Thursday, October 1, 2009

Richard Angelico, dean of local TV investigative reporting, to retire Oct. 15

Posted By on Thu, Oct 1, 2009 at 4:00 PM

BY ALLEN JOHNSON JR.

click to enlarge Angelico
After an often spectacular 40-year career uncovering the dark acts of powerful public officials, mobsters, sex offenders –- and, famously, even meter maids -- WDSU-TV investigative reporter Richard Angelico is taking on a new assignment: more time playing with his grandchildren.

  Angelico, 65, said today that he plans to retire Oct. 15, ending a 26-year career at WDSU.

 “It’s time for me to go,” the dean of New Orleans TV journalists says. “I have four grandchildren I want to enjoy while I still have my health.”

   The iconic reporter suggested that the seemingly endless supply of corruption stories out of City Hall in recent years contributed to his retirement decision.

  “You see the same schemes over and over again – just different actors,” he said. “You begin to wonder if there is ever hope for the City of New Orleans.”

 Angelico added that the advent of electronic communications has made investigative reporting more difficult. “Back in the old days there were ‘paper trails’,” leading to corrupt officials, he said, adding, “Today, it’s a lot easier to be sneaking around with a computer.”

A native of Jefferson Parish, who earned a degree in Spanish from Loyola University, Angelico got his start as a part-time producer with WVUE-TV in 1969, before joining WDSU-TV in 1983. His reports at both stations earned him plaudits from both the public and fellow journalists.

In 1971, contributions from worshippers failed to build a Baptist church as promised in Mid-City. Angelico uncovered a Ponzi scheme that resulted in a federal grand jury investigation in 1971 -- his first major investigation story. He also investigated Sammy Downs, the state commissioner of public

works. Recalling Downs, who denied taking kickbacks on the sale of new voting machines, but acknowledged receiving a $250,000 “commission” for the transactions, Angelico chuckled. The commissioner was indicted twice, but never convicted. His scandalized office was abolished.

In the 1970s, Angelico aired a series on Bill Dodd, the former lieutenant governor and then state superintendent of public education. “He had bookies and convicted felons working as vocational (school) rehabilitation counselors,” and other questionable practices, Angelico recalls. Dodd was acquitted after a trial.

In 1985, Wayne Babovich became the first sitting New Orleans city councilman to go to prison, after an Angelico investigation exposed the elected official’s role in a land scam in his eastern New Orleans district.

In the late 1980s, Angelico led a months-long undercover investigation that revealed the grip of crack cocaine on the city’s poor. “We showed wide-open crack dealing on the streets,” the reporter said. He says he first obtained permission from NOPD to buy crack, then filmed drug dealers who running up to the undercover news van to make sales at various locations citywide. Angelico detailed the exposé in an Oct. 3, 1989 cover story for Gambit.

“You couldn’t do this today; you’d get killed,” Angelico says, sharing credit for the story with photojournalist Tip Cunningham.

  In recent years, Angelico’s pioneering Internet investigations of child molesters in 1995 led him face-to-face with “Bama Joe,” a pedophile who went to prison for his crimes. Angelico’s riveting series was awarded two Emmys, television’s highest honor. “That was probably one of the best stories ever told in my life,” he says. He also broadcast award-winning stories on the child pornography collection of a popular Catholic priest, and a story on how former District Attorney Harry Connick destroyed some grand jury records from predecessor Jim Garrisson’s historic JFK assassination probe. “Connick’s office needed storage space,” Angelico recalls, wryly.

 Yet another Angelico investigation of a “ton of schemes” at Avondale Shipyards resulted in 40 federal indictments. The series was among more than 100 stories in his career that resulted in indictments. He

says he once kept a list on the wall of his office, but took it down. “I decided it wasn’t a good thing to do,” he said.

  In the late 1990s, under then-Police Chief Richard Pennington, Angelico reported on police downgrading of criminal complaints by citizens to minor crimes as NOPD pushed its cops to reduce crime statistics, citywide. NOPD later upgraded the same 10 cases Angelico used as a sample. However, the reporter says public confidence in police statistics remains low today. “The crimes people see in their own neighborhoods… doesn’t jibe with the police reports,” he says.

   In 2004, he led a hidden-camera investigation that showed black men were subjected to unequal standards of admission and service at Bourbon Street nightclubs. “Blacks got remarkably different treatment going into these clubs,” said Angelico, who is white. The series resulted in reforms.

 Angelico, who investigated Mafia boss Carlos Marcello in the 1970s, more recently flew to Florida to interview a Mob hitman he found in a witness protection program. “I thought that was going to be one of the greatest stories of my life,” Angelico recalls.

   When he returned, however, New Orleans was in an uproar over another Angelico investigation that had aired in the reporter's absence -- on unscrupulous parking meter maids. Using police barricades, several meter maids illegally secured personal parking places in front of the New Orleans Council on Aging – forcing the ailing and elderly to plod longer distances. “The ratings went through the roof,” Angelico said. “It was frightening how much people hated meter maids.” He then aired his interview with the Mob hitman, which was no match for public demand for replays of the meter maids.

“It just goes to show how much I know about television news,” Angelico chuckled.

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