LEBLANCS DEFEND COMPANY TIED TO TEXAS SCANDAL A Lafayette company headed by brothers Michael and Patrick Leblanc has turned up in the middle of a public corruption investigation centered on the Bexar County Sheriff's Office in west Texas. Sheriff Ralph Lopez was recently indicted on three misdemeanor charges related to unreported benefits he received from the Leblancs' company, Premier Management Enterprise. Lopez took an all-expenses-paid golfing/fishing trip to Costa Rica with the Leblancs, at a time when Premier was vying for a lucrative contract to run the county jail's commissary stores.
Court filings also show that one of the sheriff's close associates, John Reynolds, appears to have laundered money from Premier into his own personal bank account, through a fraudulent charity scholarship organization named Optimists.
"We were duped," says Pat Leblanc. "I really don't know the whole length and breadth of the story, but I can tell you this: If somebody played funny with our money, I want to prosecute them to the end of the world."
Leblanc, who is a candidate for District 43 state representative, also distanced himself from the company, which he says is primarily run by his brother and another associate, Ian Williamson. Michael Leblanc says he is working closely with investigators and anticipates the entire issue should soon be resolved. "Unfortunately, we didn't know who this guy was," he says, referring to Reynolds. "Shame on us."
While it appears Premier is unlikely to face any charges from the investigation, the circumstances surrounding its contract with the Bexar County jail have certainly created a perception of quid pro quo. The district attorney has labeled Lopez's golf trip as an honorarium that "was in consideration for services that the defendant would not have been requested to provide but for defendant's official position and duties."
Lopez began pushing to farm out the county jail's commissaries to Premier in 2005. Initially the idea met resistance from the board of the "Benevolent Fund" ' a nonprofit Lopez had set up to manage the commissaries several years ago. One board member, Amadeo Ortiz ' who now is running against Lopez for sheriff ' commissioned a background report that was critical of Premier and another Leblanc company. After Ortiz resigned, the issue came up again. The board approved moving ahead with a six-month trial contract with Premier in August 2005. The vote came at a special meeting held while two board members were out of town. Reynolds was elected chairman of the board at the same meeting.
A few weeks after that meeting, the Leblancs took both Lopez and Reynolds on the trip to Costa Rica. Sheriff Lopez has stated the trip, which John Reynolds also attended, was a private conference unrelated to any county business.
Pat Leblanc says the conference addressed security issues related to one of the Leblancs' private prisons in Alabama. In addition to Premier, the Leblancs own LCS Prisons, the fifth largest prison system in the U.S. with facilities across the Gulf Coast region.
"In our jail business, we hold conferences with various law enforcement agencies to discuss security and issues having to do with operation. That was the basis of the trip," says Pat Leblanc. He adds the business also "routinely entertains clients. We take them fishing and we take them golfing," he says. "That's business culture; everybody in the business world does that. All the service companies here do it."
Premier signed its six-month contract with the Benevolent Fund's board in October 2005, and in the months following made a total of $27,500 in contributions to charities now known to be controlled by Reynolds. The district attorney's office has bank records showing that Reynolds transferred the funds into his personal account. Reynolds is yet to be called before a grand jury.
For his part, Sheriff Lopez, a Democrat, has maintained that he is the victim of a "political witch hunt" by the Republican district attorney. Premier's Texas-based attorney, Tonya Webber, issued the following statement on behalf of her clients:
"Neither PME nor any of its employees or principals has engaged in any misconduct. While both the company and the Leblancs typically make charitable and political contributions they had every reason to believe that any such charities were legitimate and that all contributions or benefits were reported by the recipients as required by law."
Pat Leblanc says that in hindsight, his company was too trusting of the Brexar County officials. "We're out of towners," he says. "We're not from that area. We went in, we sold our service; they wanted us to do the commissary service. We operate a good, clean business and to think that we might have been taken advantage of in that regard just turns my stomach." ... ROMERO GETTING OUT OF POLITICS? Term-limited Iberia Parish Sen. Craig Romero says he's definitely not going to get into the race for parish president. Despite persistent rumblings that he is planning to jump into race for the top local job, or switch chambers and run as the state representative from District 49, Romero says no. "I'm not running for anything," he says. "I'm enjoying life and taking care of my children."
A poll conducted two weeks ago pointedly inquired how Iberia Parish voters felt about Romero's tenure as parish president in the 1980s, and his work in the state Senate. Romero says he knows nothing about the poll. "I got calls at the beginning of the summer and earlier in the year. This is the third time this year [that] people wanted to know if I'm running a poll. I'm not running a poll."
After an unsuccessful race against Democrat Charlie Melancon for Congress last year, Romero says he is going to stay home and raise his seven children. While he says constituents are constantly asking him to stay in politics, he's serious about giving more time to his family. "There's not a place I go, day or night, and that's [politics] all people want to talk about, but I've got to think about my kids at the end of every day. And the beginning of every day. That's what really governs my life right now. I've got to spend as much time as I can with my children and my wife. I've been lucky I've had her 26 years in government, lucky because Pam doesn't get into politics. She doesn't care about any of that. She says take care of your kids. That's number one."
Contributors: Nathan Stubbs and Mary Tutwiler
... ATTACK ADS HEAT UP IN GOVERNOR'S RACE With the Oct. 20 election fast approaching, Louisiana voters are getting a heavy dose of ads pronouncing who NOT to vote for. The Jindal campaign, which has been the barb of cardboard cutout jokes in state Sen. Walter Boasso's ads, struck back last week with a commercial that depicts both Boasso and his fellow Democratic rival Foster Campbell as clowns not capable of turning around Louisiana's dysfunctional government. Meanwhile, the Louisiana Democratic Party is throwing everything it can at Jindal in hopes something will stick. Its latest ad dredged up religious essays Jindal wrote while studying at Oxford, selectively picking out phrases and taking them out of context to portray the Republican front runner as being anti-Protestant. The Jindal camp denounced the religious attack as a twisted ad that will only serve to anger voters. The state GOP sent out an e-mail proclaiming that the backlash had already begun, citing an editorial in The Ouachita Citizen titled "La. Democrats sink to new low." The state Democratic Party has defended the "Jindal on religion" ad by saying they are only pointing out Jindal's own writings, but this could cross the line for many voters... GUBERNATORIAL CANDIDATE GEORGES MULLING PARTY SWITCH Republican gubernatorial candidate John Georges got some encouraging signs in the latest poll conducted by Dr. Verne Kennedy's Market Research Insights. Kennedy's statewide poll of 600 likely voters, conducted Aug. 13-15, shows Georges with 56 percent name recognition; 24 percent of voters identified Georges as their second choice for governor and 44 percent said they would consider voting for Georges. "This is the first trial heat with any kind of movement, with more than 10 percent support and 50 percent name recognition after only three weeks of television [advertising]," says Georges, who was a virtual unknown in the race three months ago.
Successful businessman Georges is the wild card in the governor's race, in no small part due to his massive $7 million campaign war chest. And he's clearly unhappy with the Louisiana Republican Party, making the next two weeks leading up to Sept. 4-6 qualifying especially interesting. "The state Republican Party refuses to do any mailouts with my name on it," says Georges. "They're promoting only one Republican, and that's probably why Walter Boasso switched parties."
With that in mind, Georges is considering all his options. "I'm certainly keeping the party switch open," he says. "It depends; we're going to do a poll and see how many Republican votes I'd get.
"The big question," Georges continues, "is whether Louisiana voters would support an independent candidate." Georges also notes, "I'm getting a lot of love from the Democrats." ... THE RAGIN' CAJUN GOES TO BAT FOR LANDRIEU U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu of New Orleans is supposedly the top-targeted Democrat up for re-election next year, so some of the Democratic Party's biggest names are rallying for Landrieu. Last week, uber-consultant James Carville signed a letter on behalf of Landrieu asking supporters to stay strong and pony up the dollars. "Mary Landrieu will be one of the most important names on the 2008 ballot, and she needs our help," Carville writes. "She deserves our help. She's at the top of my priority list of Democratic incumbents to support in the 2008 elections, and I'm hoping that she'll be on the top of yoursâ?¦ If there's a single race on the 2008 ballot where your contribution can make a difference, this is it." Donations are asked in the form of $25, $50 and $100 political gifts, although there is a postscript pointing out that a simple "$35 contribution will go a long way toward returning Mary Landrieu to the U.S. Senate in November 2008."
Louisiana's Republican Party has filed a complaint against Democratic U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu with the Senate's ethics committee about her use of private chartered planes.
The Ragin’ Cajuns got off to a superb start Saturday night, and the Human Jukebox made the soaked season opener even sweeter for the third-largest crowd in Cajun Field history.
The Louisiana health department will follow a federal judge's order and refrain from immediately penalizing doctors who are trying to comply with a new abortion law that requires them to obtain admitting privileges at a local hospital, a spokeswoman said Monday.
While bogged down with qualifying candidates last month, Secretary of State Tom Schedler didn’t lose sight of the true endgame coming in November and December.
Tuesday's Blogs from the Bog!
Stoned driving a concern when pot is legal; Detroit's bankruptcy trial; speed trap scandal in Florida and more national and international news for Tuesday, September 02, 2014.
A federal jury found attorney Daniel Stanford guilty Friday afternoon on eight of 13 counts for his role in the Curious Goods conspiracy.
Lafayette City-Court Judge Francie Bouillion has served on the bench for two decades since winning a special election to replace Judge Kaliste Saloom when he retired in 1994.
The magazine's senior football writer also predicts a break-out year for Saints fourth-year running back Mark Ingram.
Gulf Coast ceremonies marking the ninth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina have begun.
The Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries says there is little known about the effects of tiger prawns on indigenous Louisiana shrimp. But, officials say the reports they're seeking will help state biologists monitor the distribution of the prawns and determine the possible presence of spawning populations.
Baltimore Ravens coach John Harbaugh rested his regulars and watched with delight as Ray Rice's backups ground out 214 yards rushing in a 22-13 victory over the New Orleans Saints on Thursday night.
High-profile criminal defense attorney Daniel Stanford awaits his fate in the Curious Goods conspiracy trial.
The Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries is set to put the kibosh on the legal ownership of monkeys trained to help the disabled, and the agency wants to know what you think.
A federal judge on Thursday asked lawyers battling over Louisiana's new, restrictive abortion law for an agreement that apparently could let clinics stay open — at least for a while — after the law takes effect Sept. 1.
An abortion rights organization wants a federal judge to block enforcement of Louisiana's new abortion law while its lawsuit to overturn the law makes its way through court.
Republican presidential prospects Ted Cruz and Bobby Jindal are planning to speak at an Iowa Christian conservative event in September.
The attention surrounding Victor White III has spiked with the release of last week’s autopsy report, which has raised a number of serious questions about the night of his death and has put the Iberia Parish Sheriff’s Office under an increased wave of scrutiny as more national media outlets are jumping on the story, most recently seen on MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show.
A group supporting taxpayer-funded private school tuition vouchers is appealing a federal judge's order that Louisiana must provide regular reports to federal officials on the state's voucher program.
The Discovery Channel has canceled reality TV star Will Hayden's popular "Sons of Guns" show after his arrest on an aggravated rape charge.
The LPSB will finally hear from the attorney it hired to investigate the superintendent at a special meeting Thursday at 4 p.m.
Authorities are investigating a report that a student there warned the principal of impending violence similar to that depicted in the movie "The Purge."
Saints cornerback Champ Bailey has played for more than a handful of playoff teams during a career that has seen him selected to 12 Pro Bowls.
Police say a 56-year-old Lafayette man walking behind a dump truck died when the truck hit him as it was backing up.
New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees is a proud papa of new baby girl.