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Editor’s note: In August 2016, widespread flooding in south Louisiana was particularly devastating to Livingston Parish. Many residents simply abandoned flooded homes and never returned after losing all their possessions and receiving little in the way of recovery efforts from FEMA.

Melissa Thies of St. Tammany, who describes herself as a “taxpayer in the know,” has made a series of public records requests from the St. Tammany Parish School Board which, coincidentally, rather than devote its efforts to reopening schools on schedule following the coronavirus outbreak, did take the time to revise its public records policy by doubling the cost of records from the statewide standard of 25 cents per page to 50 cents.

A number of interesting discoveries was made through her efforts, all of which are supported by official school board records. Today’s story, written by her and posted previously on Facebook, is reprinted here:

By Melissa Thies

Let’s revisit that devastating fall day in 2016……

Livingston Parish was one of the hardest hit areas of a flood.  Thirteen people lost their lives, and property damage was never really able to be solidly calculated, but estimates of $10 – 15 billion have been thrown around.  Hard times for our neighbors down Highway 12, right?  Or an opportunity to grow a school board general fund by several thousand bucks and win an award in the process?

St Tammany Parish School Administration went into full-on fundraising mode, raising over $330,000 in money, gift cards and school supplies for victims.  The media claimed this to be the “most successful fundraiser ever held by the St Tammany Parish Public School System.”  The then-superintendent even “earns” Superintendent of the Year touting this as a major accomplishment.  But wait, isn’t this type of activity by a political subdivision against the Louisiana State Constitution?  There seems to be some confusion within the Louisiana Legislative Auditor agency regarding the constitutionality of this, but it is a valid question.  Does it even make sense for this to be legal to use taxpayer resources (such as the accounting staff of the local school board) to manage such an activity?  Our state laws must protect us somehow against the risk of misappropriation of funds from this type of activity, right?

Review of the school board general ledger indicates that by September 13, 2016, a total of almost $113,000 was deposited into a liability account and deposits were marked “DONATIONS FLOODING STPCARES”.  For those non-accountants, this means the money was put into the bank account and general fund, but was marked as being owed to someone else.  Shortly after, the money starts to be disbursed, with funds going to the “St Helena Parish SB”, “Tangipahoa Parish SB”, “Livingston Parish SB” and many checks directly to individuals.  There were no other disbursements of the cash after October 14, 2016 – that is until January 19, 2017.

Several things happened on January 19, 2017.  Since October 14, 2016, the general ledger had indicated a credit balance in the liability account of $7,753.76.  This means that not all of the donations that had been collected were disbursed, leaving $7,753.76 in the general fund and in cash available in the bank.  (Remember that number; it will be significant a little later.)  Review of the visitor log on January 19, 2017, just might confirm that on this day investigators with Louisiana Legislative Auditor arrived at 321 N. Theard early that morning.

Also, on this date, there is a journal entry numbered 1267 that indicates the amount of $7,753,76 was transferred out of the liability account and the transaction was described as “Correction Move to Donations”.  This left a $0 balance in the liability account – as if to show all of the money collected had been given out.  Then, later in the day as indicated by journal entry number 3981, a transfer back into the liability account for the same amount was made.  Within a short period of time after January 19, 2017, the remaining $7,753.76 was then disbursed to “Livingston Parish SB” and “St Helena Parish SB”.  I will let you draw your own conclusions about what possibly transpired throughout the day on January 19, 2017, to encourage the administration to disburse the remainder of the funds that had been collected.

What would have happened to the funds if Legislative Auditor had not shown up?  If the overage would have remained in the general fund, what would the overage have been used to cover?  I have been told to stay in my lane and not ask any questions, but you should be asking these questions and more at this point, especially if you occupied a seat on the St Tammany Parish School Board during this time period.  Taxpayers, especially those who gave so generously to this activity certainly deserve answers.

You might be asking what is significant about the figure, $7,753.76, that remained in the general fund until the day Legislative Auditor showed up.  Well, let me not keep you in suspense…..

Just FACTS – Let’s visit the proposed general fund budgets from fiscal years 2016 and 2017.  There is a line item in these budgets with an account number “2321-511100 Salary – Superintendent”.  The budget for FY 2016 indicates an amount of $202,732 for this line item, while the budget for FY 2017 indicates a proposed amount of $210,385.  These amounts were the base salary the Superintendent received for FY 2016 and what was being proposed at the time for FY 2017.  The difference between these two would seemingly indicate the “raise” that the superintendent would be getting, $7,653.

In addition, in a recent response to a public record request, I received this copy of the check that the then-Superintendent donated to the flood fundraiser personally.

I am not sure that you need to be an accountant, auditor, investigator, investigative reporter, Inspector General, Legislative Auditor, or Attorney General to know what is coming next.  The increase in the base salary ($7,653) plus the personal DONATION to the fundraiser ($100) is…..

Did you guess it correctly?  $7,753!

Voila!  And that is how we roll at the St Tammany Parish School Board, but taxpayers can’t have an Inspector General in the parish, much less one internal auditor that doesn’t report to or is directed by the people they are auditing.  It really is a shame, or a sham, not sure which.  Lots more to come on this same topic and many, many other issues.  Ms. Rester’s history lessons are much more interesting than mine.  I invite you to contact her (email above) or any school board member for her lessons.

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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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Quickly. What do these 27 Louisianans have in common, other than having been elected to political office?

  • Paul Hollis
  • John Alario
  • Jack Donahue
  • Gerald Long
  • Fred Mills
  • Barrow Peacock
  • John Smith
  • Steve Carter
  • Greg Cromer
  • Cameron Henry
  • Dorothy Hill
  • Valarie Hodges
  • Sam Jones
  • Dee Richard
  • Alan Seabaugh
  • Scott Simon
  • John Schroder
  • Kirk Talbot
  • Conrad Appel
  • Barry Milligan
  • Jeff Landry
  • John Kennedy
  • Bill Cassidy
  • Clay Higgins
  • Steve Scalise
  • Ralph Abraham
  • Mike Johnson

Give up?

Well, to make it more interesting, I’ll throw in these names:

  • Jeff Sessions
  • Tommy Tuberville
  • Tom Cotton
  • Mike Huckabee
  • Devin Nunes
  • Kevin McCarthy
  • Marco Rubio
  • Matt Gaetz
  • Ron Desantis
  • Rick Scott
  • Doug Collins
  • David Perdue
  • Brian Kemp
  • Mitch McConnell
  • Rand Paul
  • Cindy Hyde-Smith
  • Michael Guest
  • Tate Reeves
  • Roy Blunt
  • Ben Sasse
  • Christopher Sununu
  • Chris Christie
  • Chris Collins
  • Jim Jordan
  • Rick Santorum
  • Pat Toomey
  • Lindsey Graham
  • Tim Scott
  • Kristi Noem
  • Lamar Alexander
  • John Cornyn
  • Ted Cruz
  • Mitt Romney
  • Liz Cheney

Each of the aforementioned is among the 172 members of the U.S. House of Representative, 48 U.S. senators 12 governors and 27 Louisianans who signed Grover Norquist’s no-new-tax pledge, which reads simply enough:

I, ______, pledge to the taxpayers of the ______ district of the state of ______ and to the American people that I will: One, oppose any and all efforts to increase the marginal income tax rates for individuals and/or businesses; and Two, to oppose any net reduction or elimination of deductions and credits, unless matched dollar for dollar by further reducing tax rates

Of the 20 Louisiana legislators who signed the pledge, seven are still in office. They are Hollis, Mills, Peacock, Henry, Hodges, Seabaugh and Schroder. Schroder is no longer in the legislature, having moved up to State Treasurer.

Landry, a former member of the U.S. House, is now Louisiana’s attorney general with an eye on the governor’s office just up the street. Kennedy and Cassidy, of course are Louisiana’s two U.S. senators while Higgins, Scalise, Abraham and Johnson are in the House. Abraham, an unsuccessful candidate for governor last year, is a lame duck and will exit Congress next Jan. 20.

Norquist, who founded the organization Americans for Tax Reform (ATR) wears his capitalist idealism on his sleeve. He’s been widely quoted saying thing like:

“Our goal is to shrink government to the size where we can drown it in a bathtub.”

He advocates standing on one’s own two feet:

“We want to reduce the number of people depending on government so there is more autonomy and more free citizens.”

Norquist feels that such reliance on government weakens one’s character:

“The welfare state creates its own victim/client constituency. By making individuals free and independent, we reduce the need for ‘charity’ to those truly needy citizens what we can certainly afford to help through real charity.”

Moreover, he is convinced that government spending, fueled by entitlements, is harmful to the U.S. economy:

“What’s hurting the U.S. economy is total government spending. The deficit is an indicator that the government is spending so much money that it can’t even get around to stealing all of the money that it wants to spend.”

The COVID-19 pandemic shutdown unquestionably crippled the US—the world—economy, necessitating Congress to pass a $350 billion paycheck protection bill to bail out companies with forgivable SBA loans of up to $10 million which, of course, caused Norquist to pitch a hissy fit even before another $330 billion was added to the relief package. He wrote a letter urging lawmakers not to approve a second stimulus bill, saying:

“Government spending is inhibiting the fast recovery we want in jobs and incomes, not stimulating it.”

But what Norquist neglected to point out is his Americans for Tax Reform had just received up to $350,000 in stimulus money from the first bill. In other words, he got his and now he doesn’t want anyone else to get theirs because it’s wasteful government spending, it kills incentive, creating victimhood.

Oops. Maybe all those members of congress, legislators, and governors listed above might like to reconsider signing off on Norquist’s “Don’t do as I do, do as I say do” pledge..

Perhaps Norquist should “funnel” that guvmint money to the CHOCTAW INDIANS of Mississippi, the tribe he helped Karl Rove, Tom DeLay, Ralph Reed and JACK ABRAMOFF funnel more than $1 million away from the Choctaw back in 1999.

Of course, when it came time to put up or shut up, Norquist chose to shut up by REFUSING TO TESTIFY before the Senate Indian Affairs Committee’s hearing on lobbying abuses.

But perhaps the best illustration with the fewest words to describe Norquist’s role in the sordid affairs with Abramoff, DeLay, Reed, and Rove can be seen HERE. If all this doesn’t leave you needing a shower, I just don’t know what could.

Unless it’s this:

Others that received PPP funding included the Ayn Rand Institute (between $350,000 and $1 million), Fox News host Tucker Carlson’s The Daily Caller ($350,000 to $1 million), Newsmax, the conservative TV network owned by Trump ally Christopher Ruddy ($2 million to $5 million), and (wait for it), the shipping business owned by Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao’s family ($350 to $1 million). Chao just happens to be the wife of (ahem) Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky. They’re all right HERE.

(Ayn Rand, for those who may not know, was a Russian émigré who fled the communist revolution, became an actress in the US and who wrote The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged. Atlas Shrugged has become something of a capitalism bible to her followers.)

To borrow from Charles Dickens, we seem to have the ghosts of capitalism past and the ghosts of capitalism present in one tidy little story. I can’t wait for the ghost of capitalism future to make its appearance.

But I would be remiss if I didn’t include one last Norquist quote because it’s really a gem:

“Hypocrisy is the tribute that vice pays to virtue.”

 

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You have to wonder what the Louisiana Ethics Board is trying to conceal.

Back in March, the neutered ethics board sued the Louisiana Legislative Auditor in an effort to prevent state auditors from peeking at information in its case files that the auditors say is necessary to conduct a proper performance review of the board.

Well, there may be a plausible explanation but on the surface of it all, the ethics board’s action screams of some kind of cover-up. Perhaps I’m just being paranoid, but then when you examine some of the board’s actions, that too, is understandable.

You may remember one of the first actions taken by Bobby Jindal soon after taking office back in 2008 was to gut the board in what he deemed at the time reform that produced the “gold standard” of ethics.

What it did, instead, was make then-pending ethics investigations of a couple of legislators go away. One of those legislators is now a college president. Go figure.

When Jindal announced his “reforms,” there were 11 members of the ethics board. Soon after that, there were two. Nine of the 11 members, including the board chairman, vice-chairman and board administrator promptly RESIGNED in protest—or disgust, take your pick.

In its lawsuit, filed in state court in Baton Rouge, the board contends that information contained in the files is confidential and privileged. State Auditor Daryl Purpera countered that his office has not only the right but the obligation to see the information—and to keep it confidential.

It’s most likely that auditors are not interested in any particular case, but it is nevertheless interesting to consider some of the board’s fancy footwork in dodging any responsibility in holding public officials’ feet to the proverbial fire.

Take State Police, for example. Back in April 2018, the board CLEARED —in secret, at that—four State Troopers accused of taking a taxpayer-funded vacation in a state vehicle that took them to the Grand Canyon and Las Vegas en route to a convention in San Diego.

The troopers, the board determined, did not take the detour to the tourist spots on their own volition, but upon the instructions of higher-ups in the department. There was only one “higher-up” who could give those instructions and that was then-State Police Superintendent Mike Edmonson, who ultimately resigned under pressure in the wake of that trip.

But then, 16 months later, in August 2019, the board then managed to twist logic beyond recognition when it also CLEARED Edmonson of wrongdoing, according to his attorney, Gray Sexton. Sexton formerly served as (ahem) head of the State Ethics Commission but apparently had no problem representing clients before the board.

Sexton said he had received a letter from the board that cleared Edmonson but he refused to make a copy of the letter available, claiming that it was “confidential.”

That seems to be the way the Ethics Board operates these days: confidentially, in secret, behind closed doors, out of sight from, and with no accountability to the public.

Auditors are seeking full access to board records from 2013-2018, specifically inclusive of investigative case files, files for cases with waivers/suspensions, and ethics board executive meeting minutes.

The board provided some of the records but has withheld the investigative case files and executive board meeting minutes, justifying the refusal by claiming state law “provides that documents obtained or prepared in connection with an investigation are not only confidential but also privileged.”

The board’s refusal and lawsuit appear to be part of a trend of state boards, commissions and agencies trying to prevent auditors from delving into their operations.

In recent years, the State Board of Medical Examiners, the Louisiana Pharmacy Board, and the Department of Economic Development have taken legal action to protect their records from the prying eyes of auditors. Purpera’s office won against the Medical Examiners and Pharmacy boards but lost a court decision against LED.

Purpera said the effort to obtain records for auditing purpoises is an ongoing battle. “We’ve been fighting for records for the last 25 years,” he said.

 

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Floyd Hamilton III has been waging a lonely battle with the Veterans Administration for 14 years and today, May 20, is the 11th anniversary of  his father’s death in the Alexandria Veterans Hospital on May 20, 2009. It was the day after his 84th birthday.

His battle is with the doctor who was supposed to be caring for Floyd Hamilton, Jr. but who failed to do her job, according to Hamilton III.

And with the bureaucracy.

The most frustrating part is the three-page LETTER from Assistant District Attorney Hugo Holland back in October 2016 in which Holland declined to pursue the matter because, according to his investigation, Dr. Shivani Negi committed no wrongdoing in her care for Hamilton’s father.

Curiously, while the VA Hospital is in Rapides Parish, Holland’s letter was on Calcasieu Parish District Attorney John DeRosier’s letterhead. Holland is employed as an assistant DA by a number of district attorneys, including, apparently, Rapides Parish. Still, it raises questions about who paid Holland to conduct his investigation—Rapides or Calcasieu.

Regardless, Holland said here was “no information that any document was filed in Louisiana which contained any false statements” and that “no false documents were presented to the State of Virginia’s Board of Medicine,” where Negi’s license was issued.

Former Louisiana congressman Charles Boustany, himself a physician, had filed a complaint about “unethical conduct” by several individuals, including Dr. Negi, who he said misrepresented herself when applying for her license in Virginia when she checked the box “NO” to the question if she had ever been denied a license.

In a well-rehearsed shuffle that only a trained bureaucrat can pull off, the Virginia licensing board said that yes, Negi was denied a license by the State of Florida but that she had been given 14 days in which to withdraw her application—which she subsequently did.

Ergo, the lie never occurred, according to the State of Virginia.

LouisianaVoice, way back in July 2016, ran the STORY of Negi’s falsifying her Virginia application as well as records of complaints from her work in the state of Maryland.

But why did the State of Florida deny her application? Well, it seems that when she applied for her license in that state, she failed to disclose an incident in which she altered an admission order sheet after the fact. The Maryland investigation had concluded that Dr. Negi “inappropriately altered the medical records after the fact by adding her order for blood sutures to the chart order shed sometime after December 6, 2000, 2:30 a.m., and by trying to make it appear as though it was written by December 5, 2000, 10:00 p.m.

“Furthermore, the committee is dismayed by Dr. Negi’s inability or unwillingness to admit to this inappropriate alteration of the medical records. The committee unanimously agreed that this inappropriate alteration of the medical records and the physician’s implausible response to our questioning, reflect not only bad judgment but also unethical behavior,” the report said.

So now, we have two occasions in which Dr. Negi lied on official forms and yet she continues to treat patients at the VA Hospital in Alexandria.

Hamilton said he believes Dr. Negi withholds critical medical care from patients she believes are ready to die. He said, “She told me he was 84 years old and had a good life, and why do I want him coded. Dr. Negi not only put in orders to take him off of the breathing machine she also took him off of antibiotics and had him taken off of ICU.”

Hamilton says Dr. Negi took those actions against the wishes of the family.

LouisianaVoice also published a story in June 2016 which detailed complaints about Dr. Negi from family members of patients as well as from medical staff who provided written statements or testified in depositions as to Negi’s inappropriate remarks in the presence of family members and patients. [To see that story, click HERE.]

One cannot assign a specific case such as that of Floyd Hamilton’s to the Trump administration, especially since the problems began long before Trump took office.

On the other hand, Trump promised to fix veterans’ problems when he got elected, he vowed that he would instruct his staff “that if a valid complaint is not addressed, that the issue be brought directly to me. I will pick up the phone and fix it myself if I have to.”

Trump loves to fire people, and if Dr. Negi presents a problem for veterans and their families, we have a situation made to order for him.

Instead, he has broken his promise by PURGING 200,000 VA healthcare applications.

And Floyd Hamilton, III continues his lonely battle with the bureaucracy.

 

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