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.
The Jefferson Convention and Visitors Bureau is staging its fourth Family Gras and announced the musical lineup for the three-day event Feb. 25-27. Musical acts range from local favorites to national acts covering genres ranging from country to rock to dance music and pop. The festival started in 2007 as a way to draw families to Jefferson Parish for a safe, all-ages celebration of the Carnival season.
There are some new features this year. A Jester’s Kid’s Tent will offer activities for youngsters, and in another tent former WDSU-TV anchor Kriss Fairbairn will interview performers. One of the biggest changes at the free festival is an option for attendees to buy a $99 Royal Pass (purchase through Ticketmaster) that gives them access to backstage hospitality areas as well as special viewing areas at the front of the stage.
The 20-act schedule:
A followup to her bestselling 2009 memoir, Going Rogue, Palin’s new volume sounds like less of a biography and more of a gallimaufry of conservative ideas and themes; HarperCollins, the publisher, says in promotional materials that the book “will include selections from classic and contemporary readings that have moved her — from the nation’s founding documents to great speeches, sermons, letters, literature and poetry, biography and even some of her favorite songs and movies.”
For those unable to make the Jeff Parish booksigning, Palin will be appearing at the Baton Rouge Books-A-Million on Towne Center Boulevard Nov. 30. According to the store's manager, anyone who wants to attend needs to come by the store Nov. 28 to receive a wristband.
Steven’s love for the blues and blues musicians gave him the ‘Mojo’ and his time spent in Asia and his study of Buddhism gave him the ‘Priest’ — that’s how Steven is known to many as the Mojo Priest. — From the A&E promotional site
He eats Jefferson Parish sushi. He wears sunglasses at night. He wears a black robe the size of the Saints championship banner.
He is Lawman. He is Everyman. He is Fighting Man. (At least according to the trailer for the show.) He's the terror of Veterans Memorial Boulevard and the sensei of Martin Behrman Highway.
He is: Steven Seagal Lawman. And the second-season premiere of his show is tonight. Catch a 2-minute preview here.
Steven Seagal Lawman
Wednesdays, 9 pm
One of Grand Isle's biggest events of the year, the Grand Isle Tarpon Rodeo, was nixed this year due to the ongoing oil disaster on the coast. (The annual rodeo -- the oldest fishing competition in the U.S., had been held every year since 1928.) But using the lemons-->lemonade theory, organizers came up with a different idea: Island Aid, a benefit concert for the Gulf community that will take place on Grand Isle all day Sat., July 24.
Leann Rimes, Three Dog Night and the Little River Band are the headliners, and the lineup includes several New Orleans favorites, including Amanda Shaw and the Cute Guys, the Wiseguys and the Topcats. Tickets are $10 and can be purchased onsite on the day of the event only, and procees will go to the Grand Isle Alive promotion fund, which is raising money to rebuild the fishing and tourism industries on the island.
A kickoff event was held last month at Harrah's New Orleans, where a lot of Jeff Parish folks showed up for support, including the 2010 rodeo president, Nickie Monica, along with Grand Isle Mayor David Camardelle, Tom Capella, Chris Roberts, Sheriff Newell Normand, Cynthia Lee-Sheng and others. Fox 8 weatherdude Chris Franklin emceed (but can he guarantee good weather for the day? Chris?).
The following is a staff report by Clancy DuBos, David Winkler-Schmit and Kevin Allman.
When embattled Jefferson Parish president Aaron Broussard abruptly announced his intention to resign this morning, the announcement caught people off guard at the highest level of Jeff Parish politics. Councilman Chris Roberts said hed received a call from Broussard shortly before the news leaked, while councilwoman Cynthia Lee-Sheng said she'd been told the news by her staff, who had heard it from the media.
Just yesterday, Broussard had announced that the parishs public works director, Jose Gonzalez, would be filling out the remaining term of parish CAO Tim Whitmer, who had resigned Jan. 4. The announcement also meant Gonzalez would now be serving as temporary parish president until the council could meet this week to appoint an interim president.
Whitmer also owned an insurance company, Lagniappe Industries, that had a contract with St. John the Baptist Parish to provide dental insurance to parish employees. Broussard has admitted that he was paid $5,000 by Lagniappe for legal services, and that he had referred potential customers to Whitmers company.
Former St. John the Baptist President Bill Hubbard, now a convicted felon on another charge, had persuaded his parish council to sign with Lagniappe just as Jefferson Parish was adding $4.8 million to contracts it had penned with Hubbards company, Hubbard Enterprises. As CAO, Whitmer supervised all of the parish departments, including streets, drainage and environmental affairs offices with which Hubbard Enterprises was contracted.
While Broussards resignation turns politics in Jefferson Parish upside down, sources close to the situation tell Gambit the entire scandal behind Broussards surprise resignation stems from the initial Hubbard case in St. John the Baptist Parish.
Whitmers company, which he co-owns with his wife Dawn, also partnered in a deal with another insurance company, B&A Insurance of Metairie, on the sale of voluntary employee insurance at the publicly owned West Jefferson Medical Center. In early November, the Metropolitan Crime Commission (MCC) reported to The Times-Picayune that B&As agent, Wally Pontiff, was listed on the contract, but he was giving part of the commission to Lagniappe, who lists Tim Coulon, former Jefferson Parish president and Whitmers former boss, as one of its agents. The West Jefferson contract contained a clause barring the splitting of commissions.
In the three months following the West Jefferson revelation, it was revealed that Whitmer had insurance contracts with three local government agencies and six Jefferson Parish contractors, as well as doing bookkeeping for Lagniappe through his parish email account and soliciting parish employees to purchase insurance from his company.
On Wednesday, two days after Whitmer stepped down, the MCCs Rafael Goyeneche sent a letter to the states Ethics Administration, informing them that a confidential source had told him that Broussard was renting a lodge he owned in Nova Scotia to parish contractors. This morning, as various members of Broussards staff were set to testify before a federal grand jury regarding the Whitmer criminal investigation, Broussard announced his own resignation.
Broussards political career began in 1974, when he was elected to the Jefferson Parish School Board. He was elected mayor of Kenner in 1982 and went on to serve several terms on the parish council beginning in 1995.
Sources have also told Gambit that the next move in this topsy-turvy story may come directly from the U.S. Attorneys office.
God's speed, Rodrigue
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