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The news release by last September said that former Gov. Bobby Jindal had been appointed to the board of directors of by Wellcare Health Plans, Inc., of Tampa, Florida.

Yawn. Ho-hum. Has LouisianaVoice become so desperate for stories that it resurrects a nine-month-old news release?

Well, things have been a little slow of late. Even the recently-adjourned legislative session failed to generate any surprises other than the usual parties, dinners at Baton Rouge’s most expensive restaurants and hobnobbing with lobbyists to the general detriment of constituents, i.e. Louisiana citizens.

But it has long been my contention that when one peels back a few layers from the cover story, one will usually find the real story. After all, a July 2016 LouisianaVoice STORY turned up a link between Jindal and a lucrative state contract for another company that had appointed him to its board.

Accordingly, I went looking a little deeper and YOWSER! Sha-ZAM!

It seems that appointment of Jindal, described in the news release as one “who has dedicated his career to public service and advancing innovative healthcare polices,” appears to have been payback for services rendered while he was governor.

Documents obtained from the Louisiana Department of Health show that CENTENE, a major U.S. health insurer, is the parent company of Louisiana Healthcare Connections, Inc., which was awarded a contract for nearly $1 billion with the Louisiana Department of Hospitals in September 2011, just a month before Jindal’s reelection to a second term.

LHCC Contract 2012

The contract called for Louisiana Healthcare Connections to perform “a broad range of services necessary for the delivery of health care services to Medicaid enrollees…”

That contract was to run from February 1, 2012, through January 31, 2015.

On January 19, 2015, the contract was renewed for another three years, to run through January 31, 2018. The contract amount was increased from the original $926 million to $1.9 billion.

LHCC Contract 2015

But just before Jindal left office, on December 1, 2015, that contract was amended from $1.9 billion to $3.9 billion, perhaps in anticipation that incoming Gov. John Bel Edwards would keep his promise to expand Medicaid under Obamacare—which he did.

In March of this year, USA Today published a STORY that Centene (Louisiana Healthcare Connections parent company, remember) would purchase WellCare Health Plans, Inc. for $17.3 billion.

It would be most interesting to see if Jindal netted a windfall from that transaction, coming as it did only six months after he was named to WellCare Health Plans’ board.

It’s unknown just how long negotiations had been ongoing between Centene and WellCare Health Plans, but the timing does open the door for speculation that the doubling of the Louisiana Healthcare Connections contract, Jindal’s appointment to the WellCare Health Plan board and Centene’s purchase of WellCare are more than coincidental.

To add a little spice to the recipe of Louisiana political gumbo, they’re also a few interesting campaign contributions.

  • On March 11, 2011, just six months before Louisiana Healthcare was awarded that initial contract for $926 million, WellCare of Louisiana, a subsidiary of WellCare Health Plans, contributed $5,000 to Jindal’s reelection campaign.
  • On January 17, 2012, only two weeks before its initial contract took effect, Louisiana Healthcare Connections gave Jindal $5,000.
  • Louisiana Healthcare’s parent company, Centene, gave Jindal $5,000 on January 17, 2012 (the same date as Louisiana Healthcare’s contribution). Centene gave him another $5,000 on November 19, 2012 and still another $5,000 back on August 14, 2008, eight months after Jindal first moved into the governor’s office.
  • Oh, and the New Orleans law firm of McGlinchey Stafford, the registered agent for Louisiana Healthcare, gave Jindal $1,000 on September 23, 2003; $5,000 on October 30, 2003; $5,000 on April 6, 2007, and $5,000 on March 2, 2011.
  • On April 23, 2009, Centene’s then Chairman and CEO Michael Neidorff kicked in $3,000 to Jindal.

It would seem that Bobby Jindal is perfectly willing to skirt a few ethical standards in order to ensure that life after politics can continue to benefit from life while in politics.

So, you see, even the most mundane news release can carry a wealth of information if one is willing to follow a convoluted path to the ultimate source of the money.

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When Ivor van Heerden had the temerity to criticize the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers following the failure of the levees during Hurricane Katrina, LSU was both quick in its decision to can him. Van Heerden’s observations, whether accurate or not (they were), was placing LSU’s quest for federal funding in jeopardy, so he had to go.

When Dr. Randall Schaffer tried to warn the LSU School of Dentistry that a joint replacement device developed by Dr. John Kent, head of the school’s Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery Department, was defective, Schaffer was not only fired by LSU, but his career ruined in the process. Never mind that the device wound up costing the state tens of millions of dollars. He had to go.

I could go on, but instead, I’ll let you read about other examples HERE.

The purpose of all this is not to re-hash well-documented examples of LSU’s propensity for taking a self-serving approach to problem-solving, but to shed some additional light on what may be evidence of a double standard at Louisiana’s flagship university.

First, there was a NEWS REPORT by a Baton Rouge television station indicating that the two principals at University Laboratory School (ULS), secondary principal Frank Rusciano and elementary principal Myra Broussard, had established their own business so that they could be compensated for aftercare programs at the schools for the 2017-2018 school year.

In setting up a system whereby parents could have their credit cards drafted for the after-school program but then did not deposit those funds into the University account to “ensure that they (the principals) would get paid,” a REPORT by the Louisiana Legislative Auditor said. The audit said 63 percent of ULS purchases randomly reviewed by auditors, were for items or services “not typically allowed by University policy…” and that the actions by Rusciano and Broussard appeared to represent “an attempt to circumvent University disapproval and University policy.”

So, just how did LSU and ULS respond to the report?

Well, the two principals were “suspended pending an investigation” and interim Dean Dr. Roland Mitchell said outcomes “are in process and will be completed no later than June 30, 2019.

Wait, what? The story broke on March 18, almost two months ago and Mitchell said the outcomes will be completed “no later than June 30.” That’s almost three-and-one-half months to consider what a state audit has already determined.

Or three-and-one-half months for folks to forget and a determination of no cause of action to be reached.

Remember, van Heerden and Dr. Schaffer got the axe immediately with no due process accorded them. Same thing for Drs. Roxanne Townsend and Fred Cerise. Ditto for John Lombardi and Stephen Guillot.

But wait. The story apparently doesn’t end there.

LouisianaVoice has been told that Mitchell, who oversees the Lab School, and the school’s superintendent, Dr. Amy Westbrook, who oversees the two principals, told the LSU Human Resources manager that the two principals needed to be terminated.

But the same source said that when the Human Resources manager began the process, a telephone call was received from the governor’s office and Gov. John Bel Edwards “asked” that the principals not be fired.

“I voted for Edwards and would like to do so again,” a Lab School parent said. “My kids went to U-High and had a great experience there. I liked the principal a lot. But if this is true, it’s so outrageous that the public needs to know. A lot of well-connected people have their kids at the Lab School, including the Jindals. A lot of them donate to the LSU Foundation and to political campaigns, so the principals at the Lab School have a lot of pull—more than the LSU President in many ways, and certainly more than the Dean of the College of Education or the head of HRM.

“That’s compounded because many of the people involved, like the dean, the HRM, and the Lab School superintendent, are interim because of the many departures LSU has experienced in recent years.

“I, along with many taxpayers, are frustrated about self-dealing by politicians and their friends.”

On Wednesday, I sent an inquiry to both Edwards campaign manager Richard Carbo and to the governor’s press office in which I provided our source’s claim, adding:

“If true, I would like to know why the governor has intervened in what would clearly be an internal matter.

“If not true, has the governor had any contact with officials at LSU on this matter? If so, what was the nature of that contact?

Carbo responded three minutes later:

From: Richard Carbo <richarda.carbo@gmail.com>
Sent: Wednesday, June 5, 2019 3:35 PM
To: Tom Aswell <louisianavoice@outlook.com>
Subject: Re: INQUIRY

Thanks Tom. 

 I’m digging into this and will let you know.

By Saturday, I still had not heard a word from either Carbo or the governor’s press office, so I followed up with another email to Carbo:

From: Tom Aswell
Sent: Saturday, June 8, 2019 8:55 AM
To: ‘richardacarbo@gmail.com’ <richardacarbo@gmail.com>
Subject: RE: INQUIRY

Still waiting.

One-and-one-half hours later, at 10:31 a.m., Carbo responded:

From: Richard Carbo <richarda.carbo@gmail.com>
Sent: Saturday, June 8, 2019 10:31 AM
To: Tom Aswell <louisianavoice@outlook.com>
Cc: richardacarbo@gmail.com
Subject: Re: INQUIRY

The official side should be responding.

Two-and-one-half hours later, there was still no response from the “official side.”

Could it be that the concern of our source about “self-dealing by politicians and their friends” might have been well-placed?

He showed up on his first day on the job at the Louisiana Office of Risk Management in March 1997, moving over from another state agency. I had been working at ORM for a little over six years. He was assigned to a different section than the one in which I worked, but we formed a friendship almost immediately.

John Michael Burch was a 24-year-old ultra-right-wing Reagan conservative and it didn’t take much prodding to elicit an opinion from him. He’d already earned his political stripes as a White House intern (during the administration of President George H.W. Bush, before joining ORM) when he somehow managed to find himself seated next to England’s Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher at dinner. He adored England’s Iron Lady and her politics. He also was a big fan of Barbara Bush, Larry Hagman (TV’s J.R. Ewing).

But John, who died suddenly Sunday night of a heart attack at age 49, was anything but one-dimensional. He’d worked for the state 24 years and was looking forward to retirement. He wanted to retire to Kauai, geologically the oldest of the main Hawaiian Islands. He never made it.

As we get older (I’m 75), we’re constantly mindful of our own mortality. The reminders are there every day: the aches and pains we didn’t have 20 years ago; the pill organizers we have to use to keep track of our medications; the energy kids have today that we once had, and the most painful of all, the young ladies who insist on calling you “sir.”

But John was young, a man in his prime eagerly contemplating a retirement in a virtual Eden. He was too young to be ripped from our midst.

Asked how he was, he would invariably respond, more than a little cynically, “It’s a beautiful day in the neighborhood.” He left ORM after a few years and moved up to the Division of Administration where he worked on agency budgets, first for the Department of Corrections, which was frustrating enough, and then the Department of Education, which he found to be maddening.

John would never leak a story to me—or anyone else. He took his job seriously and refused to be drawn into undermining his bosses. But that didn’t mean he would not reveal his personal feelings about his first boss, Commissioner of Administration Kristy Nichols (“never showed up in the office until about 11 a.m., terrible boss.”) and then current Commissioner Jay Dardenne (“Extremely hard-working. No matter how early I got to the office, he was already there working. A completely different work ethic from Nichols.”).

He also had complete disdain for former Angola Warden Burl Cain and Superintendent of Education John White and did reveal to me that Angola was corrupt “from top to bottom” long before the Baton Rouge Advocate did a stellar job of showing just how corrupt. If I didn’t know John Burch better, I’d swear he was a source for their stories—except I know he wasn’t.

About Senate President John Alario (R-Westwego), John said he was probably the most capable lawmaker in the entire legislature and State Sen. Francis Thompson (D-Delhi) was “sneaky smart. Don’t ever make the mistake of underestimating him.” For most of the rest of the legislature, he had almost universal contempt, which of course, he had to keep concealed because of the necessity of working with legislators on budgetary matters.

His love affair with the Republican Party ended with Bobby Jindal. Disgusted with the direction the party had taken, he became in independent, confiding in me that the Republicans no longer stood for anything but themselves.

John, however, had a wonderful sense of humor, which I believe drew the two of us together as friends. I was puttering around with stand-up comedy at a local comedy club and he would drop in from time to time. But it was at coffee breaks and lunches, first in the old Education Building and later in our new headquarters, the Claiborne Building, that his humor shone through.

Once during lunch in the Claiborne Building, there were several of us at a table when I looked up and saw a woman walk in with painted-on eyebrows that arched far too high onto her forehead. “She’s either very surprised or paying really close attention to somebody,” I observed. If he’d had milk in his mouth at the time, I believe he’d have squirted it out his nose, he was laughing so hard.

But the line that kept him laughing for years occurred a few years earlier in the old Education Building. There were more than a dozen men who took our morning break together and sat together in the break area. One of those was a real blowhard who loved boasting of his own (imagined) importance. I’ll call him Sam, but anyone who was there that day will know exactly who I’m writing about. He claimed to be a member of the Hammond Country Club and any time anyone would mention any prominent person from Hammond, his automatic response would be, “Yeah, he always sits at my table when we have a function at the country club.”

One day, I brought up the name of a Hammond attorney who attended a comedy show I promoted in Hammond. “Yeah,” said Sam, right on cue, “he always sits at my table when we have a function at the country club.”

I looked at Sam and before I could even think better of it, said, “Sam, just how many tables do you wait on, anyway?”

Sam, by way of further description, once dyed his graying hair jet black with liquid shoe polish for his upcoming high school reunion. Problem was, the dye started running all down his neck at work, prompting even more running jokes (no pun intended) about Sam from everyone, including John. No one, after all, was exempt from his biting humor.

He also got a good laugh at my expense when I told him about a luncheon I attended at Texas A&M at which George Bush the First was guest speaker. Spotting a white-haired lady sitting down front when the event ended, I rushed down and asked if she would pose in a photo with me, which she graciously did. Back home, I called my wife into my office to show her the picture of me and Barbara Bush. She took one look and said, “That’s not Barbara Bush.” It wasn’t. I’d approached her from behind and never really looked at her face. I’m sure she wonder who the hell I was. John loved that story.

He idolized comedian Don Rickles. From time to time, I’d send him a link to a Rickles clip and he always responded the same way: by reminding me once again that there was no one funnier.

But John had a softer side, too. When I was placed on administrative leave, effectively convincing me it was time to retire, because I’d started publishing LouisianaVoice, it was John who was first to call me at home to offer condolences. When I had a book signing for my book Louisiana Rocks, John was first in line to get his copy.

When he emailed me that I’d “really stepped in it this time” after I’d written on a Friday that State Police Superintendent Mike Edmonson would be retiring because of the controversy over the infamous San Diego trip, he was just as prompt to write, “Don’t gloat too much” the next week when Edmonson did, in fact, announce his retirement.

Visitation will be from 9 a.m. to 12 Friday at Seale Funeral Home in Denham Springs with services at n 12. Burial will be at St. Margaret Catholic Cemetery in Albany.

We will miss John’s acerbic sense of humor. We will miss his keen political observations. We will miss his work ethic. We will miss his loyalty and his friendship.

But most of all, we will miss John Michael Burch.

 

Without getting into an overall critique of the Trump administration (I am already on record as to my feelings about him, so no need to repeat myself), I nevertheless feel compelled to address an issue that has arisen in recent days.

The Trump Justice Department, at his direction, is exploring the possibility of PARDONING military personnel convicted of war crimes in the Mideast, including SEAL Chief Edward Gallagher, Green Beret Major Matthew Golsteyn, a former Blackwater contractor and others.

Trump took up the matter supposedly after FAUX NEWS host ROGER HEGSETH repeatedly urged him to take the action.

No doubt such a move would get the approval of National Security Adviser John Bolton.

Setting policy on the advice of news reporters (and that includes ALL pundits whose job it is to report news, not make it) is bad enough, but this proposed action is ill-advised on so many levels that even U.S. military veterans are DISGUSTED by the very thought.

A former platoon leader in Iraq has also weighed in on the debate in a WASHINGTON POST story. And please, even if you agree with Trump about the Post, try to put those feelings aside and think about what is considered acceptable and unacceptable in the manner in which civilians are to be treated in wartime. This is an issue that transcends—should transcend—politics.

To issue pardons would send the wrong message about what this country stands for.

We are not Nazi Germany.

We are not Japanese soldiers slaughtering American GIs on the Bataan peninsula.

We’re better than that. At least, we’re supposed to be.

There’s another reason for opposing this insane line of action:

To uphold the heroics and to honor the memory of Hugh Thompson.

Born in Atlanta, Georgia in 1943, Hugh Thompson was the Army warrant officer who flew helicopters in Vietnam.

After the war, he settled in Lafayette, Louisiana, and flew ‘copters for Petroleum Helicopters, Inc. (PHI). He died of cancer in January 2006 in the VA Hospital in Pineville.

If you read nothing else in your life, read THIS ACCOUNT of The Forgotten Hero of My Lai and then decide for yourself if pardons are a good idea for war criminals.

If you don’t recognize his name, perhaps you’ll remember the name of LT. WILLIAM CALLEY.

The two men crossed paths on March 16, 1968, in what has become one of the darkest chapters of an ill-advised war that had no victors, only survivors.

Thompson happened upon the mass slaughter of Vietnamese civilians by Charlie Company of the U.S. Army’s 1st Platoon. He landed his helicopter and the following exchange took place between him and platoon commander Calley:

Thompson: What’s going on here, Lieutenant?

Calley: This is my business.

Thompson: What is this?

Who are these people?

Calley: Just following orders.

Thompson: Orders?

Whose orders?

Calley: Just following…

Thompson: But these are human beings, unarmed civilians, sir.

Calley: Look Thompson, this is my show. I’m in charge here. It ain’t your concern.

Thompson: Yeah, great job.

Calley: You better get back in that chopper and mind your own business.

Thompson: You ain’t heard the last of this!

Thompson subsequently left but returned and set his helicopter down between fleeing Vietnamese civilians and the pursuing Americans. He instructed his door gunners Specialists Lawrence Colburn and Glenn Andreotta to train their M-60 machine guns on the Americans and to cover him. “If these bastards open up on me or these people, you open up on them.”

His actions not only save the lives of 11 civilians at the scene, but when he reported the incident upon his return to base, his commander ordered Charlie Company to “knock off the killing.” His actions saved the lives of hundreds more Vietnamese.

So, was Thompson recognized as a war hero?

Nope. He was pilloried by members of the House Armed Services Committee, especially so by committee Chairman Mendel Rivers (D-S.C.), who actually proclaimed that Thompson was the only soldier at My Lai who should be punished and then attempted to have him court martialed. All the committee was interested in was covering up a massacre by American troops.

As Thompson told Calley, great job. Rep. Rivers and your fellow committee members

Thompson began receiving hate mail, death threats and mutilated animals on his doorstep.

It wasn’t until precisely 30 years later that Thompson, Andreotta and Colburn were awarded the Soldier’s Medal (Andreotta posthumously), the Army’s highest award for bravery not involving direct contact with the enemy. “It was the ability to do the right thing even at the risk of their personal safety that guided these soldiers to do what they did,” then-Major General Michael Ackerman said at the 1998 ceremony.

Calley, for his part, was eventually charged with the premeditated MURDER of 109 Vietnamese civilians. As it turned out, he was the ONLY ONE found guilty of murdering 22 civilians and sentenced to life imprisonment, a sentence that was reduced first to 20 years and then to 10 by the Secretary of the Army. He was paroled by Nixon in 1974 after serving only about three years.

Incredibly, he was considered by much of the public as a scapegoat in the entire affair.

Incredibly, National Security Adviser BOLTON for years has campaigned to convince other countries to sign the Article 98 agreements which says that the countries would not cooperate with the world court in the prosecution of American military personnel at the expense of American foreign aid if they did cooperate.

The Nazis would’ve loved to have had Bolton as their advocate at the NUREMBERG TRIALS.

And just so you know, Bolton, the quintessential war-monger who is constantly rattling swords, like Trump, was in reality, a DRAFT-DODGER during the Vietnam War, even writing in his Yale 25th reunion book, “I confess I had no desire to die in a Southeast Asian rice paddy. I considered the war in Vietnam already lost.” So, to him, it’s okay to send others to die for his political ambitions so long as he doesn’t have to answer the bell himself.

That would qualify him as a chicken hawk.

But I digress. To pardon these war criminals would be to dishonor the courage of Hugh Thompson and his two gunners, Lawrence Colburn and Glenn Andreotta.

They deserve better.

In the immortal words of Pogo: “We have met the enemy and he is us.”

When the State of Louisiana VOIDED A FLOOD-RECOVERY CONTRACT with Hunt Guillot and Associates (HGA) earlier this month because of a conflict of interest, it wasn’t the Ruston firm’s first brush with state ethics laws.

Paula Tregre, the state’s chief procurement officer whose office oversees the bid review process, voided the $10 million federal-funded contract after finding what she described as several flaws in the contract award. One of those “flaws” was HGA’s intention to use a subcontractor with a couple of employees who had “obvious” conflicts of interest.

One of those employees, Stacy Bonnaffons, served as a contract employee with Restore Louisiana, the state’s disaster recovery agency established to help victims of widespread 2016 flooding in Louisiana.

Tregre said Bonnaffons, listed by HGA as one of its “three most relevant key staff,” appeared to have supervisory authority over one of the bid evaluators.

Bonnaffons, Tregre said, performed contract work and served at one point as interim chief of staff to the Office of Community Development, which Tregre said gave her internal access to information about the Restore Louisiana program and was involved in revising plans that “became integral components” of the bid solicitation for the contract which was ultimately awarded to HGA.

Following the awarding of the contract, a formal protest was filed by losing bidder Hammerman and Gainer (HGI).

Besides its headquarters in Ruston, HGA also has offices in Shreveport, Lake Charles, Baton Rouge and New Orleans.

Questions about the company’s cozy relationship with the state first surfaced way back in 2011 when the Louisiana Board of Ethics gave a thumbs-up on HGA partner JAY GUILLOT to serve on the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE) from the 5th District while the firm simultaneously held $17 million in state contracts.

LouisianaVoice initiated an inquiry with the ethics board on Nov. 2, 2011, as to the legality of Guillot’s serving on a state board while his firm held the contract with the Office of Community Development (OCD) for recovery efforts from Hurricanes Katrina, Rita, Ike, and Gustav.

That’s when it was first learned that one must have some type of official capacity to have an inquiry recognized by the ethics board.

The board ruled that LouisianaVoiceHAD NO LEGAL STANDING” to request a ruling.

Translation: Louisiana taxpayers are insignificant and powerless to hold public officials and state contractors accountable to state ethics laws. Those laws are only for contractors and elected and appointed officials, thank you very much.

That’s when the damage Bobby Jindal’s “gold standard” of ethics had done to the state really came into sharp focus.

But that wasn’t the end of the HGA ethics questions.

Three years later, LouisianaVoice revealed that HGA had received $1.58 million for work for the RECOVERY SCHOOL DISTRICT AND 12 INDIVIDUAL PARISH SCHOOL BOARDS.

The Department of Education has responsibility for the oversight of RSD and cannot be considered separate entities for purposes of say, a lawsuit against the RSD. At the same time, BESE is the governing authority over DOE, thereby creating a straight line of authority between BESE and the RSD as well as the dozen school boards for whom HGA also performed work.

Section 1113 of The Louisiana Code of Governmental Ethics prohibits public servants and their family members from entering into certain transaction. That section says:

  • “No elected official or public employee or member of such public servant’s immediate family, or legal entity in which he has a controlling interest shall bid on or enter into any contract, subcontract, or other transaction that is under the supervision or jurisdiction of the public servant’s agency.”

As might be expected when there is so much money to be made off the suffering of Louisiana citizens, HGA has appealed the action. The firm’s legal counsel, Loretta Mince, said Tregre had “no authority” to ignore an April ruling by the ethics board which she said cleared Bonnaffons and another subcontractor employee to perform the contract work.

Mince said Bonnaffons had no input into “drafting specifications, working on the invitation for bids or exercising any influence on the evaluators.”

Because Bonnaffons does not have a controlling interest in HGA, the matter is likely to evolve into a protracted legal battle.

That appeal goes to Commissioner of Administration Jay Dardenne and his decision, whichever way he rules, is likely to make its way into the courts.