By Jim Mustian
The U.S. Department of Justice approved but later declined to pursue federal racketeering charges against Harry Morel, the former St. Charles Parish district attorney who admitted this year to soliciting sexual favors from women facing criminal charges, according to FBI records released Monday.
Federal prosecutors had been planning to charge Morel with “at least 30 racketeering acts,” including solicitation of sexual bribes, according to a PowerPoint presentation prepared by Michael Zummer, the FBI’s lead agent on the case.
The presentation, released Monday in response to a public records request, offered several new details about the long-running investigation, including graphic allegations that Morel forced at least two women to perform oral sex on him and groped several others.
But Zummer’s summary of the case, forwarded to the St. Charles Parish Sheriff’s Office for consideration of potential state charges, does not explain why the Justice Department ultimately decided to charge Morel with only a single count of obstructing justice.
Morel pleaded guilty to that charge in March and is expected to begin serving a three-year prison term later this month. A racketeering conviction would have subjected him to a prison term of up to 20 years, but prosecutors apparently decided they could not prove that charge beyond a reasonable doubt, even though they threatened to charge Morel with racketeering at one point.
Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category
That resolution is in the form of a contract with the State of Louisiana for a community development block grant that will fund development of streets and utilities relative to the project. If approved, the grant will reimburse the city $870 thousand.
See here the documents.
Also approved was a resolution to purchase another 13 acres in the industrial park, near the intersection of McDonal Avenue and Beacon Light Road. That parcel is priced at $70 thousand, according to Kristi Lumpkin, the city’s economic development officer.
Finally, the council reviewed and approved a list of substandard structures that must be rehabilitated or demolished.
See here the memo.
Several votes switched at last night’s meeting of the Lincoln Parish Police Jury’s (LPPJ) Economic Development Committee, regarding tax breaks for two hotels that are under construction in Lincoln Parish. The action will allow the projects to forgo payment of 3/4 of a percent in sales taxes on construction materials.
At the 9/8/15 meeting of the jury, two projects were denied the break, one of which was subsequently approved last night.
Changing votes to approve the breaks were Skip Russell (District 8), Hazel Hunter (District Two), and Joe Henderson (District 9). Previously, they had voted to deny the incentives. Voting to deny the application were Bobby Bennett (District 3) and Randy Roberson (District 4).
The full jury subsequently approved the committee’s action, with Bennett and Roberson again voting no.
During the discussion, it was said that some of the jurors who voted two months ago to deny the application were confused and intended to vote otherwise, because their vote was on an amendment instead of the underlying motion.
Last night’s action follows a protracted campaign in news stories and editorials by the local daily newspaper, the Ruston Daily Leader, to bring the issue back up for a vote.
The jury’s Parks, Recreation and Tourism Committee approved negotiations between the jury and area oil and gas operators to sell water from the Lincoln Parish Park’s lake for hydrofracking of wells.
Skepticism of the project from committee members turned positive when it was learned that the sale could bring in $200 thousand or more, which could be used to make park improvements.
The Public Property and Buildings Committee approved relocation of the Sales and Use Tax Office from the old Federal Building to the ground floor of the courthouse, and relocation of the LSU Extension Office to the Police Jury Complex on Alabama Avenue.
Finally, the Personnel/Benefits Committee approved three board members for the Ruston-Lincoln Convention and Visitor’s Bureau – Jeff Parker, Tiffany Baldwin, and Richard Lewis. Two Lincoln Parish Fire Protection District No. 1 board members were also reappointed – Mike Fulton and Ray Robinson.
By Mike Perlstein
NEW ORLEANS — The Sandestin Golf and Beach Resort on Florida’s gulf coast features tennis courts, swimming pools, four golf courses and more than 20 restaurants.
And for one week every summer, it features dozens of Louisiana judges and court employees. It’s all part of an annual ritual: spending public money at out-of-state resorts for continuing legal education seminars.
Dozens of La. judges spend public money at luxury resorts
The Destin, Fla., trip, where judges have been mixing education and relaxation for decades, is so popular on the calendars of the New Orleans courts that many are practically closed for business during that week every summer.
Following this year’s Destin conference, sponsored by the Louisiana Bar Association, WWL-TV requested attendance and expense records from each of the New Orleans courts.
The records show that 50 New Orleans judges, court officials and employees attended the June conference at a cost of more than $100,000. The precise dollar amount was unavailable because some courts did provide complete records.
“The fact that public funds can be used for something like that is, I think, a disgrace to Louisiana and undermines confidence in the judiciary,” said Rafael Goyeneche, a longtime critic of the practice.
Goyeneche noted that in addition to the mass attendance by the local judges, many bring wives or kids, sometimes for a week or more.
“They’ve basically created this judicial pork fund that allows judges to waste public dollars on, essentially, state-funded family vacations,” he said.
“They’ve basically created this judicial pork fund that allows judges to waste public dollars on, essentially, state-funded family vacations”
The rules for continuing legal education for judges are set by the Louisiana Supreme Court. In fact, the high court mandates that judges obtain at least 12.5 CLE hours each year, and a committee established by the court publishes a long list of approved CLEs on its website.
What is not so well known is that the Louisiana Supreme Court reimburses judges up to $5,000 annually for CLE travel and expenses. For the current fiscal year, that comes to more than $1.5 million that is appropriated by the state for the judges’ mandated legal training.
Individual expense guidelines also are set by the Louisiana Supreme Court, including transportation costs, $118 a day for per diem and – for this summer’s Destin trip – up to $2,200 for a week’s lodging.
According to records of the 2015 conference, every court in New Orleans was represented. For some of the courts, more than half the bench was at the beach that week.
Three out of the four judges from each of Municipal and Traffic courts attended, the records show. For Juvenile Court, it was three out of six judges; Criminal Court, five out of 14; Civil Court, three out of 14. The Fourth Circuit Court of Appeal, which oversees the local courts in New Orleans, sent seven out of 12 judges, their records show.
But the largest contingent, by far, was from the Louisiana Supreme Court itself. The high court was represented in Destin by five out of seven justices, along with 17 court employees.
None of the courts contacted by WWL-TV would provide a representative for an interview, but several courts said they are merely following requirements set by the Supreme Court.
Kern Reese, chief judge of Civil District Court, sent this statement:
“The Louisiana Supreme Court requires that all state judges receive at least 12.5 hours of continuing legal education on an annual basis. The Supreme Court limits the amount of money a judge may spend on travel and has restrictions on where a judge may travel. The Judges of Orleans Parish Civil District Court and First and Second City Courts comply with these rules. It is patently disingenuous for anyone to imply that our judges have in any way done something illegal or unethical. ”
The annual bar conference in Destin represents just a fraction of the total public CLE travel expenses allowed by the high court. Another provision set by the court allows judges to spend an additional $10,000 from their own court funds, a law liberally used by many local judges throughout the year.
For example, less than a month after the Destin trip, even more public money was spent by New Orleans officials at Casa de Campo Resort in the Dominican Republic. Held by a non-profit organization called CLE of Louisiana, the trip maintains the group’s yearly tradition of exotic destinations such as Jamaica, Panama and Puerto Rico.
Who went to the Dominican Republic conference? Records show that three civil court judges – Kern Reese, Paula Brown and Angelique Reed – attended, as did two of the city’s part-time traffic court judges – Steven Jupiter and Herbert Cade.
The judges did not respond to calls for comment, but another justice system official who attended both Destin and the Dominican Republic conferences defended his travel.
Clerk of Criminal Court Arthur Morrell said, “Sometimes getting away, or getting away from the atmosphere you’re in the whole year, it helps.”
While Morrell spent public money to attend, he said reached into his own pocket to bring along his wife, former Councilwoman Cynthia Hedge-Morrell. Morrell also noted that he didn’t participate in the polo or golf amenities, both featured as specialties at Casa de Campo.
“I don’t know anything about polo. I didn’t play golf. But as far as expenses, I don’t see where it’s any more expensive than Jamaica or Puerto Rico or any of these other places,” Morrell said.
He also defended bringing his wife.
“You could call it a family vacation, but I’m there because I’m interested in what’s going on,” Morrell said. “My wife went there because she wanted to accompany me and relax also.”
So how are these foreign trips are possible when the Supreme Court prohibits spending public money on “international travel?” Because at the same time, in its written regulations, the court doesn’t consider Canada, Mexico, the Caribbean and Central America to be international travel.
“They’re interpreting local travel that, or international travel, in a way that defies logic and all geography lessons I’ve ever been exposed to,” Goyeneche said.
Morrell was one of two New Orleans justice system officials who went to both Destin and the Dominican Republic conferences, according to the records. The other was Traffic Court Judge Herbert Cade.
“They’re interpreting local travel that, or international travel, in a way that defies logic and all geography lessons I’ve ever been exposed to”
Cade was not made available for an interview, but a Traffic Court spokesperson wrote in an email that Cade did not collect any per diem for Destin, and has not been reimbursed for the Dominican Republic trip. Cade and the court did not indicate whether he plans to seek additional reimbursement.
Despite the attendance by Morrell and Cade at both summer trips, neither official was required to get any CLE hours because of their age. The Supreme Court regulations exempt all attorneys over 65.
Goyeneche said he holds the Louisiana Supreme Court primarily to blame for the free-wheeling culture of CLE travel.
“I think that the culture of judicial abuse with respect to this travel was and is being maintained by the Louisiana Supreme Court,” he said. “Unless and until the Supreme Court is willing to govern themselves and also their subordinate judges, we’re going to continue to see this wasteful and abusive use of public dollars.”
There is an alternative to the judges spending public money going to the beach and exotic Caribbean resorts. Dozens of CLE conferences are held throughout the year in New Orleans, Baton Rouge and elsewhere in Louisiana.
Retired Criminal Court Judge Calvin Johnson attended many out-of-state CLEs, something he said he would not have done if it weren’t for allowances by the Louisiana Supreme Court.
“It isn’t a prudent use of public dollars because Louisiana is approaching going broke, Johnson said. “The Supreme Court, of course, could dictate how those moneys are spent, what those courts beneath them can and can’t do with the money. But that’s a decision they’d have to make.”
Another retired Criminal Court judge, Terry Alarcon, logged all of his CLE hours locally.
“Obviously, you can stay local and get it all done,” said Alarcon, who previously served as chief judge. “We would have general discussion about budgetary constraints, and I was always concerned about the expenses….With our limited resources, I would always rather upgrade my courtroom and make sure my court reporters and my staff had the best equipment. But each judge is an individual elected official making their own decisions.”
All the incumbent Lincoln Parish Police Jurors who were opposed in yesterday’s election were re-elected. Annette Straughter was elected in District 12.
Charles Owens IV – 260 (45%)
Theresa Wyatt – 317 (55%)
Larry Gipson – 149 (41%)
Hazel Hunter – 214 (59%)
Roy Glover – 309 (43%)
Walter Pullen – 415 (57%)
Tim Babcock – 529 (45%)
Jody Backus – 645 (55%)
Rodney Bagwell – 199 (24%)
Skip Russell – 627 (76%)
Claire Givens – 215 (47%)
Annette Straughter – 243 (53%)
After many years of private contractors hauling trash from the collection site off Arkansas Plant Road to a Union Parish landfill, the Lincoln Parish Police Jury’s (LPPJ) Solid Waste Committee unanimously voted to use parish equipment and personnel to do the work. Jackie White, Inc. had previously contracted for the work until earlier this year.
Committee Chair Walter Pullen (District 6) noted that juror Bobby Bennett (District 3) had long advocated that the jury could do the job cheaper and more efficiently than a contractor. Pullen estimated the savings will be about $150 thousand for the year.
Said Pullen, “My colleague Mr. Bennett has for years been saying this. And he’s right.”
Indeed, see here our reporting from 10/13/09.
The Finance Committee voted to award employees a 2 1/2% cost of living raise, the same amount that has been awarded for the past several years. However, the vote wasn’t unanimous, as District 1’s Theresa Wyatt said the entry level employees should receive a greater increase.
The committee unanimously approved preliminary awards to various agencies at the same level as last year. The amounts may be adjusted after additional budget reviews, it was said.
See here the list.
The Insurance Committee got good news and bad news.
While the jury’s property and casualty insurance rates have been stable for the past several years, employee medical insurance will increase about 10%.
See here the memo.
Former Pearl River Town Clerk Pleads Guilty to Felony Theft and Promises Restitution after Investigative Audit09/03/2015
LLA Press Release – 9/3/15
Former Pearl River Town Clerk Dianne Bennett Hollie pled guilty Thursday to one count of felony theft and three other criminal counts, after a 2014 Louisiana Legislative Auditor’s investigative audit uncovered evidence prompting a St. Tammany Parish grand jury to indict both Hollie and the former mayor of Pearl River, James Lavigne, this past October. Hollie’s plea and her promise to pay restitution totaling more than $8,200 means she will avoid serving up to 15 years in jail. The former Pearl River mayor is expected to appear in court later this month.
Allegations from the Concerned Citizens of St. Tammany to the Legislative Auditor prompted a May 2014 investigative audit which revealed Hollie had used $5,215 in Town of Pearl River funds from March 2012 through July 2013 to buy building supplies and pool equipment for her personal residence. The audit stated that Hollie had ordered town employees to pick up the supplies and deliver them to her residence during their work hours. In the audit report, both Hollie and Pearl River Mayor James Lavigne said they used those Town funds for those personal purchases in order to avoid paying sales taxes. The audit further found that Hollie had received eight extra payroll checks totaling $7,896 between March 2012 and August 2013. In October 2014, a St. Tammany Parish grand jury indicted Hollie and Lavigne on theft and malfeasance charges.
Investigative auditors from the Legislative Auditor’s office were in the 22nd Judicial District courtroom Thursday morning when Hollie pled guilty to one count each of: felony theft; felony unauthorized use of a moveable; misdemeanor theft; and misdemeanor unauthorized use of a moveable. Hollie, who has no prior record, had already reimbursed the Town $3,834. The former Town Clerk will pay a total of $7,896 in restitution for felony theft, related to the extra payroll checks, and $346 for the taxes not paid on personal purchases using Town funds.
Lavigne, the former Pearl River mayor, is expected to return to court September 28, 2015 to face criminal charges, including unauthorized use of a movable, malfeasance, and theft over $500. Both Hollie and Lavigne currently face state ethics charges lodged against them in July.
Sheila Glover Bordelon would like to announce that she is running for re-election this fall. Bordelon has been the Lincoln Parish Assessor since 2013 and has worked in the Assessor’s Office since 1990. In 1993 she received her certification for Certified LA Deputy Assessor, served as Chief Deputy Assessor from 2001 thru 2012.
During the 2012 LA Legislative session, the assessor’s along with other elected officials were granted pay raises beginning in 2013. Bordelon, along with one other assessor in the state of the sixty-four assessors did not take the pay raise for the 2013, 2014 or 2015 years.
She does not have an office car for personal use, therefore saving the taxpayers fuel, insurance, and maintenance. The office vehicle is used only for field inspections during office hours and it remains at the office overnight. Bordelon also pays for her cell phone as she did prior to becoming assessor.
For the 2014 tax year, Bordelon reduced the millage rate that the assessor’s office receives, and hopes to do the same this year.
She is proud of the customer service her office provides as well as her accessibility. Bordelon enjoys meeting many new people that come into the office to sign their homestead exemption or to file their personal property reports. She welcomes you to call or come by the office if you have any questions concerning your assessments.