Lafreniere Bark, a new five-acre dog park, opens Saturday, Jan. 7, on the north side of Lafreniere Park (3000 Downs Blvd., Metairie) with a ribbon-cutting ceremony and event from 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.
Everyone is welcome to attend the free event, and pet owners are encouraged to dress their dogs in Saints or LSU gear (You can choose another team if you dare.) and enter them in a pet sports costume contest. If you're ready to add a pet to your family, the Jefferson Parish SPCA will have animals available for adoption. Other activities also are planned.
According to the indictment, ex-Jefferson Parish President Aaron Broussard, who resigned last year, allegedly overpaid his then-wife Karen Parker — who worked as a paralegal for the parish even though she wasn't qualified — by more than $20,000 per year.
The indictment says Parker earned over $320,000 working for Jefferson Parish from 2004-2010.
The feds allege that ex-parish attorney Thomas Wilkinson, who also resigned last year, was part of the scheme as well. According to the indictment, he authorized Parker's hiring at an inflated salary and then her subsequent raises. Here's how they say he did that:
THOMAS G. WILKINSON directed a subordinate employee to cross out the pay rate for defendant KAREN PARKER of $28,838.00 and write $48,000.00 on an official Parish of Jefferson, Department of Human Services, Request to Fill a Vacant Job Form.
Her salary would jump to $64,000 by 2012 under Wilkinson's watch, despite the fact that Parker wasn't trained or certified as a paralegal, according to the indictment. And while that was allegedly happening, Broussard approved more than $80,000 in pay raises for Wilkinson.
The press release, just in from U.S. Attorney Jim Letten's office:
(Complete press release plus the full indictment after the jump)
Lieutenant governor hopeful Billy Nungesser and his Senate champion, David Vitter, are planning a seven-city blitz of the state that will take them from Shreveport and Monroe all the way down to New Orleans in 10 1/2 hours. The duo (along with entertainer and former lieutenant governor candidate Sammy Kershaw) will begin at 8 a.m. in Shreveport ("Corner of Bert Kouns and Youree Dr. [look for the giant elephant with Nungesser signs on it]") before hitting Monroe, Alexandria, Lake Charles, Lafayette, Baton Rouge and finally "New Orleans" (actually, Metairie).
(Interestingly, both the Monroe and Baton Rouge stops have the instruction: "Look for the statue of Drew Brees." Huh? There's a statue of #9 in Monroe??? A quick call to the campaign cleared it up: Nungesser, Vitter, Kershaw, et al. will be traveling with a Drew Brees statue. No word on whether the "statue" is an inflatable, or one of those car-dealership giant stick figures that flails around due to a fan at the bottom. Also no word as to what the steadfastly non-political Mr. Brees thinks of all this; to my knowledge, he hasn't endorsed anything more controversial than NyQuil.)
It's an ambitious schedule, particularly in regards to Baton Rouge, where the meet-and-greet is scheduled to begin at 4:30 p.m., meaning they'll hit Red Stick rush hour traffic on their way to Metairie.
Full schedule and details under the jump.
Avondale Shipyard, Northrop Grumman's sprawling West Bank shipbuilding facility, is set to close in 2013. Rolling layoffs will impact thousands of workers. Local and national campaigns fight, hope (and pray) to keep it open — and this morning, hundreds of union members, laborers, families and others joined a march and rally to help save the shipyard. (Read more in Gambit.)
Hundreds gathered at the foot of Champions Square, carrying signs representing their unions or the campaign to keep the yard open. Mayor Mitch Landrieu shook hands in the crowd before making his way to a small stage and emphasizing the importance of keeping the yard open, both for the Westwego and West Bank communities and New Orleans. "Everyone (here) helped rebuild America," he told the crowd. "Let's get to work."
Among the unions and organizations in the march were NAACP, International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, AFL-CIO, United Steelworkers, and laborers, boilermakers, teachers, musicians and several other local union affiliates.
The police-escorted march began on Poydras Street outside Champions Square and made its way to the Hale Boggs Federal Building several blocks away. Jefferson Parish President John Young and labor leaders, led by the Treme Brass Band and Rev. Jim VanderWeele of New Orleans Interfaith Worker Justice, carried Save Our Shipyard banners and marched in the front. Sen. J.P. Morrell, D-New Orleans, and Rep. Robert Billiot, D-Westwego marched among dozens of groups following the lead.
"It's a nuclear bomb," Morrell said of the economic impact of a potential Avondale closure. "And the state doesn't have a sense of urgency."
"I would like nothing more than to respond to each and every allegation, because I have answers for each and every allegation,” Robinette said at the top of his popular "Think Tank" morning show on "The Big 870." “But I’ve been asked to refrain from discussing these matters."
Robinette never said who asked him to "refrain from discussing these matters," but did add, "I can look my wife and my daughter in the eye … and tell you the public, that I have done absolutely nothing wrong."
He then went on to host his program with no further mention of the controversy.
Heebe and his landfill contract are part of a 21-month-old ongoing federal investigation in Jefferson Parish. In September 2010, federal officials raided River Birch offices in Gretna, seizing computers and other documents and sparking a lawsuit by Heebe and Ward, who claimed the feds lifted property unrelated to the investigation. (In late 2010, U.S. District Judge Ginger Berrigan agreed, ordering the feds to return some properties.) Meanwhile, In late May, former Louisiana Wildlife & Fisheries head Henry Mouton pleaded guilty in federal court to accepting more than $460,000 in bribes from an unnamed co-conspirator in a case involving another landfill. A statement by the U.S. Department of Justice said Mouton "accepted hundreds of thousands of dollars in bribes and illegal payoffs from Co-conspirator A who used Mouton, and specifically his influence, to keep the Old Gentilly Landfill in New Orleans closed and to prevent the permitting of the Two Rivers Recycling Landfill in Catahoula Parish." Mouton is scheduled to be sentenced early next year.
Meanwhile, WWL-AM is standing by Robinette. In a statement this afternoon, the station said:
In December 2010, Garland Robinette informed WWL about a loan he and his wife Nancy received in 2007 relating to a piece of property they owned, which Garland confirms is due and will be satisfied in October of this year. We do not intend to comment on it publicly any further and do not expect this matter to affect Garland's status with WWL. We expect him to continue his unique and vital role addressing on WWL the important issues facing New Orleans and the Gulf South.
Following accusations of sex trafficking by a personal assistant, Steven Seagal's stint with Jefferson Parish law enforcement was terminated. Seagal headed to Arizona to work with controversial Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio and film the third season of his reality show Steven Seagal Lawman. Former Incredible Hulk actor Lou Ferrigno also signed on with the sheriff. But filming got interesting on a bust involving cockfighting investigations in which a man's puppy was accidentally killed. Now the homeowner says his roosters are just "for show," and is suing the sheriff and Seagal. Hollywood Reporter explains, and there's this item from the Arizona Republic. TPM also flagged the story, and has this on other celebs who have been deputized by Arpaio.
Promise was rescued in 2010 with "one foot in death's grave," says veterinarian Allison Barca. She's now a healthy weight and living happily in Jefferson Parish's care.
In this week's cover story, I look at how Jefferson Parish is handling cases of horse neglect on the West Bank. In urban environments like New Orleans, animal welfare organizations often deal with huge numbers of dog and cat cases — from abused or abandoned pets to spay-and-neuter operations. Horses throw a completely different wrench into these groups' already straining budgets.
Jefferson Parish Animal Shelter (JPAS) divides its operations on the East and West banks. The shelter has six animal control officers and one humane officer, who works primarily with cruelty cases. The officers work 9:30 a.m. to 11:30 p.m., in shifts, covering both banks. They also respond to emergencies at all hours. It's the more rural West Bank that poses a problem. Horses aren't necessarily in your neighbor's backyard — along Highway 90, for instance, there are makeshift "barns," open fields and secluded grassy areas and pastures. It's the last stretch of the parish before St. Charles Parish comes into view. JPAS has a Westwego outpost, but there are cut-off stables beyond there.
From July 2010 to July 2011, the shelter, aided by ASPCA consultant Kim Staton, spent hundreds of hours on horse cases and seized 12 — seemingly a small number, but the budget-tight parish has cared for 12 horses that desperately needed thousands of dollars in veterinary care, as well as transportation, feed and housing. JPAS does not own stables. Even LA/SPCA, which covers the New Orleans metro area, has limited stable space, despite a massive case in 2007-2009 that seized 31 horses from an Algiers property. Two horses were found dead.
River Birch landfill and its owners, including Fred Heebe, apparently are tired of taking a beating in the press.
Sources at the company tell Gambit that the firm, which operates one of the largest and most successful landfills in the region, has hired a Texas PR firm to help tell River Birch’s side of the story in response to an ongoing federal criminal investigation and claims by some in Jefferson Parish government that the firm’s contract with Jefferson was not a good deal for the parish. That contract, which never took effect, remains on hold.
River Birch’s efforts appear to be paying off. Last week, The Times-Picayune ran a front-page story tracking the company’s claim that an initial draft of a parish-sponsored audit of the controversial contract actually showed that the contract was a good deal for Jefferson. The final, official audit reached the opposite conclusion — after a December 2010 meeting between the auditors and some parish officials led to “finessing the numbers” by altering the audit’s underlying assumptions.
A preliminary draft of the audit report, which was presented at the December meeting, concluded that the parish would save roughly $1.6 million over the contract’s 25-year term. The final report, which was released in January by the Baton Rouge accounting firm of Postlethwaite & Netterville, said the parish would save at least $9 million if it continued to use its own dump and not River Birch’s.
Parish Attorney Deborah Foshee told the TP that the meeting was not about the numbers at all, but rather an attempt to make sure the assumptions were accurate and valid.
The contract appears to play a key role in what many suspect is a wide-ranging federal investigation into Jefferson Parish politics.
Meanwhile, a source at River Birch tells Gambit that one of Heebe’s other companies, Shadow Lake Management, had former state Wildlife and Fisheries Commissioner Henry Mouton on retainer for years before he joined the commission in 2003. Mouton was indicted on bribery and other charges on Feb. 25.
The indictment alleges that Mouton was bribed while on the commission to lobby against competing landfills after Hurricane Katrina, which struck in August 2005. The indictment doesn’t mention Heebe, or any of his other companies by name, but the clear implication in the document is that Heebe is “co-conspirator A.”
Whether part of a PR offensive or not, the notion that Mouton was routinely on retainer to one of Heebe’s companies long before his appointment to the commission goes to the heart of what will surely be Heebe’s defense if the feds go after the business owner.
On the afternoon of Feb. 25, a mother unloading her children from a car to take them to a nearby playground alerted authorities to a man in a Ford Windstar van parked near the playground. The man, she told sheriffs' deputies, was masturbating. Storms told officers on the scene he wasn't masturbating, but instead attempting to urinate in a bottle in the van. This afternoon, he admitted concocting that story — "I was ashamed" — but did not admit to masturbating. "I'm confessing to having my hand in my pants," Storms said. "That's all I'm going to say," adding the truth "will come out in court."
Speaking in the parking lot of a motel on the I-10 Service Road in Metairie, where he had been staying since his arrest, Storms struggled for composure, at times breaking down in tears as he described the effect his arrest had on his wife and four children, the youngest of whom are nine and six years old. "I'll have to tell them, 'Daddy has a problem,'" he said, weeping.
Storms wanted to clear the record on one issue in particular: that he was parked in the vicinity of the Lafreniere playspot to watch children. "I am not a pedophile," he said. "I am not a child molester." Despite the arrest report in Jefferson Parish in which he seemed to implicate himself for public masturbation, Storms said he wasn't clear as to the nature of the charges to which he admitted ("It's contradictory to what happened"), and said the conduct of the JPSO was like a "stab in the back," calling the sheriffs' interview procedures "coercive and insulting."
"It's not true I confessed," Storms said. "I'm losing faith in law enforcement."
Storms, who is no longer affiliated with any church, says he runs a lawn care business out of his van and had stopped at Lafreniere Park to eat lunch — though he said he had been looking at online pornography immediately before going to the park: "I have a problem with pornography. Pornography is destructive."
Asked if the pornographic material was heterosexual, homosexual or child-centered, he said, "Heterosexual." Asked if he would characterize his behavior as a manifestation of sex addiction, he said, "I'm familiar with sex addiction, being a pastor ... I'll just say: Do I have a problem? Yes." Despite that problem, he said, this arrest was the first of its kind.
"I have deeply hurt my family," Storms said, weeping, "and I pray they can find it within their hearts to forgive me."
In 2003 and 2004, Storms led high-profile protests against the annual Southern Decadence festival in the French Quarter (sometimes referred to as the "gay Mardi Gras"), in which he condemned homosexuals, confronted revelers with bullhorns and signs, and vowed to drive the largely gay Labor Day weekend event from New Orleans. This week, however, he characterized those protests as "hateful." asked for the forgiveness of those he had hurt with his anti-gay rhetoric. "I was very proudful, arrogant," Storms said. "I have been vicious at times in my condemnation of others." Would he return to Southern Decadence to denounce the crowds? "No, no," he said.
Storms concluded with another apology before being joined by a man dressed in black, whom he refused to identify other than to say "I've got pastors working with me now."
The two men left the parking lot together silently.
Production on his COPS-style A&E reality show Lawman may have been shut down last year when the actor was accused of illicit behavior, but now Deputy Seagal has now landed a new beat: Phoenix, Ariz., where controversial Sheriff Joe Arpaio has welcomed the actor to resume shooting. As a result, A&E has greenlit a third season of Steven Seagal Lawman, with Seagal going on patrol in Maricopa County. “I have a lot of friends in the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office, so when Sheriff Joe Arpaio invited me to join them, there wasn’t a moment’s hesitation,” Seagal said. “Certain crimes in Arizona are on the rise and now that I live there, I want to help the sheriff fight it the best way I know how. It’s an honor to serve.”
"Certain crimes in Arizona" ... hmmm. Could it be ... shoplifting?
The first two seasons of Lawman were shot in Jefferson Parish, Louisiana, where Seagal was embedded with local sheriffs departments. Last year, Seagal learned nobody is above the law when he was accused of sex trafficking by a personal assistant. The lawsuit was dropped, but the tabloid headlines prompted Louisiana authorities to shut down production on the show. But now, like something from a wild buddy cop movie, Seagal and the always colorful Arpaio will join forces. Arpaio promotes himself as “America’s Toughest Sheriff” and is an outspoken proponent against illegal immigration. He’s also been the subject of FBI and Department of Justice investigations for civil rights violations and abuse of power. Seagal will execute outstanding arrest warrants, respond to emergency situations, work with the narcotics unit, and more.
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