May 8, 2016
Not since the mid-1970s has Caddo Parish stared down a like wave of public corruption. Corruption in our parish school system and Caddo Parish Commission is systemic. That some self-anointed community “leaders” provide cover for it is as sad a fact as I have known in my lifetime here.
A few new members notwithstanding, corruption in and by the Caddo Commission rolls on.
President Matthew Linn continues his quiet rewrite of the Caddo Home Rule Charter as necessary to recast voracious self-pay from criminal to merely reprehensible. Linn is also blocking a straight-up public vote on a Resolution which would force Commissioners who took CPERS plunder – Linn included – to return it to us … to the Commission general fund.
Enough. It is far past time for a full, formal and transparent criminal investigation by independent authorities. We who are honest are being forced to fund what is corrupt. We deserve no less than a stem-to-stern investigation of every type and kind of compensation paid to Commissioners and top staff since the early 1990s.
Much work is behind us. Since January 2015, with the direct help of the Louisiana Legislative Auditor, I have publicly detailed how most Commissioners and some top staff pulled off their various heists. Most infamous among the various self-pay schemes is their near-$300,000 in illegal CPERS benefits, plus another near-$100,000 in fees to three outside attorneys paid with our money to preserve the theft. (Original reporting here.)
One of these attorneys also worked for Caddo Commissioners on our dime in the late 1990s, trying but failing to convince a state court judge to allow Commissioners the same thing: an illegal retirement system.
Regardless CPERS beneficiaries promise they never knew their CPERS haul was illegal. Did that attorney know the truth? Yes. Did the state legislature write and pass bills to explicitly prohibit this particular self-pay? Yes. Did Governor Mike Foster sign those into law? Yes. Did 70% of Louisiana and 69% of Caddo voters cast ballots to put that prohibition in the Louisiana Constitution? Yes and Yes.
Has CPERS pay to Commissoners therefore been explicitly illegal since January 1, 1997? YES.
Law be damned, in March 2000, Commissioners corruptly voted themselves their CPERS haul. Then, in 2005, with additional theft aforethought, eight of them passed a change which supercharged the rate and amount of that hustle.
An ex-Commissioner, now holding another office, has secretly directed the attorneys working to preserve the CPERS take. Thus, related legal processes serve only guilty parties. She has taken more than $30,000 in CPERS money, and played a key role in the cited 2005 CPERS boost, while joining three others in carefully abstaining from casting a vote.
Aggressive Investigative Journalism … and the Investigation: How? Who? When?
Sheriff Steve Prator has noted to some that he cannot investigate, citing the long history of Caddo Parish district attorneys refusing to prosecute cases he develops. Too, our interim D.A., just before D.A. James Stewart took office, informed me by phone call the he would not act because Commissioners might attack his budget.
Other dramatic conflicts of interest arise from close personal friendships between some of these officials and Commissioners.
Such is precisely why alternatives to local investigation and prosecution exist, as was demonstrated in the 1970s corruption involving Public Safety Commissioner George D’Artois. Criminal intelligence officers then understood that horse racing at the new Louisiana Downs in Bossier would soon trigger an organized crime takeover of local gambling, prostitution and other rackets.
D’Artois was elected to lead such battles, but was himself involved. So, the community warning whistle was blown to the Shreveport Times front office.
Then-District Attorney John Richardson asked Louisiana Attorney General Billy Guste to conduct the investigation, with its results then presented to a Caddo Parish grand jury. The work of these officials was made much easier by our exemplary reporters, about whom I will later write more. They were our community’s defense against suicide by public corruption.
Then, some 100,000 of us daily read the Shreveport Times and Shreveport Journal. No such figures are now reported, but good sources believe the comparable count today is 10-15% of our peak.
The Shreveport Times, which bought the Journal years ago, is now in a different business. Its website identifies a total of 25 employees, only 2 of whom cover local government. When we last faced this threat, our population was 25,000 fewer, but there were 10-times as many reporters on our frontline at the Times and Journal.
… to be continued …
(Elliott Stonecipher does this work pro bono … no compensation of any kind is solicited or accepted. He has no client or other relationships which in any way influence his selections of subjects or the content of any article. Appropriate credit to Mr. Stonecipher in the sharing – unedited only, of course – is expected. The use of his work without such credit to him is unethical and will not be quietly accepted.)