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Archive for the ‘Privatization’ Category

The real injustice in the July 2015 death of Michael Sabbie at the hands of LaSalle Corrections personnel at Texarkana’s Bi-State Jail, in addition to the death itself, lies in the fact that the SETTLEMENT of the family’s lawsuit against LaSalle was allowed to be sealed, thereby forever shielding from public view the punishment imposed on the private prison for its gruesomely abusive treatment of Jones during his short time in custody leading up to his death.

Were it not for a 169-page March 6, 2019, ruling from FEDERAL MAGISTRATE CAROLINE CRAVEN denying defense motions for a dismissal of Teresa Sabbie’s lawsuit, some of those unimaginable acts by guards and nurses employed by LaSalle might never have been known. To read her lawsuit, click HERE.

That ruling also revealed that LaSalle routinely took shortcuts in falsifying certifications that employees had required training and experience when in fact, they did not.

Sabbie, 34, was arrested by Texarkana City Police on July 19, 2015, for a domestic disturbance and taken to Bi-State. Three or four days later (the exact date is uncertain because of the haphazard manner in which prison guards checked on Sabbie in his cell), he was dead after:

  • He was denied medication even though nurses knew he suffered from hypertension, diabetes, asthma and heart problems;
  • He was beaten by guards even though they later admitted he had made no hostile motions and offered no resistance to them;
  • Was pepper-sprayed despite his known respiratory condition and was subsequently inadequately decontaminated;
  • With his hands cuffed behind him, video showed that his hands were forced up and over his head until his hands ended up in front of him while still cuffed, actions that a doctor testified would have caused severe damage to his joints, muscles, tendons and shoulders – stress that should have triggered an immediate medical evaluation, though none was ever done.
  • Guards falsified reports indicating they checked on him every half-hour – even though one of the times logged in was 15 minutes after the guard had already ended his shift and gone home.

Judge Craven noted in her ruling that officers employed by LaSalle at the facility “testified (that) LaSalle gave them no training on recognizing potential signs of medical distress or signs that an inmate may need medical care.”

Guard Stuart Boozer, she said, testified that LaSalle provided no training on when to summon medical care for inmates and guard Robert Derrick added that “LaSalle did not train them they had an ‘obligation to secure medical care for inmates with series medical needs.’”

Officer Simone Nash “had only been working at the jail for about three weeks on July 21,” Judge Cravens said, quoting from Nash’s own deposition in which she testified that she had received only five days (40 hours) of classroom training even though she was required to receive a minimum of five days of on-the-job training before working alone but in fact had only two days’ experience working alone.

But the most damning testimony showed LaSalle’s willingness, even its insistence on having employees sign documentation attesting they had completed all necessary training when they had not. In fact, testimony showed, the employees were instructed to sign the documentation that they had completed training classes when such classes had not even begun.

Correctional Practices expert Capt. Kenny Sanders testified that his review of data revealed that LaSalle did not conduct training, training was being falsified, employees were given credit for training they did not attend and the training program “was not property supervised.”

And when all else fails, it seems that LaSalle is not above employing a bit of subterfuge – except it didn’t work.

Besides the individual guards and nurses named in Teresa Sabbie’s lawsuit, other defendants included Bowie County, Texas, the City of Texarkana, Arkansas, Southwestern Corrections, dba LaSalle Corrections, LaSalle Southwest Corrections and LaSalle Management Co.

LaSalle Management in its motion for summary judgment (dismissal), did so on the assertion that it had no involvement in the suit because it “merely provides accounting and payroll services for the other LaSalle entities.”

That claim relied on an affidavit of Rodney Cooper and a February 2013 Facility Operation and Management Services Agreement between Southwestern Correctional, LLC, dba LaSalle Corrections, and Bouie County, Texas for the operation of the Bi-State jail.

It turned out, however, that LaSalle Management’s motion was a tad incomplete in that it somehow neglected to include a “highly-relevant final page (or addendum) to that agreement,” Judge Craven wrote. That omitted page contained an acknowledgement that LaSalle Management was the “Parent Company” of Southwestern Correctional and as such, “LaSalle Management itself explicitly and ‘unconditionally’ guarantees ‘performance of all obligations and duties under and pursuant to’ the jail operations contract with Bowie County.”

After 168 pages of reviewing facts surrounding the incarceration, abuse and death of Michael Sabbie, Judge Craven wrote on the final page that LaSalle Management’s motion for summary judgment was denied.

LaSalle has managed to fly under the radar of the news media preoccupied with the spoiled brat behavior of the Trump administration, a drawn-out fight for the Democrat nomination of a candidate to oppose him, impeachment, claims and denials of Russian interference in our election process and, of course, the coronavirus pandemic.

But recent revelations about a whistleblower complaint of unsolicited HYSTERECTOMIES of female illegal immigrants at one of its facilities in Georgia has brought renewed attention to the Ruston-based company said to be worth upwards of $300 million and which operates several facilities in Louisiana, Texas and Georgia.

LouisianaVoice will continue its series about the company in the coming days.

 

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When the news broke last week about the widespread performance of HYSTERECTOMIES on Latino detainees at the Irwin County Detention Center in Georgia, it sparked outrage and disgust, as it well should have.

But it might come as a surprise to some that this wasn’t the first rodeo for the Ruston, Louisiana, company that operates the detention center in Ocilla, Georgia.

Between May 2015 and June 2019, no fewer than six prisoners have died while incarcerated at the LaSalle-run Bi-State Jail and Annex operated in Texarkana, Texas, according to a federal LAWSUIT filed as a result of the most recent, the particularly gruesome June 17, 2019 death of Holly Barlow Austin, 46, was arrested on April 5, 2019, for probation violation and taken to Bi-State.

Bowie County in February 2013 contracted Southwestern Corrections, LLC, dba LaSalle Corrections to operate all aspects of the Bi-State Jail and the Annex, including the provision of medical care to inmates, pretrial detainees and post-conviction prisoners.

Texarkana attorney David Carter told LouisianaVoice that the lawsuit, filed in the Texarkana Division of U.S. District Court, Eastern District of Texas, of behalf of Barlow-Austin’s mother and husband, is his fourth lawsuit filed against LaSalle and his third wrongful death case.

The one non-death case was that of William Jones was “released” to his sister by LaSalle after being beaten so severely at LaSalle’s Bi-State facility that he was near death when she had him transported to a hospital by ambulance. He was placed on a ventilator and remained hospitalized for nearly a month.

His crime? Jaywalking. But rather than addressing the constitutional deficiencies in Jones’s case, LaSalle sought to conceal facts “by destroying surveillance footage and other relevant information,” Carter said. We’ll have more on Jones’s case and others in the coming days. To do a single story on all of them together would be far too long and convoluted, so LaSalle is going to be treated to extended coverage much as we did Louisiana State Police under Mike Edmonson.

But as an example of one of the most glaring cases of neglect, cruelty and dereliction of duty, this post will dwell on the two and one-half months of Barlow-Austin’s pre-trial detention leading up to her last pitifully tragic 48 hours. To see a video of what torment and torture she experienced during those hours, click HERE. (WARNING: BECAUSE OF ITS GRAPHIC NATURE, THIS IS AN EXTREMELY DIFFICULT VIDEO TO WATCH.)

During those two and one-half months of incarceration, her physical condition deteriorated markedly though she was not released to an area hospital until it was too late.

And releasing critically ill prisoners to relatives or a hospital, is a tactic of subterfuge favored by LaSalle, says attorney Carter, because if the prisoner dies at home or in a hospital LaSalle is relieved of the responsibility of reporting an in-custody death to state corrections officials.

At the time she was admitted to Bi-State, she was living with Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) and suffered from depression and bipolar disorder and was undergoing treatment for substance abuse. She was taking Triumeq for her HIV condition, Fluconazole for the treatment of potentially deadly fungal infections (including cryptococcal meningitis), and Quetiapine for her bipolar disorder and Citalopram for depression.

Despite that, on the morning of April 6, 2019, when she was admitted to Bi-State, her blood pressure was 118/73, which Carter described as “ideal” in his petition. The following day, the intake nurse faxed a request for information on her medical conditions to her outside medical provider. The LaSalle medical staff did not receive a response until May 13, however, five weeks after making the initial request. No follow-up request was ever made.

On April 8, Barlow-Austin’s husband brought her medications to Bi-State and later that same day, blood tests performed on her showed her white blood cell count (CD4) was 87, far below the normal range of 500-1,500, an indication that her immune system was compromised. She didn’t receive any of her medications, however, until April 17.

Her husband visited her several times and by April 30, it was apparent to him that her physical condition was in sharp decline. Her blood pressure had risen to 154/92 but she was given only a Tylenol by LaSalle staff.

When she complained of headaches and numbness in her legs, Michelle Arnold a registered nurse and the Health Services Administrator (HAS) employed by LaSalle (and one of the defendants in the lawsuit), told an outside mental health provider that Barlow-Austin “pretends to be weak” and “knows how to play the sickly role,” according to the lawsuit filed by Carter last Wednesday (Sept. 16).

Another check showed her blood pressure to be 160/90 and by now she had a urinary tract infection but again, LaSalle ignored her worsening condition, Carter said.

Michael Austin continued to visit his wife over the ensuing weeks and observed that her condition was becoming more severe. She was placed on medical observation on May 21, but no medical treatments were administered, the lawsuit alleges.

Over the next 10 days, the petition says, no LaSalle medical provider evaluated her nor were her vital signs taken. By June 1, she lost all strength and feeling in her legs and her eyesight worsened until she was finally totally blind and had to feel her way as she crawled around her room. “The ongoing failure to take her to the hospital was cruel and inhumane,” the lawsuit says.

A week later, an LPN “looked in Ms. Barlow-Austin’s cell. She wrote in her progress notes that the inmate remained in ‘med obs,’ meaning a medical observation cell.” The nurse wrote, “0 needs voiced at this time,” and “0 distress noted.” That would become a recurring notation on all the LaSalle reports, Carter said, adding that records and state-mandated logs of visual checks were routinely falsified by LaSalle staff.

“For the next 48 hours,” he said, “Ms. Barlow-Austin remained in this medical observation cell, which contains an in-house surveillance camera. The video footage is broken down into nearly two thousand video clips, most of which are between 30 seconds and two minutes long. In nearly all the clips…Ms. Barlow-Austin’s serious medical needs are plainly evident.

“It’s also plainly evident from the footage that Ms. Barlow-Austin has gone blind.” He said video footage “shows her crawling and blindly feeling her way around the cell. As the hours went by, guards would place a cup of water on the floor only to have her accidentally knock the cup over because she couldn’t see it. Meanwhile, guards would observe her as she unsuccessfully tried to reach for the water and then walk away. On another occasion, water is placed inside her cell but soon taken away before she can feel around for it. When she finally was able to get a drink, it was only because a fellow inmate held the cup and guided her hand to it. “After handing her the cup of water, the inmate sets the second cup on the floor and backs out of the cell, covering his nose with his shirt to protect himself from the stench emanating from her cell,” the petition says.

After 36 hours in the observation cell, Barlow-Austin had drunk only two small cups of water and it had been 18 hours since her last drink.

Even after she began displaying symptoms of mental confusion and delirium, none of LaSalle’s health care providers took action in response to her ongoing medical crisis.

At 7:22 p.m. on June 10, a guard opened a food tray slot and placed two paper cups of water on it. Barlow-Austin, however, had no idea that the water was there, only a few feet in front of her. She was lying on a mat soaked with her own urine and excrement, but was too week to flip the mat over and ended up lying back on it. By 9:30 p.m., it had been 21 hours since her last drink even though the two cups of water had been in her cell door’s food tray slot for two hours.

An hour later, at 10:22 p.m., a nurse entered the cell for the first time in the past 38 hours that Barlow-Austin had been in the medical observation cell. For the first time in more than two weeks, her vital signs were taken and her heart rate was 130 beats per second and her blood pressure 177/123, indicative of a hypertensive crisis. Still, no decision to call 911 was made, nor is there any entry in LaSalle’s records to indicate that those findings were reported to a higher-level medical provider.

Shortly before 8 a.m., she was moved to the facility’s medical lab where her heart rate was now 148 beats per minute, more than twice the rate when she was admitted. Her pupils were not reactive to light and it was only at that point that 911 was finally summoned.

Ms. Barlow-Austin didn’t suddenly take a turn for the worse on the morning of June 11, 2019,” Carter says in his petition. “Her medical condition warranted hospitalization long before then. (emphasis Carter’s). By the time LaSalle finally arranged for her to be transported to the hospital, she’d been complaining about increasingly severe symptoms for nearly two months. Despite her alarming and progressively worsening symptoms, LaSalle never arranged to have her evaluated by a medical doctor.”

“During the final 48 hours of her confinement, only one nurse entered her cell to check her vitals. This occurred on the night of June 10, 2019. LaSalle guard routinely walked by her medical observation cell window – either without looking in at all, or looking in and ignoring her filthy conditions, obvious pain, physical disability and blindness. Multiple guard violated their state-mandated obligation to conduct face-to-face checks every 30 minutes.

“No one from LaSalle informed Ms. Barlow-Austin’s family that she had been hospitalized – not her husband who frequently visited her in jail, and not her parents. Between June 11 and June 14, her family had no idea that she was in the local hospital, in critical condition, barely clinging to life.

“On June 15, 2019, Ms. Barlow-Austin’s husband went to visit her. When he arrived, LaSalle guards told him that his wife was no longer in the unit. When he asked why, LaSalle wouldn’t tell him.” The lawsuit said he didn’t learn where she was until the Bowie County sheriff told him. “When the family arrived at the hospital, the LaSalle guard wouldn’t let them visit her. Again, it required a call to the local sheriff for the family to get in to visit her.

Two days later, on June 17, she was dead.

“In the years leading up to 2019, (LaSalle) engaged in a patter, practice and custom of unconstitutional conduct toward inmates with serious medical need,” Carter said.

“In the years leading up to the death of Holly Barlow-Austin, LaSalle-run facilities in Texas routinely failed inspections. LaSalle has had ‘continual noncompliance issues in Texas, more than other jail operators in the state. LaSalle-run jails in Texas have been on the state’s noncompliance list every year between 2015 and 2019.

“LaSalle facilities have also come under scrutiny by state lawmakers for hiring a disproportionate number of ‘temporarily licensed’ corrections officers – taking advantage of a loophole that allowed correctional facilities to hire and staff their jails for up to one year with guards who hadn’t gone through the basic corrections training academy. LaSalle did this purely for monetary reasons and without regard for inmate health and welfare. Hiring these untrained guards was cheaper than hiring experienced guards or paying to send them to the corrections academy for basic training.”

Carter said LaSalle also failed to give guards state-mandated one-the-job training and that guards have engaged in a “persistent pattern” of falsifying training records. He said guards have testified that LaSalle literally instructed corrections officers to fill out training records attesting that their one-the-job training had been completed when in fact, it had not even begun.

“In addition to its inadequate training, the practice of insufficient staffing has been a well-documented and persistent problem at LaSalle-run Texas jails,” leading to several of the constitutionally-deficient practices for which LaSalle has been cited, Carter said.

“When LaSalle places an inmate on medical observation, zero medical monitoring takes place,” the lawsuit says. “Instead, corrections officers with no medical training or experience are put in charge of monitoring them and their so-called monitoring consists of guards quickly peeking in the calls – often while walking by without stopping.”

Additionally, the suit claims, LaSalle-run facilities have a “longstanding practice of poor medical record-keeping and miscommunication among jail medical providers. This has been a major problem at Bi-State Jail where medical records are routinely lost, and communication breakdowns are commonplace.”

The lawsuit then leveled a devastating charge when it said, “…the failure to secure needed medical care for Ms. Barlow-Austin was motivated, in part, by constitutionally impermissible profit-driven reasons. The corporate defendants (LaSalle) had a practice of submitting unrealistically low bids to get jail contracts. After securing the contracts, they would then cut costs, or keep their budgets unrealistically low to make money. This included hiring inexperienced jail guards and lower-level nurses and failing to invest in adequate training. It also included spending inadequate amounts on correctional medical care and habitually understaffing its facilities. It was foreseeable that LaSalle’s inadequate training, insufficient medical spending and understaffing would cause harm to inmates and detainees in need of medical care. In fact, these reckless profit-driven practices resulted in substantial harm to multiple inmates in the years leading up to Ms. Barlow-Austin’s confinement. And these same unconstitutional practices caused her unnecessary suffering and death.

“LaSalle attempted to circumvent the state-mandated in-custody death reporting requirement by releasing Ms. Barlow-Austin from custody at the hospital when death was imminent – later claiming that it didn’t have to report her death because she technically wasn’t ‘in custody’ when she died. The Texas Commission on Jail Standards later learned of her death from a third-party source and requested information from LaSalle. LaSalle only provided the commission a limited amount of information and failed to provide it with the shocking video footage. Still, on October 15, 2019, the TCJS found LaSalle to be out of compliance with jail standards for not following the instructions of designated physicians, not dispensing prescription medications, and not verifying the medication that Ms. Barlow-Austin’s husband delivered to the jail…”

 

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A lot of people, the media included, expressed surprised that a company owned by Bernhard Capital Partners was awarded a multi-million-dollar consulting contract by the Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development (DOTD) to plan the construction of a new bridge over the Mississippi River in Baton Rouge.

They shouldn’t have been—surprised, that is.

ATLAS TECHNICAL CONSULTANTS of Austin, Texas, was awarded the two-phase contract despite finishing well behind two other firms in evaluations by the state’s technical selection committee. The selection committee’s evaluation notwithstanding, the final selection was made by DOTD Secretary Shawn Wilson, an appointee of Gov. John Bel Edwards.

Atlas received 61.98 points from the committee while Baker International had 72.59 and AECOM had 74.01 points, more than 12 points higher than Atlas.

AECOM appealed Wilson’s decision but in Louisiana, such appeals to fairness and even playing fields generally fall on deaf ears and this was no exception as Wilson UPHELD his decision.

The entire process got Louisiana Congressman GARRET GRAVES in a tizzy, saying DOTD “better have good reasons” for doing a deal with Bernhard.

But as we said, no one should be surprised at Bernhard’s clout. He was, after all, once the state Democratic Chairman and was even rumored once as a potential candidate for governor.

As an illustration of his influence, in May 2017, LouisianaVoice did a story about how first Jindal and then Edwards pushed for a state water PRIVATIZATION CONTRACT with Bernhard Energy of Baton Rouge after a second company’s proposal was rejected in favor of seeking an oral presentation from Bernhard. Even then, another evaluation committee rejected Bernhard’s proposal, saying it was not in the state’s best interest to enter into the partnership with Bernhard because of the exceptionally high costs.

That was in 2015, in the last year of Jindal’s administration and despite the committee’s recommendations, he entered into a $25,000 contract with a Baton Rouge consulting firm to another “Evaluation and Feasibility Study” of Bernhard’s proposal. Even then, Bill Wilson of the Office of State Buildings rejected the proposal, saying it “would not be advantageous for the State of Louisiana in its current form.”

But in April 2017, well into the Edwards administration, Commissioner of Administration Jay Dardenne, in an email to Mark Moses, assistant commissioner for Facility Planning & Control, and Paula Tregre, director of the Office of State Procurement in which he said Edwards said the state “will have the RFP (Request for Proposals) on the street no later than May 31,” adding that the proposal “needs to be a top priority.”

So, of course it happened.

Again, no one should be surprised.

On Aug. 12, 2019, the Baton Rouge Advocate had a story announcing the deal whereby Bernhard will lease chiller systems at the state-owned Shaw Center for the Arts from the state for $3 million over 20 years and the state will buy back the chilled water—used to cool the building—for $6 million. Bernhard will also modernize energy systems at 31 state buildings, including the State Capitol, the Governor’s Mansion and state Supreme Court building in New Orleans, at a cost of $54 million to the state.

Another Bernhard company, Louisiana Energy Partners, will also sell extra chilled water to other companies in downtown Baton Rouge and the deal leaves open the possibility that Louisiana Energy Partners may enter into agreements with Louisiana colleges and universities to privatize their energy systems.

And, of course, who could ever forget the Blue Tarp Debacle following Hurricane Katrina in 2005—the first real indication of the stroke Bernhard has in this state.

The Shaw Group (since sold to Chicago Brick & Iron and Bernhard then started a series of new companies cited earlier in this post) was contracted to place tarpaulins over damaged roofs at a rate of $175 per square (one hundred square feet per square). That’s $175 for draping a ten-foot-by-ten-foot square blue tarpaulin over a damaged roof. Shaw in turn sub-contracted the work to a company called A-1 Construction at a cost of $75 a square. A-1 in turn subbed the work to Westcon Construction at $30 a square. Westcon eventually lined up the actual workers who placed the tarps at a cost of $2 a square.

Thus, the Shaw Group realized a net profit of $100 a square, A-1 made $45 dollars per square, and Westcon netted $28 dollars a square – all without ever placing the first sheet of tarpaulin. Between them, the three companies reaped profits of $173 per square after paying a paltry $2 per square. The real irony in the entire scenario was that the first three contractors – Shaw, A-1, and Westcon – didn’t even own the equipment necessary to perform tarping or debris hauling. By the time public outrage, spurred by media revelations of the fiasco, forced public bidding on tarping, forcing tarping prices down from the $3,000-plus range to $1,000, Shaw and friends had already pocketed some $300 million dollars.

The state threatened prosecution of those who it felt overcharged for a gallon of gasoline in Katrina’s aftermath but apparently looked the other way for more influential profiteers.

And no one was surprised.

 

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In Chapter 26 of my book, Louisiana’s Rogue Sheriffs: A Culture of Corruption,

Louisiana's Rogue Sheriffs: A Culture of Corruption

I described how St. Tammany Parish Sheriff Jack Strain circumvented state ethics laws by setting the son and daughter of two of his deputies up as straw owners of a private entity formed to run the St. Tammany Parish Sheriff’s Department’s prisoner work release program under a no-bid contract.

Unfortunately, when I wrote the Strain chapter, I didn’t have all the sordid details that went along with the agreement, which included kickbacks to Strain and hundreds of thousands of dollars that went to his two deputies, David Hanson and Clifford “Skip” Keen.

On Thursday (August 29) those details were made public in the form of a federal INDICTMENT of Strain—details that revealed how the scheme worked, how kickbacks were paid to Strain and how federal funds were used to pay American Express Gold Card charges for expensive family vacations to Hawaii, the Bahamas, Destin, Florida, a hunting trip to Illinois, a $2,000 down payment on a Dodge Durango truck, $2,770 for a jewelry purchase from Boudreaux’s Fine Jewelers, other personal purchases and a $2.500 contribution to Strain’s re-election campaign.

The single-count indictment, in 22 pages, laid out the method by which Strain, Hanson and Keen set up two separate prisoner work release programs and awarded a no-bid contract to St. Tammany Workforce Solutions, LLC, to operate the programs.

The indictment, filed in U.S. District Court in the Eastern District of Louisiana in New Orleans, said that Hanson supervised the sheriff’s department’s Canine Division and Keen was over the Maintenance Department.

Strain, the indictment said, wanted to transfer operations of the work release programs to a private entity run by Hanson and Keen but for them to do so would have necessitated their resignations from the sheriff’s office, thus forfeiting medical and retirement benefits.

As a solution, Hanson’s daughter, Brandy Hanson, and Keen’s son, Jarret Cole Keen were set up as operators of St. Tammany Workforce Solutions, with each holding 45 percent ownership. To sidestep state ethics laws, which were already virtually meaningless, Allen Tingle was given 10 percent ownership and was paid $30,000 per year to run the work release program.

Brandy Hanson and Jarret Keen received more than 100 payments each totaling nearly $1.2 million between them from 2013 and 2017. The kickbacks to Strain, David Hanson and Skip Keen, the charges claim, were accomplished by arranging for Brandy Hanson and Jarret Keen to serve as “straw owners” of St. Tammany Workforce Solutions.

David Hanson and Skip Keen entered guilty pleas last February to funneling kickbacks to Strains from profits they received through the work release program.

Tingle is never identified in the indictment and is referred to only as “Person 2.” But the indictment named Person 2 as the registered agent for St. Tammany Workforce Solutions and the Secretary of State’s corporate RECORDS show the registered agent as Allen Tingle.

Thursday’s indictment said that Tingle was required to make payments to Brandy Hanson and Jarrett Keen.

Among the expenditures paid on Hanson’s American Express Cold Card were payments of $4,041; $4,770; $2,205, and $4,660.

Payments were also made to American Express in the amounts of:

  • $4,000 for Hanson’s Hawaiian vacation;
  • $4,000 for Hanson’s trip to the Bahamas;
  • $2,770 to pay for jewelry from Boudreaux’s Fine Jewelers;
  • $2,000 for a down payment on a new Dodge Durango;
  • $4,360 for another vacation in the Bahamas;
  • A check for $16,000 made payable to Big River Outfitters for a hunting lease in Illinois to be used by Keen and Hanson;
  • A debit card charge of $2,241 to Destin West for a Keen family vacation, and
  • A check for $2,500 drawn on the Skip Keen account and made payable to the Jack Strain Campaign.

Last month, Strain, who was defeated for re-election in 2015, was indicted by a St. Tammany Parish grand jury on two counts each of aggravated rape and aggravated incest and single counts of sexual battery and indecent behavior with a juvenile.

Two of his alleged victims were under the age of 12 and the alleged incidents date back as far as 1975, to when Strain himself was as young as 12, according to 22nd Judicial District Attorney Warren Montgomery. One of his victims claimed he was only six when Strain anally raped him.

At least four persons came forward to claim they were molested by Strain, one of whom said he was raped as late as June 2004. Strain, 56, was first elected sheriff in 1995, serving until his defeat by current Sheriff Randy Smith.

Strain was arrested at his home by state police and booked into his former jail where he was held in lieu of posting $400,000 bail. He faced the possibility of life in prison if convicted.

Move along, folks. Nothing to see here. Just another ho-hum day in Louisiana politics.

 

 

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In 2016, her first year as a member of the Louisiana Legislature, Sen. Sharon Hewitt (R-Slidell) successfully sponsored Senate Bill 466 which provided a procedure for the LSU Board of Supervisors and the Commissioner of Administration to seek approval from the Joint Legislative Committee on the Budget and the legislature to proceed with the sale of a state hospital.

The bill, which may have stymied Bobby Jindal’s privatization blitz had it been in effect at the time he jettisoned state hospitals to private contractors, passed the House, 97-0 but met resistance in the Senate before passing by a 25-11 vote.

That same year, Hewitt sponsored Senate Concurrent Resolution 84 which, in a classic example of bureaucratic redundancy, requested the Division of Administration “to provide a report of all the reports required of the executive branch by statute and resolution.”

Inexplicably, in 2018, she voted against SB 117 by Sen. J.P. Morrell that would have required any state contractor to comply with the Louisiana Equal Pay for Women Act.

Typical of the backwater mentality of the Louisiana Republican Party and the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry (LABI) that has kept this state from entering the 21st Century, the bill failed by an 18-20 vote.

The resistance to legislating equal pay for women parallels the Louisiana Legislature’s stubborn insistence on beating back repeated efforts to raise the minimum wage in Louisiana. Even Arkansas has recognized that a person simply cannot subsist on $7.50 an hour.

But now Louisiana. I wonder if it has ever occurred to our political leaders that the determination to keep wages low might just have a little to do with the state’s perpetual bottom ranking in everything but poverty, obesity, crime and football?

That vote probably contributed in large part to her selection as “National Legislator of the Year” by the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), an organization noted for its rigidly conservative political positions that favor the privileged over those who actually get the work done.

ALEC has long been in lockstep with the Republican Party that promotes tax breaks for the wealthy and valuable incentives and exemptions for corporations while placing the tax burden on the working class.

ALEC likes to describe itself as non-partisan but that description is about as far from the truth as possible. The organization has a long and sordid history of supporting big oil, big pharma, banking and insurance companies over the rights of injured workers, minorities, the environment, affordable prescription drugs and public education.

And it opposes equal pay for women.

Was I being overly harsh in describing LABI and the Republican Party of obstructing progress in Louisiana? Perhaps, but consider this: In Louisiana, the earnings gap between men and women just happens to be the largest in the nation.

Progressive? Hardly.

Women in this state make 69 cents for every dollar earned by men in the same job, according to the Association of American University Women (AAUW).

But Hewitt apparently navigates on a level that puts her out of touch with reality. She holds a bachelor of science in mechanical engineering from LSU and put that degree to good use managing major deepwater assets in the Gulf of Mexico for Shell Oil.

Chances are she received comparable pay as male engineers at Shell and I can only say good for her. She earned it.

But she seems to forget that not everyone can be so fortunate. Perhaps it never occurred to her as her career advanced that other women deserve equal pay for equal work as well.

There can be no rationalization for not recognizing that fact.

It reminds me of an old television commercial by Eddie Chiles who said, “If you don’t have an oil well, get one.” Which is just a cute way of saying, “I got mine; it’s too bad if you didn’t get yours.”

Just a touch of arrogance there. Personally, I’d rather own the Boston Red Sox or the New York Times. But you see, lofty aspirations like that are simply out of reach for the unwashed masses.

Equal pay should not be.

ALEC, which bestowed its “National Legislator of the Year” honors upon Hewitt, has among its membership corporations hit hardest with penalties for employment discrimination. ALEC member CSX Transportation was recently fined $3.2 million for employing unfair and unnecessary tests designed to steer women into lower-paying occupation. In 2005, ALEC member Federal Express was fined $3.4 million fir discrimination against a woman.

But be proud, Louisiana. A woman legislator just got a national award from ALEC.

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