New Orleans police may have a new lead in the decade-old unsolved murder of Covington businessman Bruce Cucchiara in the parking lot of a New Orleans East apartment complex while he was looking at potential real estate investment property.

Or do they?

A NOPD bulletin, issued in November but which surfaced only recently, has revealed that the department is seeking the whereabouts of a Baton Rouge couple described as “persons of interest” in the cold case of Cucchiara’s murder, which occurred in April 2012.

Police are seeking the whereabouts of Richard Chambers, 31, and Joyce Whitfield, 64, in the belief that they may have knowledge vital to the investigation. The COUPLE is believed to be in the Baton Rouge area.

The problem is that police are aware that Cucchiara’s cell phone was found in Whitfield’s possession just weeks after Cucchiara’s murder and Chambers fits the description police have of the man who shot Cucchiara so it’s not like the names of Chambers and Whitfield have only recently come to investigators’ attention.

A former law enforcement official familiar with the case noted that the terms “person of interest” and “suspect” are synonymous. “To me, a person of interest once meant a beautiful woman. Today, it’s just a nice synonym for suspect.

“If [Whitfield] was found with his cell phone shortly after his murder, that makes her a suspect,” he said. “If she bought the phone from someone, she’s subject to being charged with possession of stolen property and should be able to give a description, if not a name, of the person who sold the phone to her.”

In August 2015, a little more than three years after Cucchiara’s murder, Richard Chambers, Sr., 68, of LaPlace and a former deputy commissioner of the Louisiana Department of Insurance, was SENTENCED to 30 months in prison, fined $10,500, and ordered to forfeit $11,241 after he pleaded guilty to racketeering charges in connection with his position with the state.

It was not immediately clear if the two Richard Chambers are related.

A $27,500 reward for information leading to the capture of Cucchiara’s killer(s) was posted shortly after his April 24 murder in 2012.

One person whose name keeps SURFACING in the investigation is Cucchiara’s business associate Jared Caruso-Riecke, who was holding a $5 million life insurance policy on Cucchiara at the time of his death. Caruso-Riecke, who is a member of the State Police Commission – appointed by Gov. John Bel Edwards – sued New York Life Insurance Co. on Aug. 7, less than four months after Cucchiara’s death to obtain the benefits of the insurance policy even though investigators had not cleared him as being implicated in the killing. Caruso-Riecke filed his suit in Baton Rouge’s Middle District of U.S. Federal Court instead of New Orleans which normally would have been the proper venue for a St. Tammany Parish resident.

Jared-Riecke has been embroiled in a number of legal conflicts and has business ties to known ORGANIZED CRIME FIGURES, including Dudley Geigerman, III, grandson of Dudley Geigerman Sr., who was New York Mafia leader Frank Costello’s brother-in-law and who worked as collector for Costello’s slot machines throughout Louisiana. Geigerman, in turn, was partners with convicted organized crime figure Anthony Tusa in several St. Tammany and Jefferson Parish adult entertainment/video stores.

Louisiana’s streets, roads, and highways are a disgrace. And we’re slipping.

The Annual Highway Report, compiled by Reason Foundation and released last November, ranks Louisiana as having the 16th worst system of roads in the nation, down from 20th worst just two years ago.

The REASON FOUNDATION, a libertarian-leaning organization, employs journalism and public policy research to “develop frameworks and actions of policymakers, journalists, and opinion leaders,” according to its web page.

While the foundation ranks Louisiana 35th overall, there are five individual categories in which the state ranks among the 10 worst in the nation:

  • Urban interstate pavement condition: 49th.
  • Rural interstate pavement condition: 43rd.
  • Rural arterial pavement condition: 44th.
  • Structurally deficient bridges: 45th.
  • Overall fatality rate: 43rd.

But hey, we don’t need a SURVEY  to know our roads are in pitiful condition. If you do any driving at all, you’ve played the pothole-dodge game. It doesn’t matter if you’re on a residential street or one of our six interstate highways (a small section of I-59 runs through the extreme eastern toe of the state), you’ve encountered potholes.

Another problem is when repair work is done on potholes, the work is generally sloppy and doesn’t really solve the problem. I watched a crew repairing a street in Denham Springs with hot mix, which is supposed to be rolled with a PAVEMENT ROLLING MACHINE to pack down the asphalt properly. This crew was tamping it down with the shovel part of a FRONT-END LOADER. Wrong tool for the wrong job.

The 10 worst contains some surprises:

  • New Jersey: the worst.
  • Rhode Island: 2nd worst.
  • Alaska: 3rd worst.
  • Hawaii: 4th worst.
  • New York: 5th worst.
  • California: 6th worst.
  • Delaware: 7th worst.
  • Massachusetts: 8th worst.
  • Washington: 9th worst.
  • Florida: 10th worst.

Then came Illinois (11th worst), Pennsylvania (12th worst), and Maryland (13th worst), Colorado 14th worst), Oklahoma (15th worst), and Louisiana.

So, where do Louisiana’s nearest neighbors rank? That, too, might surprise you unless you do a lot of driving in those states. Mississippi, Texas, and Arkansas have the 15th, 16th, and 17th best highway systems in the nation, respectively. Georgia is 14th best but sandwiched in between Georgia and Mississippi is Alabama, whose roadways are ranked 28th best (or 23rd worst, depending upon your perspective).

That begs the obvious question of which state has the best roads? That distinction belongs on none other than North Dakota, followed by Virginia (2nd), Missouri (3rd) Kentucky (one of our poorest states, ranked 4th best in roads), and North Carolina (5th).

The Reason Foundation’s survey raises a few other questions when taking a closer look at the Louisiana ranks.

We rank 15th in the nation in total disbursements per mile, 12th in capital and bridge disbursements per mile, and 7th in administrative disbursements per mile.

If we’re spending all that money on capital and bridge, administrative and overall disbursements, just where the hell is all that money going?

Could it possibly be that we’re not getting all we’re paying for?

A little history might suggest just that. Remember the case of JEFF MERCER, who claimed way back in 2014 that he was denied payment for work he performed because he resisted SHAKEDOWN attempts by a DOTD inspector?

A state just doesn’t rank that high in expenditures on road and highway construction and maintenance and rank as low as it does in road and highway conditions without an extraordinary amount of waste – or worse.

So, while we continue to complain about urbanized area congestion (which, incidentally, we are ranked 21st worst in the nation), the money is being doled out to someone for something but Louisiana motorists are seeing little evidence of those expenditures.

When that kind of money is spent and these kinds of roads are the result, IT JUST DON’T ADD UP.

Meanwhile, yet another study is taking place about the feasibility of constructing a new bridge over the Mississippi River to relieve congestion in Baton Rouge. In 2019, it was announced that the potential sites for the bridge had been narrowed down to FIVE . That certainly made the study less expensive.

But wait. This past November, it was announced that the number of POTENTIAL SITES had jumped to 17, which made the study both more complex and expensive.

Last January, it was announced that the decision on a location – not construction or even the awarding of a contract, but a LOCATION – could be four years away.

Despite its high ranking in expenditures, the foundation suggests that the state could “direct more resources toward its highway system,” adding that Louisiana “is one of the few that spends relatively little and has very poor system conditions.” It was unclear how Louisiana could rank so high in expenditures while the foundation was saying it spends “relatively little” on roads and highways.

“Louisiana could examine how Arkansas and Mississippi are able to get better quality highways and bridges at an equivalent cost,” the report said. “The state may also need to add resources to improve its system.”

The Reason Foundation’s report pretty much summed up the condition of Louisiana roads and highways in saying, “The state’s pavement quality and percentage of structurally deficient bridges are disproportionately bad and the biggest driver of its poor overall rankings. While not every highway can be free of potholes, Louisiana has twice as much urban interstate pavement in poor condition as Arkansas and four times as much as Mississippi.”

For a state whose unofficial motto is “At Least We’re Not Mississippi,” that’s pretty embarrassing.

As the clock winds down to yet another Christmas, my 78th, I got to reflecting on how much events in general and attitudes in particular have changed our perspectives over the past five years, especially the past two.

Most of all what they have done to lifelong friendships.

A president came along whose biggest achievement was to create such a polarizing force that he divided this country right down the middle – even to the point of debating the validity of concern over a virus that now has taken 800,000 American lives. (to bring that number into focus, it’s 100,000 more than the number of Americans who died in the great flu epidemic of a century ago, when there was no penicillin to fight the illness. It’s nearly 14 times as many American lives as the 58,000 we lost in Vietnam, 15 times as many as our combat deaths in World War I, and twice as many as the number of Americans who died in World War II)

Still, the debate rages between maskers and anti-maskers, between vaxxers and anti-vaxxers, between Trumpers and anti-Trumpers.

I have a friend (I’ll call him Ron, though that’s not his real name) who is very dear to me. We go back decades to when we played baseball together and when we got too old, too fat and too slow for that, slo-pitch softball. He was my best man and I was in his wedding a month later. Together, our marriages have endured 106 years – 53 years each.

He is an avid Trump supporter. I detest the man and all he stands for. Ron is a devout Christian, which poses all sorts of questions from my viewpoint as to how he could possibly support the man, who is anathematic to everything sacred and holy.

I, on the other hand, am not nearly so devout that I don’t sometimes question my faith. Yet, at the same time, I know in my heart of hearts that I am far more charitable, forgiving and understanding than Donald Trump could ever even claim to be.

Yes, I know that is pride talking and pride is supposed to be a sin. At least that’s what we’re told by our Methodist minister. Yet, we are also told to be proud of being American – and I am. So, yes, I am conflicted, just like anyone else who listens earnestly to both sides of an argument. I know I should not be judgmental. But I know I am – just like every other mortal being.

Both Ron and I are stubborn and we know we aren’t going to change the other’s mind. To resolve our political differences, we agreed not to debate. We didn’t want our beliefs to ruin a friendship the way relationships were being torpedoed across the landscape of this nation over Trump vs. anti-Trump. It just wasn’t worth destroying a friendship, we told each other, so we agreed to abstain from discussing politics altogether.

Until last July, when Ron broached the subject in one of our conversations. I fell for it and allowed myself to get pulled into a meaningless, endless debate that was certain to have but one outcome: a damaged friendship.

Ron’s calls to me came to an abrupt halt.

He’ll get over it, I figured.

But then Hurricane Ida passed almost directly over our home in Denham Springs. Houses of my neighbors were heavily damaged or even destroyed.

Well, Ron will call to see if we’re okay, I told myself.

Silence. Crickets chirping in the background.

It’s been nearly four months since Ida visited and Ron still has maintained his silence and I mine. He’s to blame and I’m to blame. Two men, allowing foolish pride to come between them – all because of petty political differences.

In a way, it’s a microcosm of what’s happened to this country. We’re split right down the middle, friend aligned against friend, family member squared off against family member. One faction screaming for the heads of Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer and the other faction demanding the indictment of the entire Trump clan. Republican vs. Democrat, liberal vs. conservative, black vs. white, with browns caught in the middle – and all of it forcing us indoors to escape a pandemic that is real or a hoax, that has claimed 800,000 lives or is no worse than the flu.

It’s Christmas, a time for reflection, a time for giving. That’s what the traditionalists tell us.

So, with that in mind, I’m taking the first step and maybe, just maybe, it can be that very tiny first step toward reconciliation for this entire crazy, mixed-up country we call America. Maybe not, but damnit it’s worth a try.

I’m calling Ron today.

Well, the Republicans’ morbid fear of something called critical race theory (CRT) being taught to impressionable children in our public schools has finally come to Louisiana. And, predictably, our educational leaders have shown the requisite invertebrate characteristics necessary to placate those who would teach the sugar-coated versions of history as opposed to the hard, often ugly truth.

State Superintendent of Education CADE BRUMLEY was quoted in the Baton Rouge Advocate Saturday as saying he was opposed to “anything resembling critical race theory.” He said, “We have to make sure that no standards open the door for any form of indoctrination of our public school children.”

Really? No indoctrination? But make sure the say the Pledge of Allegiance every morning before classes commence.

I have nothing against the Pledge of Allegiance. I’ve recited it hundreds of times myself, but requiring it of school children without explaining what it means is in itself a form of indoctrination. For instance, are children told that the Pledge is of allegiance to the United States flag and not to a certain president, whoever he may be at the moment?

Are they told that their allegiance is not to 535 members of self-serving members of Congress, but to our nation and to our democratic republic form of government? Are they even told the difference between a democracy, a republic and a democratic republic?

Are our children really ever educated as to the meaning of the Bill of Rights? Or are they just taught the Second Amendment?

Are children taught that the First Amendment gives them the right – responsibility, even – to question actions taken by our government? If they were, the disastrous Vietnam War may have come under earlier scrutiny and perhaps a few thousand American lives might have been saved.

Brumley says CRT is “anything that prompts discussions to be viewed simply around the lens of race.”

And there you have it. The real reason for the gnashing of teeth and wringing of hands. We just can’t discuss race because it might open some old, ugly wounds and we can’t have that. Instead, let’s just pretend that slavery never occurred, lynchings were no more than bad dreams and turning dogs loose on black protesters in Birmingham was just a prank.

Why would we want to dwell on the COLFAX MASSACRE of 1873? Hell, it was just a minor disagreement where three whites and 150 blacks died. A book, The Day Freedom Died, by Charles Lane, explores the tragic event that is very much a part of the history of this state but Brumley obviously would not have that ever mentioned in a Louisiana classroom.

Likewise, a book entitled The Thibodaux Massacre by John DeSantis (I assume no relation to the Florida governor) tells us of that event that occurred in 1877, just four years after the Colfax killings. The DeSantis book details how 10,000 black sugar cane growers, dissatisfied with their pay ($1.25 per day), went on STRIKE. The strike affected four parishes: Lafourche, Terrebonne, St. Mary and Assumption. An all-white state militia was turned loose on the strikers by order of the governor, no less, and before it was over, about 60 people were dead, with many of the strikers’ bodies being dumped in unmarked graves. Survivors hid in the swamps as the killings spread from plantation to plantation.

I was never taught about Colfax or Thibodaux in my eighth-grade Louisiana History class and neither were you and neither will anyone else, according to Brumley or any number of Republican legislators who are obviously calling the shots with the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education.

I knew nothing about Solomon Northup until I saw the riveting movie 12 YEARS A SLAVE, which told of an educated black man from New York who was drugged and sold into slavery on several Louisiana plantations, including ones near Cheneyville and Vacherie. Much of the award-winning movie was filmed on locations in Louisiana.

That story and the shooting of the movie in Louisiana is part of our state’s history. Instead of learning about Solomon Northup, or Colfax or Thibodaux, our students will learn all about passage of the Right to Work law in 1974. It dealt a critical blow, after all, to organized labor in Louisiana which meant more profits for members of the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry (LABI).

Students will not learn that Louisiana was one of the very first states to implement the concept of prisoner work release, which led to the growth in size and population of prisons like the Louisiana State Prison at Angola. It was southern plantation owners’ answer to the abolition of slavery.

Prisoners would be hired out to private business for cheap labor. That of course, led to the need for more prisoners and the natural pool of potential labor was found in the newly-unemployed black population. So, more laws were needed for more convictions so there could be more prisoners to be leased to private business, mainly plantation owners. Prison work-release programs quickly spread throughout the South and the practice remains in place today and indeed, has morphed into a prosperous business for private prisons. And our legislature is accommodating the need to keep the process up and running by passing more restrictive laws so more prisoners may be fed into the system.

But you will never see that taught in history classes because Brumley and legislators like State Rep. RAY GAROFALO (R-Chalmette), who at one time chaired the Louisiana House Education Committee, believe that Louisiana schools should teach the “GOOD” aspects of slavery. Honest, he said that.

There will be those from Colfax and Grant Parish, as well as those from Thibodaux in Lafourche Parish, who may feel compelled to offer their own description of events in those two parishes and that’s fine. They’re welcome to do so. I make no effort to provide my own version of the facts. I certainly wasn’t in either place when the shooting started.

I was never taught about the horrid killings that took place in both locationss and therein lies the problem. I never even knew they took place until I was an old, retired geezer.

Let’s not hide the truth from our children. We can’t protect them from everything. After all, your kids have access to the Internet so they have already seen a lot more carnage and graphic sex than you realize. And they have cameras on their phones and the ability to text pictures to each other.

They’re certainly up to taking a little real history.

You have to ask who the real child is in this scenario.

Editor’s note: The following essay was penned by Tony Guarisco and he graciously consented to my re-posting it full on LouisianaVoice. Tony provides interesting insights into how LSU managed to buy out one coach’s contract and commit itself to another that when combined total more than $100 million.

By Tony Guarisco

It was “wheels-up” in South Bend as “Viper One” lifted into the cold Indiana air. Aboard were LSU administration and athletic officials represented by its President, athletic director, and his assistant.

Their cargo was a 60-year-old football coach and his family. They were on a “Flight of Sighs” to the seamy side. His forsaken “Fighting Irish” football team are left to those he left behind. At least two of his staff followed him.

Brian Kelly had to wrestle with the reason for his change of heart – was it the challenge of sport or the siren of lucre? The sunrise view of “Our Lady’s” golden dome from the vantage point of his new home would be gone forever. Looking down, he could see his former campus and the iconic figure of “Touchdown Jesus” holding its arms at half-measure saying, “I tried to tell you!”

The Brinks truck that carted seventeen million dollars for the outgoing coach to Destin is returned to Baton Rouge with a larger $100,000,000 haul for the next guy. From where does all this money come?

 Private money funds LSU athletics!

It is a myth that “no public money” is being used for LSU athletics. It’s past time to put the quietus on that bromide. The truth is that it is almost all “public money!”  

Donations to the 501(c)3 Tiger Athletic Foundation (TAF) are the coins of the realm. Federal tax deductions fund sports entertainment at the university. For example, money destined for the common good is diverted to the TAF through federal tax write-offs. This is called “supplanting.”

As for season ticket holders, Tiger Stadium is truly “Death Valley” As a precondition to buying a ticket, fans must “donate “a fee to the Foundation for the right. -a clever, but questionable legal subterfuge. The administration is complicit in this dubious scheme. 

LSU is rife with allegations of Title IX violations of sex and abuse scandals committed by its male athletes. The fired coach had multiple allegations of dismissing and hiding Title IX misconduct. He was never held accountable, except for losing too many games. His “buy-out” was paid with tax- deductible taxpayer money.

The LSU Board of Supervisors “Rubber-stamped the new hiring contracts. A clause intertwining the coach and athletic director contracts was approved without serious scrutiny.

If the donations become scarce, is the State liable to make up the difference from its treasury? Should a fiscal note be attached to the agreement, or does the Joint Legislative Committee on the Budget require prior approval? Will an annual audit be conducted? How much, if any public funds, might be in jeopardy?

 Who cares about any of this? It’s all free money!

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