The seemingly endless dirty money train of River Birch landfill company has reached the campaign coffers of some of the state’s highest ranking officeholders, including Gov. Bobby Jindal and state Treasurer John Kennedy, according to a lawsuit the state Ethics Board has filed against River Birch.
The Times-Picayune reports that River Birch, at the center of a federal probe for its far reach into pockets of politicians in an effort to stamp out competition from rival landfills, is now linked to seven “shell” companies that illegally funneled hundreds of thousands of dollars in campaign contributions to more than a dozen elected officials.
Federal prosecutors claim two of the shell companies helped funnel money to Henry Mouton, the Lafayette resident and former state Department of Wildlife and Fisheries commissioner who pleaded guilty last summer to federal charges of conspiracy to receive bribes and illegal payoffs. Mouton admitted to using his unpaid position on the WL&F board to lobby public officials statewide in an attempt to keep the Old Gentilly Landfill in New Orleans closed in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. In return, he received 170 checks totaling $463,970 from Fred Heebe, River Birch’s owner. Mouton is also accused of setting up “straw” men to illegally contribute to the campaigns of an unidentified congressional candidate and a statewide candidate:
Jindal’s campaign reported receiving $5,000 contributions from six River Birch-linked firms on the same day in April 2007. The $30,000 haul would violate a $5,000 cap on donations from one company if all the money ultimately came from River Birch Inc., as the Board of Ethics asserts in a lawsuit against the alleged shell companies.
Another recipient was former New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin. His reports show he was given $5,000 in May 2006, shortly before he refused to extend an emergency permit for the Chef Menteur landfill that was competing with River Birch for lucrative contracts to dispose of Hurricane Katrina debris.
Jindal, by contrast, has not been publicly identified as taking any actions to benefit River Birch.
Altogether since 2003, the seven firms identified in the Board of Ethics lawsuit as conduits for illegal contributions from River Birch have doled out more than $300,000 to about 60 candidates for a wide array of legislative, judicial, executive and law enforcement offices.
Filed May 18 in 24th Judicial District Court in Gretna, the Board of Ethics suit focuses on 34 donations totaling about $90,000 made since 2009, the cutoff date for the three-year statute of limitations. But it says River Birch made scores of other contributions before 2009 in violation of a state law that prohibits making campaign contributions “through or in the name of another” entity.
A Board of Ethics spokeswoman said recipients of the contributions identified in its suit have not been accused of any wrongdoing. “They do not have to return the contributions,” said Alainna Giacone, the board’s communication director. “They also do not face any penalties unless they knowingly received bad money, which we are not alleging in this case.”
Others receiving donations from the alleged shell companies include state Sen. J.P. Morrell, D-New Orleans, $15,000; state Treasurer John Kennedy, $10,000; state Rep. Jared Brossett, D-New Orleans, $10,000; Royal Alexander, who lost a 2007 bid for state attorney general, $10,000; former St. Bernard Parish President Craig Taffaro, $10,000; state Sen. Jody Amedee, R-Gonzales, $8,500; state Rep. Ernest Wooten, R-Belle Chasse, $7,500; state Attorney General Buddy Caldwell, $5,000; Norma Broussard, Aaron Broussard’s daughter-in-law, who lost a 2008 race for a 24th District judge seat, $5,000.
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