Archive for May, 2016

Caddo Commission Update

05/31/2016

May 30, 2016

Edward Teller, the physicist best known as “the father of the hydrogen bomb,” knew a lot about official secrecy. His work on the Manhattan Project fascinated me as a teen, as did details of how that World War II effort at the Los Alamos National Laboratory was kept secret. Years later, and in a broader context, he made a point I have never forgotten …

… “Secrecy, once accepted, becomes an addiction.”

Given that we in Caddo Parish live in a time and place of government of, by and for government, we the people be damned, secrecy has become a disease. As it runs that government, the Caddo Parish Commission puts on a non-stop clinic in its use.

The primary crop planted for years by many at the Commission is abuse of taxpayers through illegal self-pay. It is a crop nurtured by official secrecy. Whether the old or “new” Commission, members and other bosses routinely devise, employ, and demonstrate an array of hidden, illicit practices to enrich themselves. Two crucially important examples now stand out.

1. A heavy dependence on bogus “executive sessions.”

Anytime they wish and thus vote, commissioners move their supposedly public meetings into a very non-public “executive session.” There, secrecy – and the typically resulting malfeasance – rules.

Specific laws exist to greatly limit what can be discussed in these funerals for good government, but their very nature means honest brokers are virtually never in the room. Zero official accountability is the goal … and near-guaranteed result.

The Caddo Commission’s most recent such attack on citizen protections was a recent session held to make sure their fix stays in on “CPERS” and other illegal commissioner self-pay (related article here).

But, for the first time in our battle against the Commission, multiple sources in attendance spoke with me afterward. We therefore know the session was run by attorney Tom Arceneaux, one of five staff or outside attorneys who are working to preserve the illegal “CPERS” take by many commissioners and top staff.

After the lawyers’ whip-cracking was over, Commissioner Mike Middleton’s attempt to force straight-up Commission votes on three related resolutions – in favor of public interests – was dead.

The three outside lawyers have cost taxpayers nearly $100,000 … money we paid them to specifically work against our interests. Neither has any one of them been deterred by either of the two written warnings against all of this by the Louisiana Legislative Auditor. In fact, those are routinely referred to at the Commission as nothing but “one man’s opinion.”

Such speaks loudly of commissioners’ worship of self, and malice toward law.

To be certain all appropriate investigative and prosecutorial authorities have related facts before them, I have copied them on a letter to Commission Administrator Woody Wilson. My letter asks him to explain how the deliberate defeat of public will and interests in these “executive sessions” can be justified. (See letter here.)

2. Denial of “legal discovery” in litigation … official protection of Commission secrecy.

Somehow, the aforementioned lawyers have been able to use the legal process in our parish court to defeat even the most basic protections against governmental secrecy.*

In March 2015, I filed a lawsuit with the help of also-pro bono attorney Whitney Pesnell. We filed it to compel commissioners and top staff to return to public coffers the money netted by CPERS offenders. The suit was also intended to provide us “legal discovery,” mainly public records the Commission will not produce via Public Records Law requests.

To this day, no such “discovery” has been allowed. Not one document has been obtained. Not one question answered. No one with whom I have spoken can explain this. Given how the mystery necessarily forced us into appellate court, the goal of the Commission was achieved: the lawsuit was effectively halted, with guilty Commissioners further rewarded.

Yet again, Commission secrecy in opposition to public interests has been protected and preserved.

Another powerful point concerning government and secrecy is credited to Daniel Schorr, a CBS, and later NPR, journalist who experienced the damage explicitly traceable to such secrecy:

… “I have no doubt that the nation has suffered more from undue secrecy than from undue disclosure. The government takes good care of itself.”

To me, no truer words were ever spoken. Government, ever increasingly, is the enemy of honest people. Most Caddo Commissioners prove this as they diligently, and often illegally, serve themselves at our expense.

Elliott Stonecipher

* Since January 2015, I have written and published a series of highly detailed and sourced articles on the subject of the Caddo Parish Commission’s illegal retirement and other self-pay. Those and other related articles may be read on RealShreveport.com. Click first on “CPERS Timeline,” then begin reading the first article at the bottom of Page 2. Articles are chronologically arranged from there, forward.

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Former DeSoto DA Gets a Pass

05/27/2016

Former DeSoto DA suspended, not disbarred from future law practice

By Vickie Welborn
NEW ORLEANS, La. (KTBS) –

Former DeSoto District Attorney Richard Johnson, who is serving a federal prison sentence for lying about his income taxes, will not have to give up his law license.

The Louisiana Supreme Court instead suspended the former prosecutor for three years, retroactive to Dec. 4, the date of his interim suspension.

Johnson faced disbarment and said he expected as much when he pleaded guilty in September for falsifying his 2011 tax return. At least one on the court’s panel agreed. Associate Justice Jeannette Theriot Knoll dissented from the majority opinion and said she would disbar Johnson.

Prior to the filing of formal charges against Johnson, he and the Office of Disciplinary Counsel submitted a joint petition for consent discipline. The court agreed to accept the petition after review.

Johnson is inmate No. 18090-035 in a Marion, Ill., prison. He reported to the medium security federal prison in April. His release date is Feb. 15.

Ouachita Court Coverup Update

05/25/2016

District Attorney Jerry Jones’ actions cripple court probe

By Zach Parker and Johnny Gunter

Inquiries by The Ouachita Citizen into Fourth Judicial District Attorney Jerry Jones’ involvement in an investigation of Fourth Judicial District Court show the district attorney offered a false account of his communications with investigators, filed misleading court documents and did not refer this newspaper’s criminal complaint against the court to authorities involved in the investigation.

Those activities formed part of Jones’ efforts to downplay the investigation into possible wrongdoing at the court as well as his involvement in the probe.

The investigation stemmed from allegations that law clerk Allyson Campbell committed payroll fraud and destroyed or concealed court records. Those accusations also are the focus of separate lawsuits, one filed in district court by Monroe businessman Stanley R. Palowsky III and the other in federal court filed by Fourth Judicial District Court Judge Sharon Marchman.

Caddo Parish Commission Update

05/24/2016

May 24, 2016*

How does an acronym come to trumpet – to mean – some very important thing? How is it possible that the first letters of any combination of words can name both the disease consuming a place, and its potential cure.

Here and now in Caddo Parish, the subject acronym is “CPERS” – referring to the Caddo Parish Employee Retirement System. “CPERS” is now code for systemic corruption in and surrounding the Caddo Parish Commission.

If the corruption embedded within it years ago by culpable parish officials is stomped out, “CPERS” might well come to refer to when and how Caddo Parish began its recovery.

Put the other way, if the corruption which is the subject of our CPERS battle wins, and the Caddo public is thus openly savaged by its very own government, there will be no hiding the fact that corruption owns this place.

For any who do not know, almost twenty years ago Caddo Parish Commissioners were permanently banned from receiving taxpayer-funded retirement benefits. The banning of such benefits to part-time elected officials – specifically including parish commissioners – went to a statewide constitutional amendment vote in the fall of 1996, with 69% of Caddoans and 70% of Louisianans voting to cease all such benefits, effective January 1, 1997.

Thus, the people spoke … but the Caddo Parish Commission did not give a hoot in hell.

Three years later, in March 2000, our Commission voted unanimously to give themselves that which was explicitly prohibited: retirement benefits, by putting themselves in CPERS.

That 2000 action was wildly illegal and wrong, but a change they voted themselves in March 2005 screamed malicious intent. That ordinance amendment supercharged their take of public money, rigging the annual taxpayer match rate as high as 16.75% in some years.

As it turned out, CPERS was the tip of the Commissioners’ self-pay iceberg. As far back as the early 1990s, we learned, they have voted or otherwise handed themselves many other categories of self-pay, each one of which is banned, also explicitly, by the Caddo Parish Home Rule Charter, our constitution.

The help we needed last year to make our case came, but was also officially ignored. Our Louisiana Legislative Auditor’s two reports to the Commission, each of which was intended to remedy all of this, have been completely, totally, utterly disregarded by the Commission and all other local authorities.

The lawsuit I filed against all of this early last year is stalled – not by us. But, that doesn’t matter. Commissioners & Friends can end all of this right now: give the public its money back. Put the now nearly $300,000 Commissioners gave themselves back in the Commission general fund. No court action is necessary. Each Commissioner holding CPERS payola need only give it back. It is ridiculous to proclaim, as Commissioner Matthew Linn recently, publicly did, that such cannot be done.

Commissioner Mike Middleton’s Try

Only one Caddo Parish Commissioner, newcomer Mike Middleton, has taken a stand against the corruption. I regret that this public “Thank You” will be held against him by many Commissioners and their outside handlers, but at least he knows to expect that.

Mr. Middleton’s effort last week to force an open vote on three CPERS-related Resolutions – #40, #41 and #42, included here – never made it to “GO,” much less past it. The parish attorney first urged him not to even try it, but he went ahead. Then, Commissioner John Atkins took the lead to effectively kill the effort by moving the discussion into the secrecy of an executive session where lawyers – lawyers WE PAY – run the show. The public and news media were shut out.

That executive session was direct action against public interests. Such never, ever happens when right is being done. Thus, when the conniving was finished, Commissioner Middleton’s resolutions were kaput … with no public discussion or vote.

Spin and smoke from the black hats notwithstanding, commissioners – except for Mr. Middleton – along with their attorneys (who we pay) and their outside sponsors, are hard at work against the law and the public.

… to be continued …

Elliott Stonecipher

* Since January 2015, I have written and published a series of highly detailed and sourced articles on the subject of the Caddo Parish Commission’s illegal retirement and other self-pay. Those and other related articles may be read on RealShreveport.com. Click first on “CPERS Timeline,” then begin reading the first article at the bottom of Page 2. Articles are chronologically arranged from there, forward.

CPA Board Audit

05/23/2016

CPA Board Audits Find Problems with Controls

For the audits of fiscal years 2014 and 2015, auditors identified problems at the State Board of Certified Public Accountants, the entity responsible for licensing and regulating CPAs in Louisiana.

Auditors found that in fiscal year 2014, the employee payroll was processed before time sheets were due, which did not allow enough time for management to review time entry and leave balances. In one case, an employee was paid for 24 hours of leave without pay, which was not recouped until three months later.

Employee records also showed negative leave balances, including one employee who had a negative balance for four consecutive pay periods but who was allowed to take leave. In addition, employee leave records did not match time sheet postings for two employees over multiple pay periods.

Auditors noted a similar finding in their report for fiscal year 2015. The 2015 audit also found that between January and March 2015, the Board did not have adequate segregation of duties over its financial operations. Specifically, the Executive Director prepared checks, approved disbursements without a formal process requiring purchase orders and/or requisitions, signed checks under $2,500, input disbursements into the general ledger, and maintained control over bank statements.

The Board also did not comply with the Louisiana Licensing Agency Budget Act in fiscal year 2015 because it did not submit its annual comprehensive budget to the appropriate entities until notified by auditors.

In its response, the Board’s management said it was looking at ways to help ensure adequate controls are in place to maintain error-free payroll and leave records. Management officials also said the failure to submit the Board’s budget in a timely manner was an oversight and should not happen again.

Mays Sentenced to Life w/o Parole

05/19/2016

Cameron Mays, convicted last month of Aggravated Kidnapping, Aggravated Rape, and Possession of a Firearm by a Convicted Felon, was this morning sentenced in Third Judicial District Court in Ruston to two life terms, plus twenty years.

The sentences will be concurrent (served at the same time), and are not eligible for parole, probation, or suspension of sentence.

Division B Judge Tommy Rogers said that there was no victim impact statement, but that the victim “dramatically and eloquently testified to her absolute terror” during her testimony at trial.

Rogers also said that Mays’ testimony at his trial showed a “total disregard for the truth,” and that he was “unwilling to take responsibility” for his crimes.

A Second Degree Murder charge against Mays is still pending, and his alleged accomplice in the murder, Brandon Bonton, is scheduled for trial on September 26. Susan Hashway, 64, was found dead in her home several days after the Monday, 6/4/12 kidnapping and rape.

Kevin Owens, Mays alleged accomplice in the rape and kidnapping, was originally scheduled to be a prosecution witness, but last February “dropped of the face of the earth” and couldn’t be located by prosecutor Mike Ruddick.

Owens has never been charged in the case.

Ruston Police Chief Steve Rogers, and Lincoln Parish Sheriff Mike Stone were seen in the courtroom today.

West Ouachita Sales Taxes to Increase on 7/1/16

05/17/2016

Sales taxes in Ouachita Parish west of the Ouachita River will go up by $0.0039 (slightly less than 4/10 of one cent) beginning July 1, after the Ouachita Parish Police Jury (OPPJ) unanimously approved at last night’s meeting an ordinance to enact the tax. The money is dedicated to roads and drainage.

Voters approved the levy in an April 9, 2016 election. A $0.0139 (slightly less than 1.4 cents) sales tax for the eastern part of the parish failed that same election.

During the public hearing for the ordinance, no one spoke.

There was extended discussion during the finance committee meeting over the cost of a upgraded electronic door lock system for the Green Oaks Juvenile Detention Center.

Director Lamar Anderson said the system would cost $577 thousand. The money would be paid from a capital fund money that originally was budgeted for a roof replacement.

District E’s Shane Smiley asked, “If the roof starts leaking in 2017, what are we gonna do?”

Treasurer Brad Cammack said that the roof did need some maintenance, but that it should hold up for several more years.

Finance Committee Chair Walt Caldwell (District C) asked Cammack to create for the next jury meeting a spreadsheet clarifying the center’s budget situation.

Payroll Fraud Evidence in New Ouachita Court Filing

05/16/2016

An amended lawsuit by Fourth Judicial (Ouachita, Morehouse Parishes) District Court Judge Sharon Marchman against several fellow judges in that district cites evidence of payroll fraud by court clerk Allyson Campbell.

The exhibit attached to the suit indicates that on several occasions, Campbell’s timecards showed hours worked while she was not at her workplace. Court employees have electronic security devices that open secured doors in the building. On the dates in question, Campbell’s device showed no activity, but the timecards record hours worked.

Two of the district Judges, Wilson Rambo and Fred Amman, approved the timecards, the amended suit alleges.

See here the document.

The lawsuit alleges that the named defendants conspired to cover up the payroll fraud, and tried to damage Marchmann’s reputation for calling attention to the situation.

From the document:

As shown in the summary, on seven different days Defendant Campbell reported that she had worked seven hours even though the key fob reports and video footage showed that she had not entered the courthouse on any of those days. Law enforcement officials have since interviewed Defendant Campbell and Defendant Judge Sharp, and they both misrepresented the facts concerning Campbell’s attendance at work.

Ouachita Parish Police Jury Monday

05/15/2016

The Ouachita Parish Police Jury (OPPJ) will meet Monday, May 16, 5:30 PM, Ouachita Parish Courthouse, second floor.

Here is the agenda.

Federal Lawsuit has Connections to ABC News Ruston Visit

05/13/2016

The visit of ABC News’ Chief Investigative Correspondent Brian Ross to Ruston last week likely is connected to a whistle-blower lawsuit now wending its way through federal court, Lincoln Parish News Online (LPNO) has learned.

Ross was working on a follow-up to a March, 2016 news story that reports on the high cost of helicopter ambulance service. He interviewed Carl Cheshire, a former employee of Air Methods Corporation (AMC), the subject of the earlier interview, according to court documents.

Sky-Rage: Bills, Debt, Lawsuits Follow Helicopter Medevac Trips

The lawsuit, Cheshire v Air Methods Corp., was originally filed in a state court, Third Judicial (Lincoln, Union Parishes) District Court in February, 2015. In March of that year it was moved to federal court, U. S. District Court for the Western District of Louisiana, in Monroe.

Plaintiff Cheshire alleges in his lawsuit that his former employer AMC fired him in retaliation for:

Reporting safety violations to his supervisors.
Reporting improper fuel burn rate calculations to his supervisors.
Reporting that aircraft mechanical issues were being ignored, and proper maintenance was not performed.
Reporting that maintenance records were not accurately reported.

Cheshire also alleges that controlled dangerous substances were adulterated, which compromised flight safety, and caused inaccurate insurance reports.

AMC denied the allegations.

The Ruston connection is that Pafford EMS, a local emergency services provider is allied with AMC who provides air ambulance service to Pafford, according to a Pafford Facebook posting.

From the Pafford Air One Facebook page:

Pafford Air One enjoys a special partnership with Air Methods Corporation to provide practical solutions to Critical Care Transport needs within our area of operation.

For several years Air Methods has provided the aircraft, pilots, and maintenance personnel to support the AirOne mission.

It is notable that much of the deposition testimony in the lawsuit has been sealed and kept secret by court orders signed by either by U. S. District Judge Robert James, or by Magistrate Judge Karen Hayes.

072215 – Order to Seal Exhibits
042816 – Order to Seal Documents
050316 – Protective Order
050316 – Memorandum Order

Cheshire opposed the gag orders, particularly a report by David Downey.

050316 – Opposition to Protective Order

Downy is a Texas-based consultant on aircraft safety, certification, and training.

Downey Aviation Services

This week, AMC filed a motion requesting a fishing expedition to determine whether Cheshire or his attorney violated the gag orders.

051116 – Motion for Discovery
051116 – Memo in Support

In the documents, AMC discusses the Wednesday, May 4 Cheshire interview with ABC news at Ruston Regional Airport, and claims that the interview may have violated the court’s orders.

Cheshire filed a motion in opposition to the discovery requests the next day.

051216 – Opposition to Memo for Discovery
051216 – Memo in Support

The opposition memo notes:

Safety was the topic of the interview. The case was not discussed during the interview. No confidential information was disclosed prior to, during, or subsequent to the interview. Expert reports were not discussed, nor were their findings.

Cheshire’s attorney is Ashley Paige of Ruston.

AMC’s attorneys are Kristine Keenan and Jeremy Landry, the Kullman Law Firm, Baton Rouge.