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Archive for the ‘Public Records’ Category

It was Memorial Day weekend in Baton Rouge last year, the weekend of the BAYOU COUNTRY SUPERFEST that had country music fans flocking to LSU’s Tiger Stadium. LSU subsequently cancelled its contract with promoters and this year’s event will take place in the Louisiana Superdome in New Orleans.

But this story isn’t about Bayou Country Superfest.

It was several hours after the final performance of one night of the three-day event, around 3 a.m., in fact, that a black SUV was pulled over by a Baton Rouge police officer at the corner of Perkins and Acadian, only a few blocks south of I-10.

The officer, a member of the city’s DWI Strike Force, suspected the driver of driving while impaired, perhaps even intoxicated. In the SUV was a woman, a blonde. She was not the driver’s wife; she’s a brunette.

The driver, violating all protocol, exited his SUV and started toward the officer who, alarmed, is said to have pulled his weapon just before recognizing the driver as a high-ranking member of the governor’s administration.

Instead of escalating, as the situation could easily have done, the driver was inexplicably allowed to proceed on to his destination, driving that black SUV. He was not arrested, issued a citation or even asked to submit to a field sobriety test and the matter was quickly hushed up. Even the city officer, when asked about the incident, denied it ever happened. But later, when asked about the incident by a fellow officer, rather than deny it occurred, said instead, “I can’t talk about that.”

Yet the stories continue to persist nearly nine full months after the stop that the officer denies ever took place. LouisianaVoice was even given the officer’s name by no fewer than eight different, independent sources. At least when Bobby Jindal’s Commissioner of Administration Paul Rainwater was pulled over for DWI, there was no attempt to keep the arrest quiet and he paid his fines and court costs for the offense. The only thing that raised eyebrows was when State Police Superintendent Mike Edmonson showed up and gave him a ride home—a courtesy no ordinary citizen sans political connections would likely be accorded.

Who made the decision to allow the driver to go on his way? It’s unlikely the officer would have assumed the responsibility for such a decision fraught with all kinds of downsides on his own. That would mean there had to be an order from up the chain of command within the Baton Rouge Police Department. The question then, is at what level of the command was the decision made, mid-level or from the very top?

Baton Rouge Police Chief Carl Dabadie is probably on his way out. At least that’s the indication given by former State Sen. Sharon Weston Broome who was recently elect Baton Rouge’s new Mayor-President and inaugurated on Jan. 2, though Dabadie appears to be fighting to keep his job.

This is not to say Dabadie was ever even aware of the stop but if (and of course, at this stage, that’s a very speculative if)…if he is the one who put the kibosh on the stop and potential arrest of the state official, both men need to go. Immediately.

If he had any records of the pullover expunged from the police log, he could be found guilty of injuring public records under Louisiana R.S. 14:132 and he conceivably could face imprisonment. At any rate, if any records of the stop were destroyed on his watch, he must be held accountable for destruction of public records.

If records were never tampered with, then somewhere there is a paper trail that still exists, perhaps by now buried somewhere in the bowels of the BRPD.

LouisianaVoice is continuing to investigate the matter. We’ll let you know if anything develops. If not, the story probably will evaporate as did the ghost stop of a black SUV at 3 a.m. during the 2016 Bayou Superfest.

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The Louisiana State Police Commission may have placed on its agenda for Thursday’s meeting an item to go into “executive session for discussion of professional competence” of commission Director Cathy Derbonne but an option that rests with Derbonne could put commission Chairman T.J. Doss behind the proverbial eight ball.

Doss is the State Police member on the commission. The remaining six members are appointed by the governor from each of the state’s Congressional districts.

Besides the item to enter into executive session, a separate item calls for “consideration of whether employment of the Director of State Police Commission should be continued or terminated.”

The entire proceeding, however could blow up in the faces of commissioners should Derbonne exercise her option to insist that all discussion be held in open session. Legally, she is entitled to make that call and if she does, there could be egg on the faces of Doss, Jared J Caruso-Riecke, et al.

In something of a plot twist, the web page of the State Police Commission was down briefly Wednesday night. Efforts to go onto the PAGE resulted in a message that the web address could not be accessed. The page was back online, however, after about 20 minutes.

Interestingly, the funneling of more than $40,000 in campaign contributions by the Louisiana State Troopers’ Association (LSTA) through its executive director produced only a sham of an investigation by a political ally of Gov. John Bel Edwards.

Natchitoches attorney and former State Sen. Taylor Townsend was hired under a $75,000 contract to “investigate” the contributions which were approved by the LSTA board of directors, comprised of state troopers, and laundered through LSTA Executive Director David Young. Young made the contributions, including $10,000 each to Bobby Jindal and Edwards, by writing checks on his personal account and then submitting expense invoices to the association.

Townsend, obviously taking his marching orders from up the food chain, declined to include as part of the evidence an audio recording of a meeting of troopers concerned about the contributions at which it was acknowledged that the LSTA violated the restrictions against state troopers becoming active in political campaigns, including making contributions. Townsend also failed to follow protocol in submitting a written report of his findings and instead, made only a verbal recommendation that “no action be taken.”

Townsend likewise has been silent on the issue of the manner in which commission members were appointed. When there is a vacancy, the commission chairman is required to notify the university president in that congressional district to solicit names for nominations from which list the governor makes his appointment.

Derbonne’s major transgression appears to be that she did her job, including notifying the governor’s office of the requirements for member appointments and of commission members who, like the LSTA, violated ethics rules by making political contributions while sitting on the board. Three members ultimately resigned because of that issue.

So, bottom line, what we have here is a failure to communicate (apologies to the late Strother Martin of Cool Hand Luke). An attorney who is a crony of the governor shirks his duty to the job for which he was contracted but still collects his fees and stands in good stead with the commission while Derbonne followed the dictates of her job and finds her job is on the line.

Way to go, guys. You should really feel good about yourselves. Eulis Simien, I really thought you had more integrity than to let yourself be manipulated by Doss and Edmonson.

Every time I hear Doss talk, I wonder how it feels to have Edmonson’s hand up his backside.

Calvin Braxton, you’ve already seen what can happen when you cross Mike Edmonson, but you’re going along with this fiasco anyway?

Monica J. Manzella, I’m really not that surprised; after all, you negotiate contracts with the State Police on behalf of the City of New Orleans. No conflict there.

Jared J Caruso-Riecke, Mike Edmonson obviously owns you.

Donald Breaux, we know where your loyalty lies with your special LSTA-1 license plate on your car.

You’re all a real piece of work.

How can Simien and Caruso-Riecke (appointed June 6) and Manzella (Oct. 11), who between them, have barely a year’s experience on the board, make any kind of intelligent judgment call as to the competence of Derbonne? The answer is, they can’t; they can only rely on the manipulations of Edmonson and Doss.

And that $75,000 investigation by Taylor Townsend only to get a verbal “I recommend no action.” It’s a damn good thing you weren’t heading up the investigation of the previous commission executive director DEBRA JOHNSON. Even the Office of Inspector General nailed her for felony theft, fraud, and malfeasance in office.

If anyone in this tragicomedy should be called to the carpet for misappropriation of funds, it should be Townsend. I could’ve done what he did for a measly five bucks and a beer from the bar run by LSTA over at the State Police training facility in Zachary.

We can only hope Derbonne will exercise her rights and make them do their dirty work out in the open for everyone to see.

And if you think firing a single employee—for no other reason that she insists on doing the right thing despite what Edmonson wants—will make your problems disappear, you’re so very wrong.

If you think LouisianaVoice has been a pain in the ass so far, you ain’t seen nothin’ yet.

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Despite Inspector General Stephen Street’s impassioned plea for a stay of proceedings in the Corey DelaHoussaye defamation lawsuit against the Street and the Office of Inspector General (OIG) “for the sake of conserving judicial resources and preventing the waste of valuable taxpayer dollars,” it has been brought to the attention of LouisianaVoice that one of the biggest and most expensive law firms in Baton Rouge has been retained to defend OIG.

And apparently it’s not enough that the firm Taylor Porter was retained but the firm has assigned not one, not two, but three of its attorneys to the DelaHoussaye matter.

As evidenced by OIG’s MOTION TO STAY PROCEEDINGS filed on Nov. 15, Taylor Porter attorneys Preston Castille, Jr., Katia Bowman and Ne’Shira Millender signed off as “Special Assistant Attorney General Counsel to OIG Defendants.”

Talking about using a baseball bat to swat a gnat…

Not that DelaHoussaye is a gnat by any means. He appears to have a pretty solid case against Street and OIG, given that his home was raided by Street on the basis of a search warrant the OIG has no authority to issue and based on the fact that Street initiated the prosecution of DelaHoussaye even though DelaHoussaye did not work for any state agency.

It’s also telling that by the attorneys signing off as “Special Assistant Attorney General” counsels for OIG it is implicit that the Taylor Porter contract was issued by the Office of the Attorney General.

You may remember how Attorney Jeff Landry got his drawers in a wad over Gov. John Bel Edwards’ appointment of attorneys to represent the state in litigation against oil companies for their contribution to the destruction of Louisiana’s coast. Landry just flat refused to sign off on the contracts and Edwards was forced to cancel their appointments.

That’s because State law gives the attorney general the final say-so in approving the appointment of all lawyers who represent the state.

So what’s wrong with that? Not much except that LIZ MURRILL is Chief of the Attorney General’s Civil Division and as such has direct supervision over Taylor Porter.

And her husband, JOHN MURRILL, just happens to be a PARTNER at Taylor Porter.

Now I’m not an attorney but I did stay at a Holiday Inn Express once and it appears to me that the Taylor Porter contract comes awfully close to a violation of the STATE ETHICS CODE which says, in part:

  • GENERAL PROHIBITIONS (R.S. 42:1111 – 1121): For public servants, other than legislators or appointed members of boards and commission, bidding on or entering into any contract, subcontract or other transaction under the supervision or jurisdiction of the public servant’s agency. This restriction also applies to the immediate family members of the public servant and to legal entities in which the public servant and/or his family members own an interest in excess of 25 percent. (Emphasis added)

Granted, John Murrill doesn’t “own” 25 percent of Taylor Porter but he is a partner in the firm.

And the State Ethics Law covers that little contingency when it goes on to say:

  • 1112 – Participation by a public servant in a transaction involving the governmental entity in which any of the following persons have a substantial economic interest: (1) the public servant; (2) any member of his immediate family; (3) any person in which he has an ownership interest that is greater than the interest of a general class; (4) any person of which he is an officer, director, trustee, partner, or employee; (5) any person with whom he is negotiating or has an arrangement concerning prospective employment; (6) any person who is indebted to him or is a party to an existing contract with him and by reason thereof is in a position to affect directly his economic interests. (Emphasis added)

Does Taylor Porter and thus John Murrill have an “economic interest” through contracts with the Attorney General’s Civil Division?

Well, consider this: Taylor Porter, from August 2015 through November 2016, was approved for 13 contracts totaling more than $2 million, about $160,000 per contract on average.

And that didn’t even include Taylor Porter’s contract to defend OIG. That contract has yet to be entered on the state’s online LaTrac program, which lists contracts with every state agency.

Perhaps there is a perfectly logical explanation for all of this. If so, we’d love to hear it.

Otherwise, we’ll just refer to the immortal words of the late C.B. Forgotston:

“You can’t make this stuff up.”

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Bobby Jindal, the Rhode Scholar who rode into town on the crest of a billion-dollar surplus nine years ago this month, rode out 12 months ago leaving the state wallowing in red ink and now it is learned that he inflicted even more fiscal carnage on his way out the door.

And knowing the way in which he and his final Commissioner of Administration, Kristy Nichols, juggled the books, it’s not at all unreasonable to think that Jindal’s final example of fiscal irresponsibility may well have been an intentional act of political chicanery carried out to buy him time so that his successor would be left with the mess to clean up. (Of course, Kristy didn’t become commissioner until Paul Rainwater left in 2012, but that does not change the fact that a lot of dollars were moved around—swept—before and after she was promoted.)

Hey! It’s not that far-fetched. He did it with the Office of Group Benefits. He did it with higher education. He did it with the LSU Hospital System. Boy, did he do it with the hospital system—with a contract containing 50 blank pages, yet!

By the time Jindal left office, virtually the only state agency left with a shred of credibility and integrity was the office of the Legislative Auditor—and that’s largely because the office has complete autonomy and is independent from outside political pressure, particularly from the governor’s office.

And now, coincidentally, it is that same Legislative Auditor who has issued a damning AUDIT REPORT that reveals a major SNAFU (if that’s truly what it was) in which the Jindal administration “misclassified” a $34.6 million default payment made by Northrop Grumman Ship Systems made in 2011.

The payment was made to Louisiana Economic Development after the shipyard failed to meet required hiring quotas but instead of using the money to pay off equipment the state had financed for Northrop Grumman, the audit says the Division of Administration “swept” the money when it was balancing the budget. As a result, the state has already paid some $2 million in interest and administrative costs on the equipment, and is potentially on the hook for some $6.2 million more.

Bobby and Kristy loved the process of “sweeping” agencies of excess funds lying around in order to try and plug gaping holes in the state budget that dogged Jindal every single year he was governor. “Sweeping” for funds is something like picking up crumbs off the floor in an attempt to gather enough to make a bundt cake.

“Since the debt could not be immediately defeased (a provision that voids a bond or loan) because of the limited prepayment options, the funds should have been segregated into a sinking account for defeasement of the debt, not a statutorily dedicated fund account that could be swept by legislative action,” the audit report says.

But the Louisiana Office of Economic Development (LED), then headed by $300,000-a-year Director Stephen Moret, failed to do that and, presto! The funds got swept by the Jindal Housecleaning Service and as a result, the state “will continue to incur additional interest and administrative costs until the debt (on the equipment) is defeased,” the audit reads. “If not defeased before the Oct. 2022 … the state will incur more than $6.2 million in additional interest and administrative costs.”

LED entered into a Cooperative Endeavor Agreement with Northrop Grumman in the early 2000s. The company had acquired Avondale Shipyard in Jefferson Parish and Northrop Grumman, under the terms of the deal, agreed to maintain employment levels of some 3,500 jobs a year with an economic impact of $1 billion. In return, the state agreed, among other things, to issue bonds to finance more than $34 million worth of cranes and equipment that would modernize the shipyard.

But dreams and schemes are made of fragile things. Northrop Grumman fell short of its job requirements and LED notified the company in early 2011 that it wasn’t living up to its employment obligations. Northrop Grumman agreed to settle with the state for $34.6 million, which represented the acquisition cost of the equipment. It wired the money to LED in March 2011, the report says.

But the state didn’t use the money to pay off the debt on the equipment, nor did it set the funds aside in an escrow account to pay it off in the future. Instead, it “swept” the money into the Louisiana Medical Assistance Trust Fund, was enacted during the 2011 session to help supplement the state’s Medicaid program.

But don’t worry, folks. It’s just another example of the superb financial management of the state’s resources about which Jindal would boast—in Iowa, certainly not Louisiana—during his comical quest for the Republican presidential nomination in 2015, his final year I office.

And now the state finds itself hanging out to dry while trying to come up with that long gone $34.6 million, plus about $2 million in interest and administrative costs.

In a written response to the audit’s findings, Commissioner of Administration Jay Dardenne pointed out that Jindal’s actions, while ill-advised, were nonetheless legal. “The (Jindal) administration’s decision to use the funds for other purposes was not prohibited by the terms of the (agreement) with Northrop Grumman,” he says, noting that the Legislature approved of the financial maneuver.

Perhaps, but we all know the definitions of the legal thing and the right thing are sometimes poles apart. In this case, those responsible knew what that $34.6 million was for and they chose to do what was legal but not what was right.

The question now is does the Office of Risk Management carry excess coverage that would allow the State to make a claim for recovery of the money on the basis of stupidity? Should Jindal, Nichols, and Moret be asked to dig deep into their pockets to come up with the money?

Nah. It’ll never happen.

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What’s the difference between Evangeline and Terrebonne parishes?

Apparently only about 120 miles, judging from the manner in which the respective sheriffs’ offices ignore and abuse the constitutional rights of their citizens.

Where the U.S. Justice Department recently issued a report highly critical of the practice of “investigative arrests” in Evangeline, the First Circuit Court of Appeal has ruled unconstitutional a raid carried out by the Terrebonne Parish sheriff last summer because he didn’t like what a blogger said about him.

And, LouisianaVoice has learned, the Terrebonne sheriff and others are targets of a federal investigation over other business dealings of the sheriff’s office.

Following the filing a federal lawsuit filed against Sheriff Jerry Larpenter last August, the anticipated second shoe has now fallen on several other leading business and political leaders of Terrebonne Parish.

The fallout stems from an ill-advised—and unconstitutional—warrant and RAID executed against a Houma police officer on Aug. 2 over no greater offense than criticism of the sheriff’s department on a local Internet blog.

It now has spilled over to a general indictment of Gordon Dove and the parish government’s relationship with a local insurance agency.

Wayne Anderson, a former deputy sheriff and currently a Houma police officer, and his wife, Jennifer, filed suit on Aug. 10 against Larpenter over the raid carried out on their home by sheriff’s deputies and now have amended Parish President Dove and others into the lawsuit.

The latest AMENDED PETITION adds as defendants:

  • Dove, individually, and in his official capacity as President of the Terrebonne Parish Consolidated Government;
  • Anthony J. Alford, individually, and in his official capacity as President of the Terrebonne Levee and Conservation District Board of Commissioners;
  • The Terrebonne Parish Sheriff’s Office;
  • The Terrebonne Parish Consolidated Government, and
  • The Terrebonne Levee and Conservation District.

The blog, ExposeDat, began posting critical stories of Dove and Larpenter in early July, prompting the illegal raid on the Andersons’ home. While unconstitutional, the raid did have the apparent effect of successfully causing the blog to be taken down, thus infringing on the First Amendment that protects free speech.

But in the interim, Larpenter, who was quoted as saying, “If you’re gonna lie about me and make it under a fictitious name, I’m gonna come after you.”  did just that. Executing a warrant signed by State District Judge Randy Bethancourt instead of the “Duty Judge,” who the latest legal filing says should have reviewed and considered the warrant.

Sheriff’s Detective Lt. Glynn Prestenbach Jr., who took the warrant application to Bethancourt for his signature, since said he “just did what (Terrebonne Parish District Attorney) and Jerry (Larpenter) told him to do,” the Andersons’ amended petition says.

Following the raid, law enforcement personnel arrived at the Plaintiffs’ residence, the petition says. Anderson was informed he was being placed on administrative leave indefinitely and was the subject of an internal affairs investigation for failing to uphold the law and for engaging in conduct unbecoming of a law enforcement officer. Anderson was stripped of his badge, his duty weapon, his law enforcement commission card and his marked patrol unit—all in full view of the Andersons’ neighbors, action that they say has caused embarrassment and harm to their reputations.

Bethancourt denied the Plaintiffs’ Motion to Quash, finding the defamation statute to be sufficiently broad to allow him a “look-see” to determine if the evidence wrongfully seized contained defamatory statements. Writs were taken to the Louisiana First Circuit Court of Appeals which quashed the search warrant on August 25 and ruled that the search and seizure (were) unconstitutional.

The amended petition accuses the defendants of conspiring together “to initiate unjustified and factually and legally baseless criminal proceedings against the plaintiffs. The Defendants lacked probable cause and/or any viable legal justification to initiate the said proceedings. The Defendants acted maliciously and as a consequence of these actions, the Plaintiffs suffered deprivation of their liberties and have sustained damages,” the petition says.

“Defendants Gordon Dove, Jerry Larpenter and Anthony Alford all met and/or discussed a jointly accepted and agreed upon the illegal plan discussed hereinabove,” it says. “Sometime immediately after a July 11, 2016, article entitled ‘You Scratch Mine & I’ll Scratch Yours’ was published on the website that detailed the business dealings between the Defendants, Defendant Dove allegedly announced to the entire Synergy Bank4 Board of Directors that he was going to shut the Exposedat website down and that he was having subpoenas issued. Defendant Anthony Alford lodged his criminal complaint within three days of the article’s publication.”

Once Alford filed his complaint, Larpenter wasted no time in initiating an investigation by his office by instructing Prestenbach to immediately conduct an investigation, the Andersons claim. “Prestenbach did as instructed and immediately met with and interviewed Alford. Prestenbach also sought by subpoena records from Facebook relating to John Turner (an alias used by Anderson), and within a period of five days obtained information relating to various IP addresses. Prestenbach searched the IP addresses and noticed that they were assigned to a corresponding AT&T account. Prestenbach then subpoenaed records from AT&T to identify the IP addresses that corresponded to the Facebook posts of John Turner.”

On or about August 1, 2016, Prestenbach received and reviewed the documents which had been subpoenaed from AT&T. These records revealed that the computer used to send the various posts was located at the Plaintiffs’ home address. Prestenbach immediately contacted Larpenter and advised him of the results of his investigation including the fact that the address obtained was the residence of Wayne Anderson, who was a police officer for the Houma Police Department. Larpenter allegedly told Prestenbach to stand by for further action. Later,

TPSO Detective Kody Voisin called Prestenbach and advised him that he had spoken to Defendant Larpenter who wanted a search warrant issued, and that he [Larpenter] had spoken to Terrebonne District Attorney Joe Waitz who also agreed to continue the investigation and obtain a search warrant. HERE is Prestenbach’s report as well as threads from Facebook postings.

The question that must be asked and the issue that must be determined at this point is by what authority did Larpenter obtain the Facebook and AT&T records? Who issued the subpoena for that information? If the search warrant was unconstitutional, it would seem that the subpoena seeking the private records would be as well.

The amended petition is seeking actual and punitive damages, court costs and attorney fees.

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