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“Perhaps Barack Obama’s biggest shortcoming as president is he failed to unite the country.”

—Donald Trump tweet, May 30, 2012.

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“Right from the beginning, there’s no hesitation, one of the great memories of all time.”

–Donald Trump, Oct. 25, 2017, denying he couldn’t remember a fallen soldier’s name during a call to his widow.

 

“I don’t have to verify because I have one of the great memories of all time.”

–Trump, on June 12, 2018, in response to a reporter’s question on whether or not he had notes to verify details of a meeting in Singapore with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

(There were 35 times he said couldn’t remember something during a deposition in the Trump University lawsuit in December 2015.)

 

“I remember you telling me, but I don’t know that I said it,” Trump said, adding: “I don’t remember saying that. As good as my memory is, I don’t remember that.”

–Trump, unable to remember saying he had “the world’s greatest memory,” The Washington Post, Nov. 3, 2017.

 

“I do not recall.”

–Trump’s response to 19 of 22 questions submitted in writing by special prosecutor Robert Mueller.

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A two-hour public corruption forum in Abita Springs Thursday night produced little in the way of solutions to the growing problem of official wrongdoing in St. Tammany Parish but one question from an audience member did produce a buzz among the audience and some uncomfortable tap dancing from participants on the four-man panel brought in to address the issues.

The forum, presented by the Concerned Citizens of St. Tammany (CCST) was scheduled to have as participants District Attorney Warren Montgomery, Sheriff Randy Smith, Louisiana Inspector General Stephen Street, New Orleans Metropolitan Crime Commission (MCC) President Rafael Goyeneche, and representatives from the Louisiana State Police and the FBI.

The FBI and state police were no-shows and Smith sent his public information officer in his stead with the explanation that a family situation prevented his attending (although the family business didn’t prevent him from responding to a lawsuit against him and two of his deputies stemming from an unconstitutional arrest of a local citizen last September).

Street dominated the show, taking the spotlight from the others with long and convoluted answers to questions while Goyeneche explained the workings of the MCC whenever given the chance to speak.

Smith issued an online statement that he was confident that a lawsuit filed by former St. Tammany deputy Jerry Rogers for his arrest for criminal defamation, an offense long since declared unconstitutional by the Louisiana Supreme Court, “will prove to be frivolous and without merit.”

Smith went on to say, “It is a shame we must waste taxpayer dollars to defend such frivolous suits.” He called the suit “nothing more than another politically-charged stunt by members of the former Strain administration while neglecting to note he had been advised by Montgomery’s office before seeking Rogers’s arrest for sending emails critical of the department’s investigation of a still-unsolved murder in St. Tammany Parish that such an arrest was unconstitutional.

The fact that the attorney general’s office refused to pursue the case against Rogers apparently failed to register on Smith’s taxpayer waste-o-meter.

But the hot topic, brief though it was, was raised in the form of a written question sent forward by an audience member:

“Should a person of interest in a murder case who refuses to cooperate with authorities and who refuses to take phone calls from investigators be allowed to serve as a member of the Louisiana State Police Commission?”

The question, apparently directed at State Police Commission member Jared Caruso-Riecke, a St. Tammany Parish resident, sent an excited murmur through the crowd and sent panelists fumbling for a diplomatic, if uncomfortable response.

Caruso-Riecke’s business partner Bruce Cucchiara was gunned down in the parking lot of a New Orleans East apartment complex on April 24, 2012.

The murder remains unsolved.

Cucchiara worked for the RIECKE FAMILY in Covington and at one time ran the Southeastern Louisiana Water & Sewer Co., before it was purchased by the St. Tammany Parish government in a controversial 2010 DEAL.

Caruso-Riecke had a LIFE INSURANCE POLICIY on Cucchiara with New York Life totaling some $5 million, his children said.

Cucchiara also has signed a promissory note as security on some real estate property to Caruso-Riecke only 20 days before he was killed.

CAITLIN PICOU, Cucchiara’s daughter, said Caruso-Riecke gave an initial statement to investigators but since then, the detective “has reached out to him but he declined to speak. They’ve reached out to his lawyer, as well, and he’s declined as well.”

“This (Cucchiara) was his best friend and he (Caruso-Riecke) won’t cooperate with investigators,” Chris Cucchiara said.

But, he added, Caruso-Riecke told him and Caitlin that he’d deleted some of the elder Cucchiara’s emails in an effort to “clean up” any personal messages.

Picou and her brother, Chris Cucchiara said when police did not clear Caruso-Riecke, thereby freeing the life insurance company to pay the benefit, “he (Caruso-Riecke) filed suit. Chris Cucchiara also said he was told by investigators that they did not want to clear Caruso-Riecke, “but we got a lot of pressure from higher-ups who live on the North Shore (St. Tammany) that we need to release the money.

It’s not clear where such pressure was coming from, but despite investigators’ having not cleared him as being implicated in the murder, Caruso-Riecke SUED New York Life on Aug. 7, 2012 to obtain the benefits of the life insurance policy on his business partner. Inexplicably, he filed his lawsuit in federal court in Baton Rouge instead of New Orleans, which would have normally been the proper venue for a St. Tammany resident.

Regardless, New York Life apparently decided not to fight him and the lawsuit was DISMISSED in Caruso-Riecke’s favor on Oct. 1.

 

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You can call last September’s arrest of Jerry Rogers several things:

  • Jerry Larpenter, Chapter Deux;
  • SLAPP;
  • Stupid;
  • All of the Above.

Especially stupid.

To refresh your memory, Rogers, a former St. Tammany Parish sheriff’s deputy, fired off an email to the family of slain Nanette Krentel that was critical of the official investigation into Krentel’s murder. Specifically, he leveled his criticism at lead investigator Det. Daniel Buckner, whom he described as “clueless.”

For his trouble, Sheriff Randy Smith directed that Rogers be arrested for criminal defamation, despite being advised by the St. Tammany Parish District Attorney’s office that the state’s criminal defamation law had been declared unconstitutional as to public officials, according to a LAWSUIT filed by Rogers.

Named as defendants in the litigation are Smith and deputies Danny Culpepper and Keith Canizaro.

The arrest and ensuing lawsuit evoked memories of Terrebonne Parish Sheriff Jerry Larpenter who pulled a similar stunt when he spotted an online blog critical of him and other parish officials and promptly had an obliging judge sign a search warrant empowering Larpenter’s office to conduct a raid on the blogger’s home and to seize his computers. Larpenter, in the glow of his triumph, albeit temporary, crowed that when one criticizes him, “I’m coming after you.”

Except, of course, the warrant and the raid were unconstitutional and Larpenter’s office ended up ponying up about $250,000 to soothe the ruffled feelings of aggrieved blogger.

Just the kind of thing to make one wonder where the judges involved obtained their law degrees and why they would sign off on warrants that were so obviously unconstitutional.

But when considering political expedience, the rule of law often takes a back seat to the sweet (but again, temporary) taste of revenge.

In legal parlance, such legal maneuvers are known as Strategic Litigation Against Public Participation (SLAPP), a tactic honed to perfection during the civil rights era by Southern sheriffs and chiefs of police, particularly in Montgomery and Birmingham, Alabama.

Former Gov. Edwin Edwards, when questioned about his observations immediately after Larpenter’s raid but before litigation had been initiated, quipped, “I’d love to be that blogger’s lawyer.”

Prophetic words indeed. A federal judge held in that case that “no law enforcement officer in Sheriff Larpenter’s position would have an objectively reasonable belief, in light of clearly established law, that probable cause existed to support a warrant for the Andersons’ home” because it was based on criticism of a public official.

Now it’s Jerry Rogers’s turn at bat against another ill-conceived move by a sheriff and district court judge, in this case, one Hon. Raymond Childress.

That’s because as early as 2014, the St. Tammany Parish Sheriff’s Office was reminded of the status of Louisiana’s criminal defamation law, the lawsuit says.

The president of the Louisiana Sheriff’s Association in 2014 “described arresting anyone for an alleged violation of an unconstitutional law as a waste of time and resources,” the lawsuit quotes a newspaper article as reporting.

“Sheriff Smith’s actions were intended to deter and chill Jerry Rogers’ exercise of his First Amendment right to express his opinion about STPSO,” Rogers’s petition asserts.

That, by the way, is a classic definition of a SLAPP lawsuit.

Not only did Judge Childress sign off on the AFFIDAVIT FOR ARREST WARRANT, but the St. Tammany Parish Sheriff’s Office even had the presence of mind to issue a self-serving PRESS RELEASE to announce its diligence in protecting its citizens from being exposed to such defamatory criticism and in the process, declaring its utter disregard of the law.

Except for the decision of the Louisiana Attorney General’s office to DECLINE TO PURSUE the case after noting that the Louisiana Supreme Court had “held [that] criminal defamation is unconstitutional insofar as it applies to statements made in reference to public figures engaged in public affairs.

“…[T]he statements made by Jerry Rogers were aimed directly towards a public function of a member of state government. Because the alleged conduct under these specific facts involve statements aimed at a public official performing public duties, this office is precluded by law from moving forward with any criminal action, Assistant Attorney General Joseph LeBeau wrote on January 8.”

So chastened, there was little wiggle room for the sheriff other than to WALK AWAY from his aborted attempt at retribution.

All of which served to invoke the third option in our multiple-choice observation at the beginning of this post:

Stupid.

 

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“When the term executive time is used, I am generally working, not relaxing. In fact, I probably work more hours than almost any past president.”

—Donald Trump tweet, Feb. 10, 2019. (Cost to taxpayers for Trump’s golf outings: $127 million as of Feb. 2, 2020.)

 

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