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.
MAY 17 Here's a column from James Gill, this time in the Advocate. Gill, who has jumped ship from the Picayune, writes about the absurdity of dueling polls in this post. The numbers are so wildly different, it is obvious that both sides are "cooking the books," he writes. In particular, he looks at Sen. Mary Landrieu, and how her recent actions in DC have been received by those polled. Gill's acerbic, amusing prose is a welcome addition to a paper so conservative as to be occasionally lacking in personality.
MAY 17 Blogger Tom Aswell continues delivering bombshells about the state education department and Gov. Jindal's education "reform" efforts. In this post, he reports that students in the Shreveport area have been signed up for a charter school without their knowledge or consent. Most interesting to Aswell is how this Texas-based charter (with ties to GOP types) got the personal student information it has, if the students didn't give it.
MAY 17 This post by JR Ball in the Baton Rouge Business Report is an interesting tongue-in-cheek look at recent Baton Rouge economic development efforts. Among the items he examines is the idea that gaining a Costco makes BR a "world-class city." (Really? All you need is a different brand of Sam's? MK!) This effort, and other recent ones, are all built on the taxpayer's back, with tax zones, tax incentives and tax rebates, Ball writes.
MAY 17 Blogger CB Forgotston is critical of the legislature's reliance on a revenue-estimating committee's decision to include projected tax amnesty income in this year's forecast. That's a problem, CB posts, because the deadline for these people to pay their taxes is June 30, 2014. So when do you think these people who haven't paid taxes in years are going to pay their taxes? Surely not before June 30, and that means the money won't be there for this year's budget, he argues.
MAY 17 Here's an interesting blog out of California by a Hollywood writer, attorney and academic named Brian Alan Lane. He blogs about higher ed, and was a whistle-blower in a scandal over false credentials. In this post, he takes aim at LSU's new top dog, King Alexander. It's convoluted and a little confusing, but it sure makes Alexander a lot more interesting than he was yesterday.
MAY 17 Blogger Robert Mann writes about the LSU Board's refusal to allow Dr. Fred Cerise to testify before the legislature about Gov. Jindal's plan to close down all the state's charity hospitals and dump the poor on the private system. It's hard to imagine anyone more qualified than Cerise to testify about that, so why would anyone try to prevent him doing so? Mann thinks it is because the powers that be aren't interested in hearing any truth about the plan.
MAY 17 This post on the Louisiana Sinkhole Bugle, a blog that notes developments in the Bayou Corne and Jefferson Island salt domes, talks about a proposed expansion of the salt dome storage under Lake Peigneur in Iberia Parish. Residents are working against it for several reasons, including two biggies: the sinkhole disaster in Bayou Corne and the continuing, unexplained bubbling on the surface of the Lake.
MAY 17 NOLA police arrested more people Thursday accused of either being involved in the Mother's Day shooting or hiding the suspect afterward, this Gambit story reports. The NOLA police chief said he suspects the whole thing was gang-related and throws out a challenge to the gangs: he's got informants now, he says, and he knows a lot more than the gangs want him to know. The people who live in the neighborhoods terrorized by gangs are ready to talk, he says.
Is it a crime for citizens to photograph, video, or take notes of a police officer in the line of duty, or a right protected by the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution? Locally, such activity, as witnessed recently, will at the very least result in a night spent behind bars.
David Calhoun and Elizabeth “EB” Brooks are the first two employees of Lafayette Central Park Inc., the nonprofit charged with turning Lafayette Consolidated Government’s 100-acre Johnston Street Horse Farm property into a passive public park. Calhoun was named executive director, and Brooks is director of planning and design.
Episcopal School of Acadiana’s Dr. Joshua Caffery, chair of the school’s English Department, is headed to Washington, D.C., and the Library of Congress as the latest winner of the Alan Lomax Fellowship in Folklife Studies.