Archive for the ‘EssBee’ Category

Key Witness Dead in Former Bossier Sheriff Case

06/21/2016

Prosecutors have until month’s end to seek delay in Deen trial

By Gary Hines – KTBS TV3 Shreveport

Federal prosecutors have until June 30 to ask for a delay in the corruption trial of former Bossier Parish Sheriff Larry Deen due to the death of a key government witness, a federal judge said.

Mary Jean McBroome, 60, of Shreveport, was found dead in her vehicle last week on an oilfield road off Keithville-Keatchie Road in south Caddo Parish. She had been shot.

Sheriff’s investigators said they are continuing to investigate but have found no evidence of foul play. The coroner has not stated if foul play was involved.

There was no suicide note, authorities said.

McBroome was a prosecution witness in the upcoming federal trial of Deen and two businessmen who own Blakey Auto Plex, where McBroome worked in the office.

Deen, along with Blakey owners Clifton Blakey and Clinton Blakey, is scheduled for trial Aug. 15 on charges he illegally profited from a sweetheart deal on the trade-in of a sport utility vehicle he once drove as sheriff. Deen and the Blakeys deny wrongdoing.

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.

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.

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.

North LA Local Governments Want More of Your Money

04/08/2016

Caddo Parish

Shall the Caddo-Bossier Parishes Port Commission (the “Commission”), acting under the authority of Article VI, Sections 30 and 32 of the Louisiana Constitution of 1974, as amended, and Chapter 37 of Title 34 of the Louisiana Revised Statutes of 1950, as amended (the “Act”), and other constitutional and statutory authority, continue to levy a special tax of two and one-half (2-1/2) mills on all the property subject to taxation in the port area consisting of Caddo and Bossier Parishes (the “Port Area”), (an estimated $6,800,000 reasonably expected at this time to be collected from the levy of the tax for an entire year) for a period of twenty-five (25) years, commencing with the year 2018, for the purpose of site acquisition and for constructing, acquiring, improving and equipping docks and wharves, transfer and storage facilities, commercial and industrial facilities and other port, transportation and infrastructure facilities and improvements within the Port Area, as more fully described in the Act, title to which shall be in the public, and for paying the Commission’s expenses of administering, maintaining, operating and marketing its facilities in the Port Area?

Shall Parishwide School District of Caddo Parish, Louisiana (the “District”), be authorized to levy a special tax of a twenty and eighteen hundredths (20.18) mills on all property subject to taxation within the District (an estimated $34,314,000 reasonably expected at this time to be collected from the levy of the tax for an entire year), for a period of ten (10) years, beginning with the year 2017 and ending with the year 2026, for the purpose of paying salaries and benefits for teachers and other personnel employed by the Caddo Parish School Board?

Shall Parishwide School District of Caddo Parish, Louisiana (the “District”), be authorized to levy a special tax of five and fifteen hundredths (5.15) mills on all property subject to taxation within the District (an estimated $8,757,000 reasonably expected at this time to be collected from the levy of the tax for an entire year), for a period of ten (10) years, beginning with the year 2017 and ending with the year 2026, for the purpose of paying the costs of renovation, repair and improvement of existing public school buildings and facilities in the District?

Shall Parishwide School District of Caddo Parish, Louisiana (the “District”), be authorized to levy a special tax of one and twenty-five hundredths (1.25) mills on all property subject to taxation within the District (an estimated $2,125,500 reasonably expected at this time to be collected from the levy of the tax for an entire year), for a period of ten (10) years, beginning with the year 2017 and ending with the year 2026, for the purpose of paying the costs of constructing, acquiring, renovating, improving, maintaining and/or operating computers, software and peripheral equipment, facilities and technological programs at public schools in Caddo Parish?

City of Ruston

Shall the City of Ruston, Louisiana (the “City”), under Article VI, Section 29 of the Constitution of the State of Louisiana of 1974, and other constitutional and statutory authority, be authorized to levy and collect a tax of three quarters of one percent (3/4%) (the “Tax”), upon the sale at retail, the use, the lease or rental, the consumption, and the storage for use or consumption, of tangible personal property and on sales of services in the City, all as defined by law, for 20 years commencing July 1, 2016, and ending June 30, 2036, collections from the Tax for the first year expected to be approximately $4,250,000, with the proceeds of the Tax (after paying costs of collection and administration), to be dedicated and used to construct, improve, maintain, and/or repair public streets, related drainage, and facilities for the provision of water and sewer services; for economic development; and to acquire, construct, maintain, operate and/or equip a multi-sports recreation complex, an animal shelter and related property, facilities and utilities, all within the corporate limits of the City, and for authority to fund a portion of the avails of the Tax into Bonds in the manner provided by law?

Ouachita Parish

Shall the East Ouachita Economic Development District (the “District”), be authorized to levy a tax of 1.39% (the “Tax”) for a period of twenty-five (25) years, commencing July 1, 2016, upon the sale at retail, the use, the lease or rental, the consumption, and the storage for use or consumption, of tangible personal property and on sales of services within the Parish as defined by law, (an estimated $2,650,000 reasonably expected at this time to be collected from the levy of the Tax for an entire year), with the proceeds of the Tax (after paying costs of collecting the Tax) to be dedicated and used for the purposes of undertaking economic development projects consisting of road, drainage and related infrastructure improvements for the benefit of the District?

The election is tomorrow (Saturday, 4/9).

Former DeSoto DA Reports to Jail Today

04/04/2016

Former DeSoto DA scheduled to report to federal prison today

By Vickie Welborn

Former DeSoto Parish District Attorney Richard Johnson is scheduled to report to federal prison before 2 p.m. Monday.

Johnson was sentenced in February to a year and a day for lying on his 2011 income tax return.

Johnson, 59, of Mansfield, was also ordered to make $275,184 in restitution to the government.

Johnson faced up to three years in prison after pleading guilty last year to one count of filing a false federal income tax return. With credit for time served and good behavior, the former prosecutor can expect to spend about 10 months behind bars, U.S. District Judge Maurice Hicks said during Johnson’s sentencing hearing last month.

The government said Johnson did not pay his taxes from 2002 through 2013. The indictment was based on Johnson’s 2011 federal income tax return where he reported income of $126,197. But he had additional income totaling $78,717 that was not reported.

Caddo Commission Lawbreaking & Lack of Law Enforcement

01/17/2016

Local Media, District Attorney Actively Ignoring Criminal Conspiracy in CPERS

By: Will Broyles

Elliott Stonecipher began to make Caddo Commissioners aware that he had found a problem in early 2015. His discovery? That Caddo Commissioners had been receiving pay and benefits outside of the legal restrictions placed in the Caddo Parish Home Rule Charter (“HRC”). The HRC very specifically states in Section 3-05 that the Commissioners are entitled to pay of $700 per month ($100/month more for the Commission President) with strict guidelines of how to enact pay raises. The apparent intention behind this wording was that Caddo Parish voters would likely get to vote for when they felt like Commissioners deserved pay increases.

The HRC also goes on to specifically prohibit that “no commissioner shall receive any additional compensation, benefit or privilege, direct or indirect, because of his office.”

Instead, Commissioners conspired to give themselves pay increases via ordinances and create at least three other mechanisms to increase monetary receipts for themselves. The Legislative Auditor even wrote two scathing reports outlining with great detail how much the Commissioners took in retirement benefits for themselves using the Caddo Parish Parochial Employee Retirement System (“CPERS”). According to the Legislative Auditor, CPERS is a benefit that is also unconstitutional per the Constitution of the State of Louisiana.

As Elliott Stonecipher has published often, his study of the facts of the case point to a conspiracy by the Caddo Commission (over the course of many terms) to not only create illegal revenue streams such as CPERS, but to also protect themselves from having to pay any money back to Caddo Parish taxpayers.

What is notable is that all Caddo based media outlets have given very light coverage to this scandal. Watchdogs in the community have often and consistently called for law enforcement and local prosecutors from the Caddo District Attorney’s office to pursue charges of criminal malfeasance in office against the Commissioners. To date, not a single media outlet (until this one) has even taken up the issue. At most, the local media requested comment from Caddo Sheriff Steve Prator and the Caddo Parish District Attorney’s office. Both stated that they had not been notified of the need for a criminal investigation. Although, we can report that Steve Prator was asked why he was not pursuing criminal charges back in August of 2015 after the first Legislative Auditor’s letter. The Legislative Auditor’s second letter on the matter was published on November 30, 2015. In August 2015, Prator noted that he had engaged in at least some form of investigation, but was declined by the District Attorney’s office on the matter. When asked why he did not report the matter to a higher authority, or use the local media to call for prosecution, he commented that in spite of his efforts, Mr. Stonecipher was “not very popular” for all the work he puts into his local watchdog activities and that Prator “wore the pavement out between [his] office and the District Attorney’s office.” When pressed on how he could be more effective in his pursuit of the matter in spite of his claims that the DA office and US Attorney’s office would not take up the matter, he declined to comment. It is worth noting that Mr. Stonecipher has a popular following via social media and is often interviewed and quoted in media throughout the state and country for his political analysis.

A Personal Message to Sheriff Prator and Our News Media
By Elliott Stonecipher

January 17, 2016

For those yet unaware, Shreveport’s newest website on the block is also easily its best. Will Broyles, the leader of the team that brought us their powerful Shape of Shreveport documentary, is working with his wife Chelsey, his brother Jim, and others to bring us this site, RealShreveport.com. From the jump, it demonstrates more strength of purpose than anything from our media in a very long time.

I once again thank these young Shreveporters for yet another significant investment of their time, energy and money in trying to save Shreveport and Caddo Parish from public corruption, our clear and present danger within.

Sheriff Steve Prator

I write this in response to Will Broyles’ post this morning. Will’s point about the absence of a criminal investigation and prosecution into the Caddo Commission scandal is well made. This part of it is about me:

“In August 2015, Prator noted that he had engaged in at least some form of investigation, but was declined by the District Attorney’s office on the matter. When asked why he did not report the matter to a higher authority, or use the local media to call for prosecution, he commented that in spite of his efforts, Mr. Stonecipher was ‘not very popular’ for all the work he puts into his local watchdog activities …”

So, Sheriff Prator keeps up with my popularity, or lack thereof. I would think he had long ago realized I am extremely unpopular here – among those who are corrupt, and those who protect the corrupt, and those who hope to somehow be cut in on the action of our corrupt. Yes, that is a bunch of our people, no doubt about it.

But, I was likewise unpopular among that bunch when I vetted and successfully worked for Mr. Prator to become Chief of Shreveport Police back in 1990.

Just before that, more than a quarter-century ago, one of our most prominent public officials invited me to sit down at the table of our corrupt goings-on. My reaction, without a word except “no,” was to stand up and walk out of that room. I immediately went to work doing exactly what I am doing here and now: opposing the handiwork of the many corrupt actors among us.

Our News Media

Our news media’s coverage of this Commission scandal has been (a) slight, and (b) carefully – politically? – limited only to one piece of it – CPERS, the illegal retirement payments to Commissioners. After two years of research, filing and litigating a lawsuit, then writing and publishing my findings, our local news media refuses to mention that Commissioners have also scored explicitly illegal taxpayer money for a major part of their salary, travel benefits, life and health insurance, and more.

The truth is, the regime running our local newspaper also dislikes me. (In fact, some of that “dislike” from at least a couple of those newspaper employees is a very serious matter.) The paper plays favorites, and I know it very well. As but one example, while they recently shouted a story about Caddo Commissioners being “let out” of my lawsuit by a state district court judge, they refuse to tell the public that we are appealing his rulings on lawsuit “exceptions” to the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeal.

For those who wonder, here is Louisiana’s excellent Malfeasance in Office law. Note the language in Section A, Subsections (1), (2) and (3). THIS is what is neither being enforced, nor explained by our news media, in the Commission scandal.

From Me … the Unpopular Guy

To Sheriff Prator.
You cannot begin to understand what my unpopularity here in Shreveport and Caddo costs me. But, I am no politician, and I am not running for anything. I am merely a long-time resident and taxpayer. My hometown, as you know very well, is being killed by public corruption. I am not OK with that, and decided 25 years ago not to give a damn who is.

To our local newspaper.
As long as you play favorites in what you do and do not print, you fail this community. As for those of you who dislike me, you may care to note that no Shreveporter in my generation, or the ones before or following it, has more strongly supported our news media and its First Amendment protections than I. That should count for something.

To our growing count of corrupt public officials.
None of you so easily do your dirty work without many in power here clearing the way for you, and then protecting you. We know that, and we know how. We know, too, that each of you sells your soul anew with each public dollar you steal … no matter how creative the heist, one more of which will soon be unveiled.

If my work should end tomorrow, I know which group “likes” me, and which group does not. I will take my supporters over the others each and every moment of each and every day, based on both their personal character and their number.

What hurt me the most that day 25 years ago, when this work truly began, is why the corrupt lobby here would even ask me to join them. It hurt, truly, to wonder why they thought I might say yes.

All I have ever known to do about that is make sure none of them continue to wonder.

Elliott Stonecipher

(Elliott Stonecipher is in no way affiliated with any political party, and has long been a registered “Other,” or Independent. He has no client or other relationships which in any way influence his selections of subjects or the content of any article. His work is strictly in the public interest, with no compensation of any kind solicited or accepted. Appropriate credit to Mr. Stonecipher in the sharing – unedited only, please – of his work is appreciated.)

Former DeSoto DA’s Law License Suspended

12/08/2015

Former DeSoto DA Richard Johnson suspended from practicing law

By Vickie Welborn

The Louisiana Supreme Court has suspended former DeSoto Parish District Attorney Richard Z. Johnson Jr. from practicing law.

The order issued Friday is on an interim basis but effective immediately. The court also ordered disciplinary proceedings, which is expected to result in disbarment.

Johnson, 58, of Mansfield, in August admitted to lying on his 2011 tax return. He pleaded guilty in federal court to filing a false federal income tax return. U.S. District Judge S. Maurice Hicks Jr. will sentence him on Feb. 17.

Johnson was a one-term D.A. He was defeated in a re-election bid last year.

Caddo Commission Cited by Lege Auditor

11/30/2015

November 30, 2015

For a second time, the Louisiana Legislative Auditor Daryl Purpera has issued a ruling against the Caddo Parish Commission’s self-created retirement plan for Commissioners. The Auditor’s first warning as to the legality / constitutionality of the plan was issued in his letter to the Commission earlier this year, on February 12, 2015.

As was the stated assumption of the Auditor in that first letter, a supposed move by the Commission to obtain a declaratory judgment on the matter in First Judicial District Court in Caddo quickly failed. Its February lawsuit attempted to enjoin the Louisiana Attorney General in the dispute, for which there was no legal ground. Caddo District Court Judge Michael Pitman summarily tossed the suit.

On March 16, 2015, I filed suit against the Caddo Parish Commission, its top two administrators, and Commissioners seeking to recover the hundreds-of-thousands of taxpayer dollars these officials had paid themselves in illegal CPERS benefits. After further research by my pro bono partner in the suit, attorney Whitney Pesnell, we found that Commissioners had paid themselves yet another list of benefits explicitly barred by the 1984 Caddo Parish Home Rule Charter.

No trial on the merits of our lawsuit has yet been held. Mr. Purpera’s new, second ruling may be read here.

The Auditor’s February letter was written after I published online my initial articles on the subject – January 27, 2012 and February 2, 2012. Mr. Purpera and other local, state and federal officials are recipients of my articles.

In his first letter, the Auditor specifically cited the following sections of the Louisiana Constitution, and later supporting opinions of the Louisiana Attorney General, in detailing his then-opinion that CPERS “… is improper”:

1. Louisiana Constitution Article X, Section 29.1
2. Louisiana Attorney General Opinion No. 09-0115
3. Louisiana Attorney General Opinion No. 10-0183
4. Louisiana Constitution, Article VI, Section 4
5. Louisiana Attorney AG Opinion No. 10-1083

Mr. Purpera then ended that first letter with this admonition: “… it is within the purview of the Legislative Auditor’s authority to advise on the proper use of public money. Therefore, based upon the Constitutional Amendments cited above, it appears to us that for Caddo Parish to continue to contribute public monies on behalf of Commissioners elected after (January 1) 1997, is improper. I urge you to reconsider your position and to determine whether Ordinances 3762 and 4343 should be repealed.”

Caddo Commissioners have ignored by Mr. Purpera’s advice, since paying outside lawyers $46,000 in taxpayer funds to fight to keep their many types of self-pay.

In today’s second report, Mr. Purpera adds new information from his auditors:

1. Caddo Parish Commissioners have received more than $258,665 in public money to fund their retirements, even though they are part-time elected officials barred by the Louisiana Constitution from participating in any local- or parish-sponsored retirement system.

2. Since the Commission was not eligible to participate in CPERS, Parish contributions appear to be donations (to Commissioners) in violation of yet another constitutional ban.

3. “The Caddo Parish attorney told auditors there is no conflict between the (Commission) ordinance and the Louisiana Constitution because the constitution only prohibits part-time public officials from participating in public retirement systems that are defined benefit plans, not defined contribution plans like CPERS.”

“Regardless,” Purpera said, “the Constitution provides that these part-time public officials cannot be members of a State of Louisiana-sponsored or any political subdivision-sponsored, retirement plan that contributes public funds to their retirement.”

5. The Auditor moves the matter, for the first time, into considerations of federal law and funds. Specifically, auditors found that Commissioners received $136,540 more than if they had properly participated in Social Security, noting that, “In that case, the Parish would only have paid $122,124 in Social Security taxes for those Commissioners.”

Contrary to the intentions of Commissioners, the Auditor also notes that if the ordinance is found unconstitutional in a state court, he is advising Caddo Parish to seek to recover improper contributions.

Those “improper contributions” are, of course, in the possession of the Commission and/or any Commissioners who have already withdrawn these taxpayer funds. In addition are other totals of public money Commissioners have paid themselves for years of salary above $1,200 per month, travel, and insurance which are banned by the Caddo Parish Home Rule Charter.

… developing …

Elliott Stonecipher

(Elliott Stonecipher is in no way affiliated with any political party, and has long been a registered “Other,” or Independent. He has no client or other relationships which in any way influence his selections of subjects or the content of any article. His work is strictly in the public interest, with no compensation of any kind solicited or accepted. Appropriate credit to Mr. Stonecipher in the sharing – unedited only, please – of his work is appreciated.)

Caddo Fire District 5 Owes Some Taxpayers Real Money

08/30/2015

August 30, 2015

It is certainly not news that Shreveporters pay by far the highest property taxes in Louisiana. It is news, though, that in 2008 some paid property taxes they did not owe.

Caddo Parish Fire District 5 – or, “CFD5” – did the taxing, creating for itself a $250,000 windfall.

Then, the District chose to keep the money.

After reviewing hundreds of public documents, and interviewing willing public officials, there is no evidence of an effort to identify and return the tax money to those who overpaid.

District officials were notably defensive about the matter. The Board blocked my attempt to first meet with the District chief, and obtaining related public documents was punted to its attorney.

That attorney’s first letter (SEE here) sets out the Board’s position: it could never figure out a way to return the money.

Facts of the Matter

“Fire protection districts” like CFD5 provide their services to those who live outside the limits of municipalities that provide the same services. CFD5, as shown on its website, serves Dixie Garden, plus most of far Southeast Shreveport and Caddo.

By state law and Caddo Parish ordinance, these districts are legally established within parish governing bodies, meaning our Caddo Parish Commission. It appoints the volunteer members of each district’s board, which then does the taxing and spending.

As shown in its most recent Annual Report to the Louisiana Legislative Auditor, CFD5 is in good financial shape with a $4,973,425 “net position.”

The District estimates its take from the 2008 over-taxation was $249,002, though no independent source made such a calculation. When the interest rate the District otherwise employs – 2.15% – is added for years 2009 through 2015, the total due to these taxpayers is $288,972.

How It Happened

The District erred in a key document it submitted for the Caddo Parish Tax Assessor in September 2008. This routine, annual Resolution by the Board directs the assessor to levy certain, variable property tax millages on those in its District.

Owing to (a) the District’s successful $2,500,000 bond election earlier in 2008, and (b) annexations of some of its service areas by the City of Shreveport going back to 2000, CFD5 had three Debt Service property tax millages:

… 5.65-mills for unannexed property,

… 1.00-mill for former CFD5 property annexed by Shreveport before 2008, and

… 4.65-mills for former CFD5 property annexed by Shreveport in or after 2008.

The Board’s error was directing the assessor to tax all properties the full 5.65-mills for Debt Service.

Then What?

The District quickly knew its mistake. Its CPA, Agee & Agee, wrote in a February 16, 2009, memo to the then-Board Chairman:

“We believe that when the tax assessor’s office calculated 2008 taxes to be assessed on property annexed into Shreveport for CPFD #5 that the total millage for both bonds of 5.65 was used in the calculation. … We believe based on that information, CPFD #5 could receive an estimated $249,001.73 in tax revenue that is not the district’s this year.” (Emphasis mine.)

Then, in the Board’s March 12, 2009, meeting, accountant Agee “… explained the over-collection of millage … (which) has been put in a separate account.” Attorney Jerry Jones “… recommended to the Board to work with the tax commission to pay the money back to the tax payers.” That never happened.

Learning how and why repayment did not occur is made much more difficult by a scarcity of related public documents. Attorney Anna O’Neal notes, “… apart from the documents enclosed herewith as exhibits, the District’s communications regarding (these issues) have been verbal.” So much for transparency.

CFD5 Magically Turns Debt to Taxpayers Into Revenue for Itself

Page 24 in the above-linked Annual Report includes this item: “13. In 2009, the District collected excess property tax revenue of $249,002. The statutory deadline for refund of these taxes expired in 2013.”

Then, on June 4, 2014, CFD5 auditor Marsha O. Millican, wrote to attorney Jones: “I noticed (CFD5 has) a liability on their books for 2009 tax money that was overcollected. … normally the excess tax collected is shown as a contribution from the taxpayers in the year it is overcollected.”

Jones responds in hours, “As for the fire district, I agree with your approach. In Louisiana there is a 3 year prescriptive period to recover overpaid taxes.”

Thus, a debt owed to specific, wronged taxpayers, deliberately held a certain number of years, magically became “a contribution to CFD5 from taxpayers.” ‘Positively incredible!

What Help for Serially Abused Property Tax Payers?

In June 2011, a meeting on the matter was held with Caddo Commissioner Mike Thibodeaux. Although his commission district is ground zero in all of this, he is said to have offered no real help. When I emailed him to confirm, he wrote, “I do not recall that meeting. I can neither confirm nor deny. 2011 was a long time ago.”

On the other side, just last month – July 23, 2015 to be exact – Caddo Parish Sheriff (and Ex-Officio Tax Collector) Steve Prator wrote a personal letter to the Louisiana Legislative Auditor for assistance. As Prator noted, “… if too much is collected by government then it should be returned.”

Often mentioned in these documents is Caddo Parish Tax Assessor Charles Henington. When I spoke to him about repaying those over-taxed, Henington offered that “somebody like an abstractor” would need to do a record-by-record search among those in subject (annexation) areas of CFD5.

So, riddle me this …

An experienced hand in such matters reached a simple – dare I say logical – conclusion. In 2009, the year following the taxing wreck, CFD5’s handling of all of this went off perfectly. Property owners were taxed properly, meaning precisely as they should have been in 2008 …

… why weren’t the 2009 taxpayer identifications and tax categorizations then used to identify and pay back, or credit, the tax over-payers of 2008?

Elliott Stonecipher

(Elliott Stonecipher is in no way affiliated with any political party, and has long been a registered “Other,” or Independent. He has no client or other relationships which in any way influence his selections of subjects or the content of any article. His work is strictly in the public interest, with no compensation of any kind solicited or accepted. Appropriate credit to Mr. Stonecipher in the sharing – unedited only, please – of his work is appreciated.)