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To the surprise of absolutely no one, West Baton Rouge Parish Sheriff Mike Cazes has reprised an old tactic in reaction to news not to his liking: blame the messenger.

Cazes has initiated a full-scale effort to ferret out the person or persons in his department who tipped off a Baton Rouge television station as to when one of his former employees would be surrendering following disclosure that she stole $158,000 from the sheriff’s office.

Cazes, who has been sheriff of the parish across the Mississippi River from Baton Rouge for more than four full terms, plus a couple of years into his fifth term, conveniently ignored the fact that he kept Mandy Miller on the payroll for some three months following her admission of the theft.

Nor has Cazes ever explained how Miller qualified for a salary of $72,000 for her file clerk job processing traffic ticket payments for the department. That’s a pretty hefty salary for such a position when one considers that most deputies, with the possible exceptions of Chief of Staff Kevin Devall and Caze’s son-in-law Dale Simoneaux, earn considerably less than that.

Simply stated, something doesn’t pass the smell test here. It’s entirely possible that there are underlying facts that have yet to come out.

Nevertheless, Cazes, Duval and Simoneaux subjected several detectives to hours of intense questioning in an effort to learn the source of the LEAK TO THE TV STATION. Cazes, who becomes more defensive every day, now refuses to be interviewed by reporters for the TV station.

Cazes even sent a department-wide EMAIL that said he would take no questions on any matters concerning his office.  “There will be no direct contact with the Sheriff on any matters dealing with the West Baton Rouge Sheriff Department,” the email said. Baton Rouge TV station WBRZ, which has been following the story for some time, said the email “raises questions about what Cazes is doing.” The station might well have added that it also raises questions about why Cazes is refusing to take questions “on any matters,” especially why he continued paying her for some three months after her admission that she stole from the department.

An Internet blog called UNFILTERED WITH KIRAN (UWK), like WBRZ, has experienced a wall of silence when attempting to get information on the theft. UWK said the only people who were authorized to speak to the media are not doing so.

The two, Simoneaux and Zack Simmers, are each running for sheriff in next fall’s election now that Cazes has said he won’t seek a sixth term. Meanwhile, infighting in the sheriff’s office poses the problem of one getting more exposure than the other should either Simoneaux of Simmers talk to the media. That has resulted in Cazes’s decree of silence on the Miller case.

This isn’t the first time Cazes has attempted to thwart the media from reporting news adverse to his department. In July 2018, WBRZ reported that the sheriff RETAINED A LAW FIRM in an unsuccessful effort to prevent the station’s obtaining records pertaining to allegations that a deputy was being investigated for claims that he demanded oral sex from two women during separate traffic stops. The station began asking for public records in March 2018 but did not receive them until June of that year.

The deputy, Ben Arceneaux, was taken off road patrol for two weeks and was suspended without pay for two weeks, unusually light punishment for such serious transgressions.

Just as he would do in the Miller case four years later, Cazes cut off all communication with WBRZ

Rafael Goyeneche, president of the New Orleans Metropolitan Crime Commission, was critical of the lax punishment handed down by Cazes. “He [Arceneaux] should have been fired, and the district attorney’s office should have been consulted about criminal charges on this,” Goyeneche said. “That is the essence of a battery and him doing this under the color of law, potentially makes it a malfeasant act, both criminal violations under Louisiana law.

“The second victim should have been identified,” Goyeneche said.” “A statement should have been taken from her. I think the sheriff should have considered if the allegations were verified of the first victim and the second victim. He [Arceneaux] shouldn’t be carrying a badge and be a deputy any longer.”

As for Cazes’s chief of staff, Kevin Devall was named to the position on January 30, three days after Miller surrendered and was escorted into the jail by Simoneaux and Devall, who had his own checkered past prior to his retirement as a Louisiana State Trooper. Kevin Devall and his brother, DEA agent Page Devall, the sons of then-Hammond Police Chief RODDY DEVALL (who was fired in 2015 after 34 years with the department and who later settled a lawsuit against the city of Hammond, with the city paying him $800,000 and changing his status to “retired”), got into a CONFRONTATION with a Metairie immigration attorney in 2012.

Two years later, Kevin Devall had another complaint filed against him by the estranged wife of St. Bernard Parish President and former police officer Dave Peralta. Sharon Peralta, who said her ex-husband had forced her to perform oral sex on him and that he had raped her six months earlier, said Devall, instead of arresting her former husband, laughed and joked with him and that Devall told her to leave and that he “would handle things from there.”

In each of those cases, Louisiana State Police Internal Affairs “investigated” the complaints and cleared Devall of any improper conduct in each case.

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A lot of people, especially Repugnantcans, get their drawers in a wad over the mere mention of the word socialism, equating it – incorrectly – with communism. The two terms are not interchangeable.

I suppose it’s okay to oppose socialism so long as you do not partake in police and fire protection, street construction and repair, garbage pickup, municipal and community water and gas systems, and a few other services that we take for granted – like Social Security and Medicare. (Speaking of which, if you’re so opposed to socialism, tell me what you did with your pandemic stimulus checks.)

But let’s take the concept a bit further and see how socialism can apply to big business, and I mean BIG business.

But first, let’s pretend for a moment that your home is destroyed by a storm or by fire and you find that you’re underinsured or worse, uninsured – as might be the case with rising water and you don’t have flood insurance, which is precisely what happened to thousands of people in the 2016 flood (yes, I was one of those).

Well, I shouldn’t be expected to have to foot the bill to rebuild my home, should I? I mean, my home was already paid for and I opted not to carry flood insurance because we were on high ground (we thought) and the area had never flooded. But surprise, someone forgot to tell Mother Nature.

But not to worry. Someone will take care of me and I won’t have to pay to rebuild, right?

Well, not quite. At the tender age of 73, I found myself with a brand-new home mortgage on a home I’d already paid for once. Damn! Someone should’ve taken care of my problems that I failed to anticipate.

You see, it just doesn’t work that way.

Unless you’re a big utility company like Entergy.

Entergy, which serves about 1.1 million customers in 58 Louisiana parishes, including most of south Louisiana, was granted a rate increase by the Louisiana Public Service Commission (PSC) last year to help the company pay for a $3.2 billion restoration plan for Entergy.

That was to help Entergy recover from the devastation of Hurricane Ida back in 2021 and the rate increase came to a surcharge of about $25 per month for the average Louisiana Entergy customer. Democrat Foster Campbell cast the lone negative vote on the rate increase.

At the time PSC members demanded to know if Entergy planned to use any of its own money to help cover the cost of hurricane damages and Entergy CEO Leo Denault politely said no, but thanks for asking.

That rate increase came on the heels of Entergy’s bestowing an additional $4 million in compensation for Denault, bringing his salary to $16 million per year. It also followed the $1.2 billion in DIVIDENDS the company paid to its shareholders.

Fast forward to today (Jan. 19). The PSC approved Entergy’s plan to make its customers in Louisiana pony up another $1.4 BILLION to finance improvements to its grid and to repair hurricane damage.

Wait. What? Entergy had the nerve to come back and ask for even more help from its customers to pay for the company’s reluctance to place its service lines underground years ago as a means of avoiding hurricane damage? or of not carrying enough insurance coverage to take care of catastrophic losses?

What about that taco stand down the street? The storm blew the structure apart so shouldn’t customers pay to rebuild? No? I don’t understand. What about all those folks whose vehicles were paid for and they dropped their collision coverage because of Louisiana’s high insurance premiums? Shouldn’t someone pay to get them another car or truck after they were lost in the 2016 flood or when a tree fell on it? No?

But Entergy…I mean, as a customer of Entergy, I now am expected to…

Well, you get the picture. Entergy obviously failed to carry sufficient excess coverage to insure its loses from Ida so naturally, you and I will get the bill which will amount to about an additional $5.50 per month for the next 23 years. That’s on top of the previous bump of about $25 over 15 years.

But wait, Entergy didn’t come away completely off the hook, thanks to the tenacious negotiations (sarcasm) of Repugnantcan PSC member Craig Greene of Baton Rouge who this time held Entergy’s feet to the fire for a whopping $180 million concession by cutting that much from Entergy’s proposed rate increase. Let’s see, $180 million out of $1.4 billion…12.9 percent of the total, leaving consumers holding the bag for 87.1 percent of the cost.

Or, if you combine the two rate increases approved in the past year, you have Entergy chipping in $180 million out of a total $4.6 billion rate increase, or a more modest 3.9 percent with you pitching in the remaining 94.1 percent.

Not a bad deal for Entergy but consumer will need a big tube of KY for this one.

It also takes the edge off that REBATE Entergy has been ordered to pay its customers in Louisiana and Arkansas.

This time the rate hike was approved by a thinner 3-2 vote along party lines. You see, that last increase may have cost one member his job when Democrat Davante Lewis of Baton Rouge defeated Democratic incumbent Lambert Boissiere, who voted for he previous rate hike. Davante joined Campbell in voting against the latest increase.

So, there you have it, folks. The Repugnantcans voted in lock step in favor for what looks an awful lot like socialism to me to benefit Entergy and for rock solid capitalism for the consumers. Kinda brings a lump to your throat and a tear to your eye, doesn’t it?

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With disrespect to no one, I came up with an idea several years ago that has never been – will never be – taken seriously. I understand and accept that because the idea was strictly tongue-in-cheek in the first place and never really offered for serious consideration but nevertheless, here goes:

Why not combine the birthdays of Martin Luther King and Elvis Presley for a national holiday designated as A Pair of Kings?

Think about it. The two had much in common.

Both came from humble roots. Both were born in the South – Elvis in Tupelo, Mississippi, and MLK in Atlanta, Georgia.

Elvis’s birthday was January 8, 1935 and MLK’s birthday was January 15, 1929.

MLK would go on to inspire America’s blacks and, through his insistence on peaceful protests, prod a hesitant nation to abolish Jim Crow laws and to enact laws promoting equality. Elvis brought heretofore obscure black music, especially Memphis blues, to the forefront of popular music (if you don’t believe blues had a terrific influence on rock ‘n’ roll, listen sometime to HONKY TONK WOMEN by the Rolling Stones).

Both men were admired and loved by millions of people worldwide. Sadly, each had his detractors. Bigoted whites detested MLK, parents initially despised how Elvis excited their teenage kids. Later, the younger rock fans and stand-up comics would ridicule the overweight, jump-suited Vegas act.

MLK became famous for his inspirational “I have a dream” speech at the Lincoln Memorial in 1963. Five years later, Elvis recorded his own inspirational message conveyed in his song IF I CAN DREAM, notable for its similarities to MLK’s ’63 speech and recorded just two months after MLK’s death. Keenly aware of the plight of blacks in this country, he followed that a year later with his recording of IN THE GHETTO.

Finally, as admirers of either man surely knows, each died in Memphis, though in marked contrast to each other as to the manner in which each died. MLK was assassinated while in town on behalf of striking garbage workers. Elvis died while…well, you know.

Still, I don’t think my idea is so far-fetched – if you’re an Elvis fan. Not so much when one considers how it might diminish the intended purpose of paying sincere homage to MLK.

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Editor’s note: Ronnie Jones, former chairman of the State Gaming Control Board, is one of several state and local officials whose careers were left in tatters by former Sen. Karen Carter Peterson over her 22 years in the Louisiana Legislature, as a New Orleans political power broker, and as chair of the Louisiana Democratic Party.

It should be pointed out, as one reader did, that former 22nd Judicial District Attorney Walter Reed, who was convicted of several counts of wire fraud, money laundering, and mail fraud, was sentenced in 2017 to four years, fined $15,000, ordered to pay $609,000 in forfeiture, $40,000 to the IRS, and $572,000 in restitution – compared to Peterson’s comparatively light sentence of 22 months for her guilty plea to diverting $140,000 in funds from the state Democratic Party and her campaign funds to her personal use, ostensibly to feed her insatiable gambling addiction.

Written on Nov. 29, 2022, immediately following Peterson’s guilty plea – and at the request of LouisianaVoice, the following is Jones’s reconstruction of how Peterson torpedoed Jones’s career when she blocked his reappointment as gaming control board:

I don’t recall exactly what year Ms. Peterson applied for the Self Exclusion List but her name came to our attention at the Board shortly after she filed and signed the paperwork.  Once I was aware that Ms. Peterson was on the list, I was confronted with what I thought might be a dilemma, a political and ethical dilemma.  The names on the list are considered confidential except for the Board, the State Police and the gaming licensees.  Nevertheless, did I have an obligation to share Ms. Peterson’s participation on the list with Governor Edwards?  He was, after all, the highest-ranking Democrat in the state and she was the influential head of the state Democratic party. 

It was a question quickly answered by my in-house counsel.  I’m paraphrasing, but the answer was a variation of “Not no, but hell no.  Have you lost your freaking mind?”  (She and I had a special relationship and she could be blunt but seldom wrong.)  The matter was then settled.  Peterson’s participation could not be shared with anyone not authorized by law or the gaming regulations.  Even the Governor was not entitled to know.

But there was another nagging question.  After considering who she was and the fact that she had admitted to a compulsive gambling problem, was it appropriate for me to reach out to Peterson and offer names, numbers and resources for managing her problem?  The question gnawed at me for more than a week.  After some discussion with staff we surmised that reaching out to Peterson would not likely be well received by the then-Senator.  She might entirely misinterpret my intentions as being disingenuous. 

Her reputation was well known around the capital and I knew that to conduct the Board’s business it would be necessary to appear from time to time before the Senate Judiciary B Committee.  Peterson sat on that committee.  Things could go badly in those meetings if Peterson perceived some malevolent motive on my part in confronting her with her addiction.  That would complicate the Board’s legislative business.  That, in turn, would be bad for the Board, but more importantly that would be bad for the state.  It wasn’t a risk I was willing to take.

Throughout the next few years, I had heard that Peterson was violating her Self Exclusion agreement by gambling. I knew it would only be a matter of time before her luck would run out.  Literally.

So, I wasn’t surprised when I heard from officials at L’auberge Casino in Baton Rouge in February 2019.  They had a slot winner who didn’t wait around for a significant win payout.  The size of the jackpot would have required producing identification and completion of legally required forms.  They had a photo and sent it along with the question, “Do we know who this is?” 

Before even opening the attached photo, I knew there were usually only two reasons a gambler heads to the exit before collecting on a jackpot:  they were either wanted by law enforcement or they were on the Self Exclusion List.  I opened the attachment and the player’s closely cropped hair style was unmistakable.  It was Peterson.  State Police was notified that it was the Senator.  They asked if I had an opinion on how the matter should be handled and I asked them to treat this case as they would any other.    

In due course State Police contacted Peterson and told her they wanted to meet with her.  I’m pretty sure she knew why she got the call.  At the meeting she was cited for trespassing, the appropriate legal charge for a gambler on the list who violates the terms by being on a licensed gaming floor.   

It didn’t take long for WWL TV to learn of the citation because even though the Exclusion List is not a public document a citation has no equivalent protection under the law.  Somebody called the TV station.  It could have been somebody associated with the property, someone in State Police or a number of other sources.  But it wasn’t me.  Nor was it anyone on my staff.  Indeed, at the time I reasoned that there were plenty of suspects out there who figured they had a score to settle with Peterson, for as many people as she may have assisted in her political career there was an equal number she had disrespected, upbraided or otherwise mistreated.

And so it came to pass that she was outed as a compulsive gambler by a TV news report, something I had known for years but had never divulged.  The following day I sent the following email to Peterson:

From: Ronnie Jones
Sent: Wednesday, April 24, 2019 7:13 AM
To: Karen Carter Peterson

Senator Peterson—

Thank you for your comments yesterday on the issue of compulsive gambling.  Although you should never have been forced to talk about this personal struggle so publicly, you have done so with courage and grace.  As my senator, you have made me proud.

You may not be aware but I have been an advocate for those who struggle with addictive disorders for years.  That continues today in my role as Chairman of the Gaming Control Board.  I believe the state has an absolute moral responsibility to provide resources for those who suffer from the disorder.  The industry, too, must bear a share of the burden for providing assistance and they know where I stand with respect to compulsive gambling.  I think there is more all of us can do to address the collateral damage, although unintended, that gaming causes throughout the state.  My pledge to you is that you shall always have my support so long as I serve in this capacity.

I look forward to visiting with you at your convenience.  I am leaving on some personal time this weekend and will be back in about 10 days.  Call when you feel like talking.

Ronnie Jones, Chairman

Louisiana Gaming Control Board

7901 Independence Boulevard

Baton Rouge, Louisiana 70806

And her reply:

From: Karen Carter Peterson
Sent: Wednesday, April 24, 2019 3:22 PM
To: Ronnie Jones
Subject: Re: Thank you

Thanks so much for this email. I would like to chat with you this evening before you leave if possible. Let me know what works for you. 

Best regards, 

Karen Carter Peterson

504-621-1697

From: Ronnie Jones
Sent: Wednesday, April 24, 2019 3:58 PM
To: Karen Carter Peterson
Subject: RE: Thank you

I have a neighborhood meeting this evening but I’ll be available in the morning if you have some time.

Ronnie Jones

Chairman

Louisiana Gaming Control Board

She never called.  Despite two follow up emails, she never responded.  But her silence was part of a larger pattern.  When she offered her objections to my reappointment as Chairman of the Gaming Board on June 2, 2020, it was on a list with 5 other appointees’ names, all from her district.  According to sources inside the closed-door Senate chambers, when she was asked to explain her objections to the nominees, she sat silent.  She had also declined to respond to three emails from me in the spring of 2020 preceding the confirmation process in which I told her I was up for reappointment and offered to meet with her and discuss any potential issues.   Crickets.

It was not until February 2021 when facing dismal polling numbers on her quest to fill a vacant Congressional seat that Peterson broke her silence.  Sort of.  She had been hammered during her campaign by several follow-up articles retelling her actions at blocking board and commission nominees without explanation.  She relented by penning a letter to the editor of The Times-Picayune/The Advocate asserting that she vetoed my reappointment because I had been too cozy with the industry.  “I believe we cannot have our regulators too close to the industry they regulate.”  She offered no evidence.  Because there was none.  She also said the Board needed an injection of new leadership because I had been there for 7 years.  My replacement, Mike Noel, who was otherwise well qualified, had been regulating gaming for 15 years.  Peterson’s math was as confusing as her unsupported suggestion of coziness.

After my abrupt ouster we all wondered what the real reason was behind her veto of appointments from her district.  One theory was pretty clear cut—that she blamed me for the leaked report of her transgression at L’auberge.  But that simply wasn’t the case.  I had ample opportunity for several years to “out” Peterson but as much as I disdained her, I had an ethical and legal obligation to keep my mouth shut.  Moreover, I was just one of six constituents she blocked.  Had it been just about me, a personal vendetta of sorts, she would likely have only included my name on the list.

It was a former Board member from the New Orleans area with deep roots in the junkyard political culture of the area who cleared things up for me.  He called after Peterson’s confirmation gambit to express his thanks for my service.  During the discussion I mused about being punished for something I didn’t do, leaking the report of gambling problem.  He countered quickly, “That wasn’t it at all.  This was much bigger than just you (and your reappointment).  This was about exacting revenge on the governor.”  It was an ah-ha moment.  And so, it began to make more sense to me.  She and John Bel had fallen on hard political times and as a state senator, one’s options at retribution against a sitting governor are limited.  This wasn’t really about me, not about me at least directly.  She shot at the governor and hit me in the head.  In the last conversation I had with the governor the day after the ouster, he thanked me for my work as chairman and said that he was sorry that I had been collateral damage.  I didn’t ask him what he meant but now I know.

Having had months to process all that transpired, since June 2020, I got the opportunity to offer my take on the senator when she wrote her letter to the editor.  It’s a response that’s been previously reported:  “I believe the consensus sentiment is that I spent 45 years in public service and served with honor, dignity and integrity,” Jones said . . . . “The jury is still out on Sen. Peterson.”  Well, it would seem, the jury has spoken. 

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She was an influential state senator, chair of the Louisiana Democratic Party, the daughter of a powerful New Orleans politician, and an unsuccessful candidate to fill the 2nd Congressional District seat vacated by Cedric Richmond when he joined the Biden administration.

She also was addicted to gambling and that compulsion apparently took precedence over all the other traits and now KAREN CARTER PETERSON is headed to federal prison for 22 months. She was sentenced on Wednesday after pleading guilty to a single count of wire fraud for diverting more than $140,000 from the state Democratic Party’s treasury and from her own campaign funds to feed her gambling passion.

For one person in particular, it must have been a sense of karma. If Buddy Leach were still alive, there might well have been two experiencing that feeling of what goes around comes around.

Leach, a former congressman in his own right, and a wealthy oil and gas man from southwest Louisiana, was chairman of the state Democratic Party until unseated by Peterson who promptly set about using that position for her and family members’ personal benefit.

Some observers feel she single-handedly did more damage to the Democratic Party in Louisiana than any Republican strategy ever could have.

The other person is former chairman of the State Gaming Control Board Ronnie Jones.

Jones, who was residing in Peterson’s New Orleans senatorial district, was renominated by Gov. John Bel Edwards to the gaming post. But a quirk in the rules allows the senator in whose district any gubernatorial nominee resides to protest the appointment. That one protest is all it takes to kill the governor’s choice and that’s precisely what Peterson did to Jones.

It could have been some degree of sour grapes or misplaced revenge motive. Peterson, who had voluntarily placed herself on a “self-exclusion” list for Louisiana casinos, nevertheless managed to get into a Baton Rouge casino in 2019 for a little action and was CAUGHT. Perhaps she blamed Jones for her being outed and issued a misdemeanor summons.

“It is a disease,” she subsequently wrote in a statement on social media. “From time to time, I have relapsed.” At the same time, she also criticized whoever leaked her involvement in the state program to media, describing it as intentional.

Jones agreed that gambling addiction is a disease but he stopped short of giving her a pass on her behavior on that basis.

“Gambling addiction is real,” he said. “It’s crushed families from coast to coast and I don’t think there’s any doubt that Peterson gambled away stolen money. But we don’t know what we don’t know. Was all the $140,000 gambled? Maybe, maybe not. Perhaps there was some wining and dining along the way courtesy of other people’s money. But she has successfully weaponized gambling addiction as the bogeyman for all her ills. In this case it’s the political equivalent of the dog ate my homework excuse. Cast yourself as the victim and hope for the best outcome.”    

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