Candidates ramp up efforts in final month
By Billy gunn
LAFAYETTE — Heading into the final month of the campaign for district attorney, challenger Keith Stutes is pulling in more cash from supporters than incumbent DA Mike Harson, campaign finance disclosures show.
Harson, who has served as the 15th Judicial District’s chief prosecutor since January 1993, received $72,460 from contributors in the period from July 28 to Sept. 25.
Stutes reeled in $114,293 from contributors during the two-month period. Stutes, who retired in early 2014 after years as first assistant district attorney, is giving Harson his first election competition in 20 years.
Monday was the deadline for filing campaign finance figures with state officials. The election is Nov. 4. Early voting runs Oct. 21 to Oct. 28. The 15th Judicial District covers Lafayette, Vermilion and Acadia parishes.
The reports show both men spent heavily in August and September on television ads.
Harson spent over $62,000 with KATC-TV, Lafayette’s ABC affiliate, during the two months. At KLFY, the CBS station in Lafayette, his campaign spent over $60,000, according to records with the state Board of Ethics, which has oversight of political contributions in Louisiana.
Harson, a Democrat, also paid Arsemont Media Group more than $47,000 in consulting fees and other goods during the period.
Stutes’ campaign paid Cox Media, a company owned by cable TV provider Cox Communications, more than $92,000 to buy air time on the local television stations.
Stutes, a Republican, paid political consultant Hilary Castille $18,500 during the two months.
Archive for the ‘Jonesboro’ Category
The first campaign finance reports have been filed in the race for Division A Judge, Second Judicial (Bienville, Claiborne, Jackson Parishes) District.
Homer attorney Ben Bleich shows total receipts of about $43.4 thousand, and disbursements of about $38.4 thousand. About $20 thousand of the receipts are contributions, and the balance – about $23.4 thousand – are in the form of loans from Bleich to his campaign.
Some of the larger contributions are: Shreveport attorney Jack Baily, $1 thousand; Summerfield resident Audie Edwards, $1 thousand; Gamvest Limited Partnership, Shreveport, $1 thousand; Monroe attorney Christian Creed, $1 thousand; Ruston resident Lamar Haddox, $2 thousand; Ruston CPA Radian Hennigan, $1 thousand; and J&R Juneau, LLC, Bossier City, $1 thousand.
Also, Pandy Bleich contributed about $2.5 thousand.
Much of the disbursements are for postage, campaign brochures, t-shirts, and print advertising the area’s weekly newspapers – The Jackson Independent (Jonesboro), The Bienville Democrat (Arcadia), The Claiborne Guardian-Journal (Homer), and the Haynesville News (Haynesville).
See here Bleich’s complete 10/2/14 report.
Incumbent Jenifer Clason shows receipts of $311 thousand, and disbursements of about $62 thousand. The receipts include about $11 thousand in contributions, and a loan from the candidate’s husband to her campaign of $300 thousand.
Among the more significant contributions: Greene Butler, Homer, $2.5 thousand; Colvin Law Firm, Homer, $2.5 thousand; Eric Johnson, Minden, $2.5 thousand; and C. S. Sentell, Jr., Minden, $1 thousand.
Clason reports spending about $9.7 thousand on newspaper ads in the same weekly newspapers as Bleich, and about $4.2 thousand on postage.
There are several significant expenditures for campaign consulting, signs, printing, and material design:
See here Clason’s complete report.
A just-released financial report from the Louisiana Legislative Auditor (LLA) has revealed several significant findings – a negative balance in the town’s funds, alleged criminal activity, and unpaid payroll taxes. There is doubt whether the town can remain a going concern, the report stated.
Condition: During the compilation of the Town of Eros, it was discovered that payroll taxes collected by the Town due to federal and state governmental agencies were not remitted to the agencies in a timely manner. The Town Clerk is responsible for accounting for and remitting the payments and forms to the correct agency on behalf of the employees of the Town of Eros in a timely manner. Inquiries to the Town Clerk and the Mayor were made as to the reason for the delinquency in the tax payments.
Cause: Due to shortage of funds, the town did not submit taxes as required.
Effect: As a fiduciary agent for the employees of the Town of Eros, payments to governmental agencies must be made timely. If payments are not made timely, the Town will be held responsible for payments and any penalties and interest associated with late payment of the taxes.
Condition: During the course of completing our compilation and subsequent to the compilation period end date, we were made aware that the newly appointed Town Clerk was allegedly misappropriating town funds.
Cause: The Town Clerk misappropriated public funds.
Effect: The Town was at risk for fraud from the misappropriation of assets by the Town Clerk. Subsequent to the compilation period, the Town Clerk committed fraud by setting up online automatic withdrawals from the Town bank account and took approximately $1,794. The.Town Clerk also destroyed bank statements that showed the misappropriation of funds.
Condition: As of the year ended December 31, 2013, the Town’s governmental activities current liabilities exceeded its current assets by $10,482, and the Town of Eros showed a decrease in unrestricted net position of $7,390. These factors, as well as the uncertain conditions that the Town faces regarding revenue sources, create uncertainty about the Town’s ability to continue as a going concern.
Cause: The Town must derive all governmental revenues from occupational licenses, franchise fees based on usage, sales taxes, and fines and forfeitures revenues. Although the Town has employed a Police Chief to generate fines and forfeiture revenues, there has been a significant decrease in revenues from fines and forfeitures over the past compilation periods. In addition, the sales tax passed by the residents of the Town of Eros has only generated $755 in general revenues.
Effect: Because of the lack of revenues, the Town could be at risk to be unable to meet its obligations to customers, vendors, and to the residents of the Town.
See here the complete report.
by Leslie Turk
The Harson boys grew up in Lafayette and don’t have much of a relationship today; Kermit did not elaborate on any other conflicts the two may have had. “There’s a lot of other personal stuff, too,” he says. “But that’s between him and I.”
Kermit is particularly disappointed by the pay-for-plea scandal that has plagued the office for 2.5 years (the feds say the bribery scheme went on for four years under Harson’s nose) and resulted in three former employees pleading guilty to accepting bribes. Kermit blames his brother for much of that. “I think [the] DWI [issue] just broke his back,” Kermit says. “He’s got a different outlook on that particular charge compared to the average person,” Kermit says, claiming Mike thinks the penalties for [OWI] are too severe. Kermit tells The IND Mike has made specific statements directly to him about OWI penalties being too harsh.
Evidenced by two campaign signs erected on his properties in Rayne, where Kermit resides, and in Duson, where the brothers share side-by-side tracts of land they inherited, Kermit Harson believes the next six years should belong to Keith Stutes, the retired assistant district attorney who is challenging his former boss on Nov. 4.
Mike Harson issued the following in response to The IND’s questions about why his brother is not supporting him:
“You have just convinced me that you must be on salary with the Stutes campaign. I was aware of the fact that my brother had met with my opponent, and I can’t think of a lot of ways you would have known about him. My brother and I have been estranged for a number of years and anything he says would not be a surprise to me and he is entitled to his own recollection of events which do not agree with mine.
However, I think it is a very definite sign of desperation to dry to drag personal family issues into this campaign and shows a continuing tie-in between your paper and my opponents’ camp.”
This morning candidate for Second Judicial (Bienville, Claiborne, Jackson Parishes) District Attorney Danny Newell responded to our query on whether or not he would have prosecuted the Simmons alleged perjury case.
Good morning Walter. Sorry for the delay in responding.
I have reviewed everything you provided which included the grand jury indictments of Mrs. Simmons and Mr. Jackson as well as Judge Teat’s Reasons for Judgment. I was not provided with a transcript of the testimony of Mrs. Simmons, a transcript of the testimony of Mr. Jackson, the investigative report of law enforcement nor the transcripts/statements made by all the witnesses interviewed by the district attorney’s office. I also do not know if Judge Teat held either of the witnesses in contempt of court for perjury.
Additionally, I have no idea what evidence was presented to the Grand Jury by the district attorney’s office in order to get the indictments. I don’t know if the evidence presented later turned out to be inaccurate or if witnesses became unavailable or changed their testimony. I don’t know what may have changed after the Grand Jury reviewed the case.
In short, I do not have nearly enough information to make a decision to prosecute or not prosecute.
When we receive a response from Chris Bowman, we will also post his reply.
Earlier today, Lincoln Parish News Online (LPNO) submitted the following to Danny Newell and Chris Bowman. Both are candidates for election as District Attorney for the Second Judicial (Bienville, Claiborne, Jackson Parishes), as is incumbent Jonathan Stewart.
The underlying case is an assault case that was tried in his court on 5/8/13, and concerned an assault that occurred at a Town of Jonesboro Board of Alderman meeting on 8/14/12. Teat found the defendant guilty at the bench trial. In the reasons, Teat asserts that two witnesses for the defense perjured themselves during their testimony.
At the 6/12/13 sentencing of the defendant in the assault case, Teat again mentioned the perjury issue. See here our reporting on that hearing: Willie Joseph Sentenced to Jail
Subsequently, a Jackson Parish Grand Jury indicted the two for perjury on 10/17/13.
Last week, your opponent in the race for Second Judicial District Attorney, the incumbent District Attorney Jonathan Stewart (through his assistant Douglas Stokes) filed a motion to drop the charges.
The question Lincoln Parish News Online (LPNO) asks is:
If you were the district attorney, would you have prosecuted the case, or would you have overruled the judgment of the Grand Jury, as did your opponent?
We’ve not submitted the question to Stewart, as his answer is already evident.
Thank you for your prompt reply.
Lincoln Parish News Online
We spoke to both candidates last night, and told them we would be submitting the question. As soon as we receive a reply from each candidate, we will publish it, word-for-word.
Felony perjury charges against Janice Simmons were dropped late last week, sources have told Lincoln Parish News Online (LPNO). A motion was filed on September 18 for Nolle Prosequi (we shall no longer prosecute) in Second Judicial (Bienville, Claiborne, Jackson Parishes) District Court.
The motion was signed by 2nd JD Assistant District Attorney Douglas Stokes, the sources said, and claimed that upon further investigation of the case, it was determined that the charges were “not provable.”
Simmons was indicted by a Jackson Parish Grand Jury last October.
She was alleged to have falsely testified in court that she witnessed an altercation between Willie Joseph and a citizen after a August, 2012 Jonesboro city council meeting. Joseph was at the time on trial for battery against the citizen.
Earlier this year, a scheduled arraignment of Simmons mysteriously disappeared from the court docket.
Simmons was never subsequently arraigned.
Simmons and her husband were at one time close political allies with former Jonesboro mayor Leslie Thompson, who is serving a six year sentence for malfeasance. She and her husband contributed money to Thompson’s election, and could often be seen at Town of Jonesboro council meetings.
By Leslie Turk
In February 2012 Mike Harson experienced what had to be an unimaginably demoralizing incident for any sitting district attorney. The feds showed up at his office to execute search warrants, seizing computers and records on several employees, including Harson’s longtime office administrator, Barna Haynes, and an assistant district attorney, Greg Williams, as part of an investigation into a pay-for-plea scheme involving mostly OWI defendants. Two weeks later Harson put Haynes on unpaid administrative leave; she never returned and is likely going to jail.
Five months later the embarrassment was compounded when Harson’s top assistant DA, Keith Stutes, said he was retiring — in part due to the federal probe and what Stutes himself found after initiating his own internal investigation of the DA’s office amid the bribery allegations (findings he turned over to the attorney general’s office for potential prosecution of Harson on state charges of malfeasance but has never disclosed publicly). Stutes confirmed his impending departure less than a month after successfully negotiating the plea deal that sent Brandon Scott Lavergne to prison for the first-degree murders of Mickey Shunick in May 2012 and Lisa Pate in 1999 — perhaps the most effectively orchestrated prosecution ever handled by the local DA’s office. Stutes, as anyone reading this story knows, later decided to challenge Harson for DA.
So what does Harson do back in 2012? He uses Stutes’ retirement as an “opportunity to reevaluate my salary” and concludes that he deserves a $12,200 raise ($14,000 with benefits).
Yes, he did.
By Richard Burgess
LAFAYETTE — A trial that would have delved into a bribery scandal at the District Attorney’s Office just as District Attorney Mike Harson faced re-election on Nov. 4 has been delayed until December.
Lafayette private investigator Robert Williamson is accused of soliciting cash fees from drivers charged with OWI and then using some of the money to pay off employees of the District Attorney’s Office to secure favorable plea deals.
Five others have already pleaded guilty in the federal probe, including three former employees of the District Attorney’s Office.
Williamson had been set for trial on Oct. 20 in a case that would have played out in the days leading up to the Nov. 4 election.
Harson is being challenged by retired prosecutor Keith Stutes — the incumbent’s first contested election in 20 years.
Harson has not been charged in the federal investigation, but the bribery scandal is an unavoidable campaign issue.
Ex-mayor, CFO had ongoing tensions
By Terry L. Jones
PORT ALLEN — New court filings in the lawsuit Port Allen Chief Financial Officer Audrey McCain lodged against former Mayor Demetric “Deedy” Slaughter reveal some of the behind-the-scenes drama that played out at City Hall before the controversial mayor was ousted from office.
n a motion filed in 8th Judicial District Court, McCain’s attorneys say Slaughter stripped McCain of powers inherent to her position as CFO, such as her authority to manage bank accounts. And as tensions between them rose, they wrote, Slaughter ordered McCain to keep her office door in City Hall open at all times and would send her home for not following orders McCain considered improper, the filings state.
District Judge Alvin Batiste was set to hear arguments in the case on Wednesday but had to delay the court proceedings because of health issues confronting one of Slaughter’s lawyers.
McCain sued Slaughter in February 2013 after Slaughter fired her over accounting deficiencies cited in an annual audit report for the city — a decision later overturned by Batiste. The judge ruled that the mayor lacked authority to dismiss the chief financial officer without City Council approval.
However, allegations that Slaughter’s dismissal of McCain violated the state’s whistleblower law and that the former mayor had defamed McCain and interfered with her day-to-day job duties as CFO caused the legal battle to stretch on for more than a year.
In the motions filed Monday, attorneys for McCain argue that Slaughter took punitive actions against the CFO because McCain would not obey Slaughter’s orders to make certain payments McCain considered improper.
Among other things, they wrote, McCain refused to pay the former mayor $20,000 more than her budgeted salary. McCain also would not reimburse Slaughter for expense reports that the CFO says were erroneously submitted for Slaughter’s trip to Washington, D.C., during the inauguration of President Barack Obama in Jan. 2013. In addition, McCain’s lawyers wrote, McCain disobeyed directives from Slaughter to ignore public records requests from the media.
In filings responding to the claims in McCain’s suit, attorney J. Arthur Smith, who represents the city of Port Allen, wrote that she isn’t entitled to protection under the state’s whistleblower law because the actions McCain took fall within the scope of her job duties as a financial watchdog for the city.
Heather Nolan – NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune
Lee Zurik – WVUE Fox 8 News
The state legislative auditor has agreed to review retirement contributions a former assistant in District Attorney Walter Reed’s office received through an arrangement his private law firm had with the St. Tammany Parish School Board.
E. Pete Adams, the head of the state district attorney’s retirement system, said Wednesday he asked the legislative auditor to look into the payroll practices and retirement contributions of Harry Pastuszek, who retired as a part-time assistant district attorney in Reed’s office in July. Adams confirmed the legislative auditor agreed to review Pastuszek’s retirement benefits.
NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune reported last week that the school board has paid Harry P. Pastuszek Jr. and Associates more than $1.4 million for legal services since 2011.
School board records show that in addition to monthly checks to Pastuszek’s firm, the board sent a separate check to Reed’s office every month that went toward Pastuszek’s public retirement, district spokeswoman Meredith Mendez has said.
A St. Tammany Parish School Board resolution shows Pastuszek’s private law firm – not Pastuszek personally or the district attorney’s office – has been paid for legal services since Nov. 1, 1992.
In a statement Wednesday, Reed said the school board started writing checks directly to Pastuszek’s law firm in 1993.
Pastuszek has not publicly commented on the arrangement.