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Just when you think things can’t possibly get any weirder in state government, they invariably do.

That’s the one constant in Louisiana politics.

Take Lt. Gov. Billy Nungesser, for example.

The man just doesn’t know how to not be the court jester.

And he certainly doesn’t grasp just what the duties of his office entail. Or it could be he just doesn’t give a rat’s patootie.

How else to explain that, with there being more than half-a-dozen Louisiana LAW FIRMS and no telling how many attorneys in those firms qualified to represent clients in pension and investment fraud, why Nungesser would solicit clients for a specific law firm to represent them in cases of potential fraud.

A letter on state letterhead, no less—the lieutenant governor’s office letterhead and over his signature.

The letter, dated March 6 and received by someone identifying himself only as “a representative of a public retirement system,” was forwarded to LouisianaVoice with the recipient’s name and address redacted.

The first paragraph introduces the firm Kahn Swick & Foti (KSF) “whose primary practice involves representing state and local pension and municipal funds in shareholder lawsuits that seen to recover money lost from stock and fraud and other corporate malfeasance.”

It then notes that Charles C. Foti, Jr., “the 28-year sheriff of Orleans Parish and the former Attorney General of Louisiana (2004-2008) is a named partner in this firm.”

Nungesser’s letter somehow neglected to mention that while he served as Orleans Parish sheriff, Foti was hit by a $10 million fine by a federal court which found that the sheriff’s department under his administration had illegally strip-searched and conducted body-cavity searches on more than sixty thousand minor-offense arrestees.

In the third paragraph, Nungesser says, “I would like to discuss the opportunity for your fund to meet with the principals of KSF so that they can explain how your system can benefit (by) retaining a Louisiana-based firm with a national reputation to provide services to your system and help to safeguard your assets.”

Finally, he says, “Please call me at 225-342-7009 if you have any questions about the firm or if you would like any additional information…”

That’s the state telephone number for the Lieutenant Governor’s office.

Attached with his letter was a brochure from the KSF firm that touted its credentials and which went to great lengths to point out that, “Since 1998, pension funds in Louisiana have served as lead plaintiff in securities fraud class actions that have produced almost $10 billion in recoveries and (which) have produced legal fees in excess of $1.3 billion. However, of the over $1 billion in legal fees paid out, almost nothing was paid into the state treasury in the form of Louisiana state taxes.”

That’s because nearly all of the law firms that represented Louisiana pension and retirement funds were out-of-state firms “that maintain either no presence or only a very nominal presence in our state,” the brochure says.

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On the flip side of the brochure is a list of 26 class-action cases that resulted in settlements totaling $8.1 billion, not the “almost $10 billion” the brochure claimed.

A list of Louisiana public retirement systems was at the bottom of that page. They included the Louisiana State Employees’ Retirement System (LASERS), Louisiana Sheriffs’ Pension and Relief Fund (LSPRF), New Orleans Employees’ Retirement System (NOERS), Louisiana Municipal Police Employees Retirement System (LAMPERS), the Teachers Retirement System of Louisiana (TRS), and Louisiana School Employees Retirement System (LSERS).

It’s understandable—and even commendable—that Nungesser would encourage the retention of in-state law firms in general terms but to single out a specific firm is over the top, according to a New Orleans attorney with a competing firm who specializes in investment fraud cases. “It’s a really brazen letter,” he said, adding that he would take the issue up with his partners.

Nungesser cannot have a legal ethics charge filed against him since he is not an attorney but he can have charges filed with the Louisiana State Board of Ethics for misuse of his office, although such a complaint seems remote.

KSF, however, could be subject to a legal ethics charge if it can be shown that principals in the firm knew of Nungesser’s letter and condoned it. It is a legal ethics violation to have non-attorneys soliciting business for a legal firm or attorney.

It is not known if KSF provided the brochure to Nungesser for the express purpose of inclusion in his letter. LouisianaVoice attempted to call Nungesser but he was said to be unavailable.

Six different spokespersons for Nungesser’s office were emailed with a request for an explanation of the letter. They included Chief of Staff Julie Samson, Nungesser’s Executive Assistant Penny Bouquet, Director of Scheduling Jasmine Tregre, Communications Director Julio Guichard, and Director of Public Affairs Betsy Barnes.

A return receipt indicated that Guichard opened the email from LouisianaVoice, but no one from Nungesser’s office responded to our inquiry.

In following the mantra “follow the money,” LouisianaVoice ran a search of campaign contributions to Nungesser by KSF but came up empty except for firm partner Larry Joseph Palestina’s $3,500 in campaign contributions to Nungesser in 2015, 2016, and 2018.

That’s not to say that KSF was inactive in the political arena. The firm, along with two sister firms, Kahn & Swick Real Estate and Kahn & Swick Ventures, made $58,000 in campaign contributions from 2014-2018, including $35,000 to Foti, all in 2014.

The law firm and Kahn & Swick Real Estate also combined to contribute $10,000 to Attorney General Jeff Landry in 2015 and the law firm gave $5,000 to State Treasurer John Schroder in 2018. The law firm may also have violated state campaign contribution limits in 2015 when it gave $5,000 to Jefferson Parish Councilman Christopher Roberts. Statewide officers are limited to $5,000 but all other officers are limited to $2,500 in contributions.

[Contribution limits could also present something of a sticky wicket for Nungesser. On November 10, 2015, Burnside Plantation of New Orleans made two contributions to Nungesser, one for the statutory maximum $5,000 and another for $10,000. There was no indication in Nungesser’s campaign expense report that he refunded any of the $10,000.]

The KSF endorsement letter is not the first time that Nungesser has tried to prove stand up comic Ron White’s assertion that “you can’t fix stupid.”

In April 2016, he fell for a really transparent phishing SCAM in which he and State Republican Chairman Robert Villere tried to do an end run around Gov. John Bel Edwards only to end up with mostly rotten egg on their faces.

Of course, his escapades pre-date his election as lieutenant governor, as a 2010 PERFORMANCE AUDIT by the Legislative Auditor’s office showed.

Taken together, all these embarrassing public misadventures prove beyond the slightest doubt that Billy Nungesser is eminently qualified to hold political office in Louisiana.

You can also mail contributions to

LouisianaVoice, P.O. Box 922, Denham Springs, LA 70727

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The March fundraiser for LouisianaVoice continues and your help is both needed and appreciated.

We’re working on some pretty intriguing stories at LouisianaVoice, one of which is about campaign contributions by special interests for this year’s elections of statewide officials and legislators.

Like any reporting enterprise, sometimes we run into dead-ends (non-stories) and sometimes we break really significant stories, stories that other news organizations either ignored completely or literally took years to jump on board, like:

  • The series of Louisiana State Police stories under the administration of former Superintendent Mike Edmonson;
  • The story about Superintendent of Education John White’s plotting in an email to “take some air out of the room” during misleading testimony before a legislative committee, a story that a north Louisiana daily newspaper tried (incorrectly) to take credit for breaking;
  • About White’s plans to provide personal student data to a company controlled by RUPERT MURDOCH;
  • Our series of stories about widespread abuses by the Louisiana Board of Dentistry and the Louisiana State Board of Medical Examiners;
  • Several stories about campaign contributions from special interests and how those contributions take precedent over what’s best for the people of Louisiana;
  • Stories about how campaign funds are misused for personal purposes like paying personal income taxes, purchasing season tickets to Saints, Pelicans and LSU games;
  • Abuses of power by certain sheriffs in Louisiana, notably Terrebonne Parish’s Jerry Larpenter and Iberia Parish’s Louis Ackal;
  • Critical investigative audits of state and local agencies that negatively impact the manner in which our hard-earned taxpayer dollars are misused, misappropriated, and at times, embezzled
  • The Jindal administration’s attempt at steamrolling a state agency head because he wouldn’t compromise state regulations for a major Jindal campaign contributor;
  • How major Jindal contributors appeared to have “bought” positions on powerful state boards and commissions.

I’m told that some legislators make faces and utter profanities at the mere mention of my name.

Thank you.

There are also countless stories that you will never know about because, well, they turned out to be dead-ends. But we nevertheless were forced to spend considerable time chasing down those blind leads and those efforts took time—and money.

That’s why LouisianaVoice needs your help. If you appreciate these stories, please do what you can to support our efforts.

I even invite those of you who disagreed with or were offended by certain stories. That’s certain to happen because no two people think alike on every single issue. There were be differences of opinion but I would hope my readers are open-minded enough to understand that what I do with LouisianaVoice, I do in the interest of transparency and accountability. If those two factors are removed from reporting, then democracy and freedom die. So, even if you take umbrage at what I write, I have at least laid the issue on the table for consideration and discussion.

So please. Do what you can by clicking on the yellow DONATE button in the upper part of the column to the right of this post or mail your check to:

LouisianaVoice

P.O. Box 922

Denham Springs, Louisiana 70727

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Louisiana State Government has enough boards to construct a fair-sized house.

The state has an eye-popping 477 boards and commissions, according to the Louisiana Legislative Auditor’s ANNUAL REPORT to the Legislature released last month.

That compares to 287 for Arkansas and 217 for Mississippi. Texas, meanwhile, manages to get by on just 89.

But then, Texas probably does not have a need for an Alligator Advisory Council since that state apparently doesn’t have as many alligators in need of advice.

And it’s questionable as to the real need of a Boll Weevil Eradication Commission, since they’ve been eradicated for some time now.

There well may be a need for the Boxing and Wrestling Commission, however—especially during Louisiana’s often contentious legislative sessions.

But one has to question the effectiveness of the Child Poverty Prevention Council, given the fact Louisiana has one of the highest childhood poverty rates in the nation.

Then there’s the Drug Abuse Resistance Education (DARE) Advisory Board (and there’re certain places where board members DARE not enter).

But just to cover all the bases, we also have the Drug and Device Distributors Board, The Drug Control and Violent Crime Board, and the Drug Policy Board.

And Louisiana still has a huge drug problem, due in part perhaps to the report on the Louisiana Board of Pharmacy which noted that in 2016, there were 14,628 hydrocodone and oxycodone prescriptions missing from the Prescription Monitoring Program database.

There’s the Emergency Medical Services for Children Advisory Council, the Emergency Medical Services Certification Commission, the Emergency Response Commission, and the Emergency Response Network Board.

And I’m not even going to talk about the Crab Task Force.

I could go on, but in case you didn’t notice, I never even got out of the E’s on the list of boards.

For fiscal year 2018, the myriad boards collectively reported $1.3 million paid in board member per diems, $1.7 million for member salaries and $2.1 million for member travel expenses.

The number of boards and commissions, however, is just one area of concern covered in the 44-page report.

  • The LSU System did not have adequate controls in place over the preparation of its financial statements, resulting in errors of its 2017 financial report;
  • LSU Health Sciences Center (HSC) in Shreveport did not have adequate controls in place over federal, state and private grants and contracts to pursue collection of funds owed to it. The center reported $2 million in uncollected money from 2005 to 2017.
  • For the third consecutive year, the HSC Division (HSCD) and LSU did not have a final, signed agreement for all equipment used by the partner managing the University Medical Center New Orleans. Even though a lease agreement requires supplies and other items purchased by the State to be reimbursed by the private partner, repayment of $8.4 million remains outstanding (this is just one of the results of the Jindal privatization of state hospitals). Additionally, HSCD did not even attempt to collect a $163,544 debt from a contractor and HSCD has still been unable to locate movable property totaling more than $1.6 million associated with Earl K. Long Medical Center.
  • The Office of Juvenile Justice (OJJ) failed to maintain adequate control over its movable property, resulting in unlocated property and the incorrect reporting of an asset valued at $2 billion when the actual cost was $20,664.
  • Five state agencies oversee 78 tax incentives that resulted in the loss of approximately $1.1 billion in revenue in fiscal year 2017. Moreover, auditors found that 25 of the 78 tax incentive reports submitted to the Legislature by March 1, 2018, did not include information on whether the state received a positive return on its investment.
  • The Governor’s Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness (GOHSEP) Public Assistance Programs had $149.6 million in federal reimbursement requests that were not supported by sufficient documentation.
  • Louisiana spent about $5 million on lawsuits involving sexual harassment claims since 2009. State agencies do not have consistent processes in place to conduct reference checks of prospective employees and state law does not mandate training for employees on ways to identify, report and investigate sexual harassment.
  • The Louisiana Department of Health (LDH) did not deposit about $2.8 million into the Medicaid Fraud Fund in accordance with state law. LDH spent $477,000 from the fund in 2017 for salaries that did not appear to contribute to the prevention and detection of Medicaid fraud and abuse and the agency spent $643,000 from the fund in fiscal 2012 for software that was useless because of system compatibility issues.

Additionally, the Legislative Auditor’s office conducted 4,173 audits of local governmental services during 2018, most of those by private auditing firms under contract. “During the 2018 calendar year, local auditee reports contained hundreds of findings related to deficiencies in operations, controls, and compliance with laws and regulations,” the report says. These findings included:

  • Misappropriations and ethics violations;
  • Noncompliance with federal regulations in local governments’ administration of federal programs;
  • Noncompliance with bond covenants or loan agreements;
  • Noncompliance with state laws covering public bids, open meetings, untimely deposits, and late filings of financial statements;
  • Reconciliation of bank accounts;
  • Errors in accounting records;
  • Deficit fund balances.

And yet, precious little is ever heard from these reports. Oh, there is the occasional indictment, accompanied by a glowing, self-congratulatory press release from Attorney General Jeff Landry, but on the whole, zilch.

To paraphrase the quote mistakenly attributed to the late Illinois Senator EVERETT DIRKSEN: A million here and a million there and pretty soon you’re talking about real money.

Maybe the state needs to appoint another board or commission to study the problem of legislative apathy and inaction.

 

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Folks, I’m not going to promise you health, eternal life, or wealth like one-time TV preacher/huckster Rev. BOB TILTON who once sent me a plastic bag with a few grains of sand “from the mountain where I am going to go to pray for you,” (question: if he was “going to go” there, the implication being he hasn’t been yet, how’d he get the sand beforehand?) but I can promise you that I will continue to do my level best to expose political hucksterism when and where I find it if you help support the efforts of LouisianaVoice with your contributions.

I don’t aspire to prey on people’s emotions like JOEL OSTEEN who peddles happiness and self-image in order to induce you to empty your wallet. Nor do I need your donations to help me purchase a $17.5 million jet like KENNETH COPELAND. That’s just not my style.

My style is to rely on the Biblical tenet of comforting the afflicted (Louisiana taxpayers) and afflicting the comfortable (elected and appointed officials who are trying to stick it to the rest of us).

I am currently working with my attorney in setting LouisianaVoice up as a 501(3)(c) non-profit so that your future contributions will be tax deductible. But for now, they ain’t.

Nevertheless, I humbly ask that you help in whatever manner you can, either by clicking on the yellow DONATE button to the right and paying by credit card or by mailing your check to:

LouisianaVoice

P.O. Box 922

Denham Springs, Louisiana 70727

As always, thanks so much for your support.

Tom

 

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The last (and only) Mardi Gras I attended was on Canal Street in 1964. That was quite enough for this north Louisiana country boy not quite yet 21 at the time.

As has become my custom since moving to the Baton Rouge area first in 1973 when I first learned that Mardi Gras was a state holiday, and upon my return in 1981, I will be spending the day in the warm comfort of my home while others partake in the insanity and revelry. I only watch the Denham Springs Mardi Gras parade because it rolls right by my house and I have only to walk 50 feet in order to catch beads that will ultimately find their way into the garbage.

It’s not that I’m a wet blanket (well, maybe I am), but I’ll be working on what I’ve done for the past nine years now: keeping you informed about the miscreants we entrust our state, our parishes and our municipalities to.

There are backroom deals to ferret out, campaign contributions that influence the way our legislators vote, decisions our judges and district attorneys make, audit reports, stories of the minority of law enforcement officials who abuse their authority, and board and commissions that become power mad to the detriment of those whom they regulate.

Chasing down these stories, of course, takes time….and expenses. Purchasing copies of records and legal fees for filing lawsuits when records are not forthcoming, along with the normal daily expenses of travel from one end of this state to the other takes money.

That’s why I approach my readers twice a year for contributions. I skipped last October’s fundraiser but now there is an even more pressing need: I am incurring considerable legal expense in setting LouisianaVoice up as a 501 (3)(c) non-profit. I’m doing that so that the next time I come calling, hat in hand, your contributions will be tax deductible, providing, of course, Mr. Trump and his Republican lap dogs don’t decide to take that deduction away as part of their tax “reform.”

But for now, I need your generosity to come through in order to continue to support the work done by LouisianaVoice. As I said last Friday, you’re not going to agree with everything I write and I hope that you can understand that.

Please click on the yellow “DONATE” button to the right or mail your check to:

LouisianaVoice

P.O. Box 922

Denham Springs, Louisiana 70727

As always, thank you for your support these nine years.

 

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