black, began handing out pink slips to white employees who saw red and sued in federal court, ultimately winning a major reverse discrimination DECISION in 2005. That, along with a somewhat bizarre story of a robbery suspect who showed up at Jordan’s HOME in October 2007, finally forced him to RESIGN from office only a week later.

Then, on July 14, LouisianaVoice received this otherwise benign press release from Department of Public Safety and Corrections Secretary James M. LeBlanc:

Louisiana Justice Hall of Fame Announces 2017 Honorees

Inductees to be honored today during ceremonies

BATON ROUGE, La. –  Louisiana Department of Public Safety and Corrections Secretary James M. Le Blanc, Louisiana State Penitentiary Warden Darrell Vannoy, and the Louisiana State Penitentiary Museum Foundation are proud to announce the following highly distinguished individuals as 2017 inductees to the Louisiana Justice Hall of Fame:

  • The Honorable Dennis R. Bagneris, Sr., 4th Circuit Court of Appeals Judge, Retired, New Orleans
  • The Honorable Leon A. Cannizzaro, Jr., District Attorney, New Orleans
  • The Honorable Jimmy N Dimos, 4th Judicial District Judge, Retired, Monroe
  • Sheriff Marlin N. Gusman, Orleans Parish Sheriff’s Office
  • Major General Bennett C. Landreneau, Retired, Alexandria
  • The Honorable Marc H. Morial, President & CEO of The National Urban League
  • Sheriff Newell Norman, Jefferson Parish Sheriff’s Office
  • Rabbi Arnold S. Task, Alexandria

The new inductees will be honored and inducted into the Hall of Fame today during ceremonies at the Louisiana State Penitentiary Museum and at LSU’s Lod Cook Alumni Center. The Louisiana State Penitentiary Museum is proud home to the Louisiana Justice Hall of Fame.

Okay, what’s wrong with that, you ask?

Not much except that the Southern Poverty Law Center has just filed a 61-page official COMPLAINT against Cannizzaro with the Louisiana Office of Disciplinary Counsel in Baton Rouge following an excellent series of investigative stories in The Lens, a non-profit New Orleans watchdog online news service.

The basis for the complaint—and of The Lens stories—was the routine issuance of non-legal subpoenas intended to intimidate subjects to report to the district attorney’s office to answer questions by prosecutors. Those subpoenaed were not necessarily suspected of any wrongdoing.

The fake subpoenas were not signed by a judge, a requirement under law to make the subpoena legal and enforceable. Instead, they were issued as ploys to intimidate those served into coming into the DA’s office.

http://thelensnola.org/2017/04/28/woman-who-got-fake-subpoena-from-orleans-parish-da-said-she-was-told-she-could-be-jailed-if-she-ignored-it/

http://thelensnola.org/2017/06/14/new-orleans-prosecutor-used-fake-subpoena-to-seek-arrest-warrant-for-victim-of-alleged-domestic-violence/

http://thelensnola.org/2017/05/03/will-prosecutors-who-sent-fake-subpoenas-face-any-consequences/

http://thelensnola.org/2017/05/05/da-we-cant-say-how-often-fake-subpoenas-are-used-and-its-too-hard-to-look/

http://thelensnola.org/2017/05/12/orleans-parish-da-sued-over-refusal-to-turn-over-witness-subpoenas-real-and-fake/

http://thelensnola.org/2017/05/15/the-lens-is-suing-orleans-parish-da-leon-cannizzaro-to-force-him-to-turn-over-fake-subpoenas/

http://thelensnola.org/2017/05/19/notices-sent-to-witnesses-on-north-shore-werent-called-subpoenas-but-they-looked-real-enough/

http://thelensnola.org/2017/06/14/new-orleans-prosecutor-used-fake-subpoena-to-seek-arrest-warrant-for-victim-of-alleged-domestic-violence/

http://thelensnola.org/2017/05/22/defense-attorney-asks-judge-to-force-orleans-parish-district-attorney-to-disclose-whether-it-used-fake-subpoenas-in-home-invasion-case/

On July 11, an Orleans Parish JUDGE ordered the DA’s office to provide the ACLU complete records related to its use of fake subpoenas.

But apparently, the practice has bled over into adjacent JEFFERSON PARISH, where fake subpoenas are also reportedly being issued.

So while Donald Stumped and his shrinking army of unquestioning loyalists fret and fume over so-called fake news, there is the very real issue of fake subpoenas being used by those charged with upholding the Constitution of the United States to trample on the rights of its citizens.

Leon Cannizzaro attended and graduated from law school. We know that because you must be a licensed attorney to be a district attorney.

By virtue of that law degree (a juris doctorate, we assume), he is fully aware that a subpoena, to be legal, must be issued by a court, i.e., signed by a judge.

He also must be aware that the actions of his office, for which he must take full responsibility, were blatantly illegal, unconstitutional, unethical and immoral—and that the practice casts a long shadow of doubt as to the credibility and legal ethics of yet another Orleans Parish district attorney.

Unless, of course, he was absent on subpoena and/or legal ethics days.

The Southern Poverty Law Center said it best in its complaint in such a succinct manner that it bears repeating:

  • Subpoenas are, by definition, orders issued by a court.
  • By law, district attorneys may only seek to have subpoenas issued with court authorization.
  • The Orleans Parish District Attorney’s Office routinely lied about individuals’ obligation to speak to district attorneys and the penalties for failing to do so.
  • The District Attorney’s Office now acknowledges ethical violations but continues to resist transparency and the voluntarily (sic) regulation of this practice.

The bogus subpoenas carry a bold-face notice that says, “A fine and imprisonment may be imposed for failure to obey this notice.”

We can’t help but wonder what the penalty for badgering, intimidation, misrepresentation, and lying by an officer of the court might be.

But congratulations for that Justice Hall of Fame thingy.

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More proof that when leaders are unhappy with the message, they shoot the messenger as the obvious solution:

“I hear the State Fire Marshal’s office may be going to terminate several employees (this) week based on their (the employees) not being loyal to the agency and (State Fire Marshal Butch) Browning. There is actually a DPS (Department of Public Safety and Corrections) rule that says you have to be loyal.”

That’s the message LouisianaVoice received from one of its sources over the weekend.

If true, it gives credence to the expression that no good deed goes unpunished.

The overall administrative mood at the Louisiana Office of State Fire Marshal (LOSFM) has been more than a little surly since our initial STORY last week about unqualified personnel being forced to investigate possible arson cases.

With already interviews with a half-dozen sources under our belt, other sources began coming forward with claims of shortcomings in the INVESTIGATION of a fatal fire scene in St. Tammany Parish.

Also called into question was the investigation of several nursing fires in Simmesport and the arrest of an employee, who was not even at work during all but one of the fires, on some 75 counts, including cruelty to the infirm and attempted murder. An Avoyelles Parish grand jury is scheduled to investigate that case beginning on Thursday.

LouisianaVoice has since been asked to look into the circumstances of yet another Avoyelles Parish CASE in which a local firefighter was arrested in connection with the death of his wife of 10 months in a house fire. His trial is next month.

LOSFM administrators took immediate action to confront the problems with the St. Tammany and Simmesport cases by calling in employees from the field and grilling them about whether they had talked to LouisianaVoice. Among the tactics employed in improving investigative methods were threats of polygraph tests and further interrogation.

And now there are those pesky loyalty issues which appear to have placed employees’ jobs in jeopardy.

Apparently, it’s the DPS Trump card, if you’ll forgive a bad pun.

But when the so-called “loyalty rule” is invoked, it’s important to ask: to whom is this “loyalty” due?

We have not seen the rule requiring loyalty but it would be assumed that it was intended to require loyalty to the agency, DPS, and to the principles to which it espouses—namely justice administered on a fair, equitable, and impartial basis.

If that’s the case, it would seem a pretty steep hill to climb to prove disloyalty on any employee.

But if it’s loyalty to the guys in the corner offices, namely Browning, Fire Chief Brant Thompson and other top brass (whether laden with unwarranted military medals or simply blessed with protectors in high places), that’s another story.

We’ve heard the stories of LOSFM employees being reassigned to remote districts or being forced into resignations after revealing problems to management, it’s difficult to see how leadership at LOSFM warrants loyalty from anyone other than those who literally owe their jobs to Browning—those cronies brought in at higher pay grades than veteran employees.

Loyalty in exchange for political benefaction should not be a requirement of any job in government. That’s the very reason the Department of Civil Service was enacted during the second administration of Jimmie Davis.

Whistleblowers most often come forward reluctantly and after all other avenues of rectification have been exhausted.

But another reason the honchos at LOSFM might want to reconsider any rash decisions to clean house of so-called “disloyal” employees is that terminated employees, now disgruntled (as opposed to gruntled?), might feel free to open up even more to LouisianaVoice and other media outlets.

And that, guys, is the elephant in the room that you seem to be ignoring.

 

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Bureaucrats always blame the messenger.

Rather than devote productive efforts to cleaning up their act when they are exposed, management of public agencies would always rather go on a hunt to exact reprisals on those who may have blown the whistle.

That’s what took place today as several field personnel were called in and grilled about whether they were the sources for two recent LouisianaVoice stories. You can see those stories HERE and HERE.

And as an update to those stories, WWL-TV has CONFIRMED earlier reports by LouisianaVoice that Nanette Krentel, 49, wife of St. Tammany Parish Fire District No. 12 Chief Stephen Krentel, did not die from last Friday’s fire that destroyed the family home, but instead, died of a gunshot wound.

Even when a Louisiana Office of State Fire Marshal (LOSFM) inspector attempts to correct problems internally without alerting the media, those inspectors suddenly find themselves “reassigned” and forced to travel 200 miles or more to report to work in, say, Shreveport if the poor guy resides in the Baton Rouge area, or to Houma if he lives in Monroe.

And while these might not be actual cases, LouisianaVoice has learned that such reassignments do occur at LOSFM.

On Friday, field personnel were interrogated and told they would be required to submit to polygraph tests at unspecified times (“whenever we call you in to do so”) and that they would be interrogated further.

Reports out of LOSFM headquarters were that LOSFM Fire Chief Brant Thompson was “livid” over reports that staff are inadequately trained and certified before they are fully prepared to conduct arson investigations. One inspector, Henry Rayborn, highly regarded for his professionalism by nearly a dozen of his co-workers interviewed by LouisianaVoice, resigned following a confrontation with Thompson over the St. Tammany fire investigation.

That’s a strange reaction from Thompson, coming as it does only weeks after he contacted LouisianaVoice after we spent the better part of a week poring over office expenditures.

“We’re really glad you’re taking a look at our operations,” he said. “It’s always good to have someone checking us out and I want you to know I’m here to cooperate with you in every way I can. If you find that we’re doing something wrong, I hope you’ll let us know.”

Actually, Brant, we thought that was your job.

And, Brant, just so you know: When you try strong-arm tactics to keep people from talking, it almost always blows up in your face.

 

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