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'Bagman' and Rule 35
A federal judge this Wednesday (Dec. 12) is expected to sentence Joseph Jourdain, 42, a minor figure among major players in the feds' City Hall corruption probe. 'It should be interesting," local U.S. Attorney Jim Letten said recently. Jourdain is the admitted 'bagman" who passed bribes between politically corrupt businessman Stanford 'Pampy" Barre and disgraced former City Councilman Oliver Thomas. Meanwhile, the feds are leaving the door open for Oliver Thomas, even though he has already been sentenced to 37 months in prison after refusing to cooperate with ongoing corruption probes. Letten says a federal regulation, known as Rule 35, allows prosecutors to ask the sentencing judge to reduce prison terms for convicted defendants who provide 'substantial assistance" to government investigations. The convicted felon must cooperate within one year of his own sentencing, however, so the clock is ticking for Thomas. He was sentenced Thanksgiving Eve and will report in January to a federal prison chosen by the U.S. Bureau of Prisons. Interestingly, while Letten and FBI Special Agent In Charge Jim Bernazzani expressed dismay over Thomas' public declarations that he would not be a 'rat," the feds have not called the ex-councilman a liar. 'We believe Oliver Thomas is a very lucid, bright man who is in control of all his faculties," Letten told Gambit Weekly. 'We certainly haven't asserted at all that he has misled us or provided us with false information. So, the ball is in his court, not ours." — Johnson

 

Tax Man Jailed
Another minor but important figure in the City Hall scandals has begun his prison stint. Nile J. Vincent, 60, who prepared tax returns for several higher-profile figures also caught up in the federal investigation of the Johnson Controls contract, is now serving a four-month sentence after pleading guilty to one count of filing a false federal income tax return, records show. Vincent is incarcerated at the Texarkana Federal Correctional Institute, a low-security facility in Texas, 70 miles north of Shreveport. Specifically, Vincent admitted concealing $25,000 in consulting income that he received from Pampy Inc., a company owned by Barre. Among the Vincent tax clients caught up in the federal probe of former Mayor Marc Morial's administration were Barre, who is cooperating with federal investigators; Bill Schultz, an imprisoned local political consultant; and Reginald Walker, a New Orleans construction company owner. Schultz is serving a one-year prison term at federal prison in Pensacola, Fla., for two misdemeanor counts of failure to file federal tax returns. Walker, 60, pleaded guilty to two corruption charges earlier this year and offered testimony against Barre and former city Property Management Director Kerry DeCay, 47, who is now serving an eight-year stretch at the Devens Federal Medical Center in Massachusetts. — Johnson

 

Women's Caucus Loses
Four While several indicators initially pointed to a historic crop of new female legislators as a result of the fall elections, the Louisiana Legislative Women's Caucus has actually decreased in size by four members. The outgoing Legislature has 25 female members, but the new term starting in January will include only 21. The group's present chair, Rep. Nita Hutter, a Republican from St. Bernard Parish, brought a bit of extra sway to the LWLC this year through her role as state director for the National Foundation for Women Legislators. No word yet on who might be vying to lead the caucus next year, but Sen. Sherri Smith-Cheek, a Keithville Republican, currently serves as LWLC's vice-chair and was re-elected to her senate seat in the Oct. 20 primary. — Alford

 

Report Touts TOPS
Students who earn a TOPS scholarship are significantly more likely to stay in college and graduate sooner than their fellow non-TOPS students, according to a new report on Louisiana's Tuition Opportunity Program for Students. The data revealed that 59 percent of TOPS students at four-year institutions graduate within six years, while their nonTOPS counterparts graduate at a 25 percent rate. Moreover, students who enrolled with TOPS in 2003 remained in school for the second year at a rate of 88 percent, while those without TOPS returned at a rate of 66 percent. 'Getting more students into college and increasing their likelihood of graduation once enrolled are foundational concerns as Louisiana continues its recovery and efforts to solidify its economic vitality," Commissioner of Higher Education Joseph Savoie says. 'TOPS is playing a vital role in that process." One of the most telling statistics shows that despite a decline in Louisiana high school graduates between 2003 and 2007 (from 45,226 to 41,370), the number of graduating students who successfully completed the TOPS core curriculum rose from 25,546 to 27,230 during the same period. — Alford

 

Way of the Dodo
Many of the birds recently identified on the National Audubon Society's 'WatchList" live in south Louisiana " and one of the culprits is coastal erosion. Land loss is taking its toll on many birds, according to the WatchList and related studies. Some of the threatened species in Louisiana include the seaside sparrow and mottled duck, both of which rely on the state's imperiled marshes. Other species, like the piping plover, winter on Louisiana's coastal beaches, which are disappearing at an alarming rate " as any longtime marsh angler can attest. The red-cockaded woodpecker, another WatchList species, is found in long-leaf pine savannah, one of Louisiana's most endangered trees. Conservationists argue that increased development pressure following the 2005 storms has caused clear-cutting, which has pushed the birds out. Other WatchList species, such as the prothonotary warbler, are still quite common in Louisiana but not elsewhere in the country. — Alford

 

Cop Drama Like K-Ville
Don't blame the New Orleans Police Department if K-Ville flops. The NOPD has been a treasure trove of material for the cop-buddy show set in post-Katrina New Orleans. Take, for example, the real-life saga of NOPD homicide Det. Orlando J. Matthews. On Oct. 19, NOPD announced that the homicide division solved five murders by arrest in a single week, including a case cracked by Matthews. NOPD proudly popped out a press release " the day before the Oct. 20 primary election, which overshadowed news of the arrests. At roughly the same time, the Louisiana Ethics Commission informed Matthews that he owed the state $10,500 in civil fines from a failed foray into politics five years ago. In 2002, Matthews ran against then-incumbent Criminal Sheriff Charles Foti, who won re-election with 71 percent of the vote. Matthews finished last in the three-man field of candidates with only 7 percent of the vote. The hefty fines arose from late filings of campaign finance reports " one was 75 days late and another 82 days late. A third report was never filed, says Alesia Ardoin, staff attorney for the ethics board. Ardoin says the detective has worked out a payment plan. How police brass respond to Matthews' pre-Katrina violations remains to be seen. Nowadays, more than two years after Katrina, Matthews and the rest of the homicide division are still working out of FEMA trailers, just like on K-Ville. — Johnson

 

Cafe Owner Joins FBI Honorees
Baty Landis, owner of the Sound Cafe and an anti-crime activist who helped lead the Jan. 11 citizens march on City Hall, last week received the FBI Director's Community Leadership Award from James Bernazzani, Special Agent in Charge of the Louisiana FBI. Previous recipients include businessman John Casbon, a founder of the New Orleans Police & Justice Foundation, Insurance Commissioner Jim Donelon and Crimestoppers, according to an FBI spokesperson. Established in 1990, the award is presented each year by the FBI's 56 field offices for individual achievements in the areas of crime prevention, drug deterrence and educational programs that have made a positive difference in their communities. An FBI press release on Landis hailed her leadership role in the city's fight against crime: 'She organized a March for Survival to City Hall in January 2007 in which thousands of concerned citizens joined in to seek action against violent crime and to raise awareness about the problem in New Orleans," the release says. (The news release did not mention the loud calls of many marchers for the resignations of Mayor Ray Nagin, Police Chief Warren Riley and then-District Attorney Eddie Jordan Jr. ) Bernazzani cited Landis' work with at-risk youth, including a jazz music program that she hopes to resume in the spring. 'Dr. Landis has displayed a brave and true commitment to combating the scourge of violent crime in the city of New Orleans," Bernazzani said. Landis holds a doctorate in music from Princeton University. — Johnson

 

No Credit for Immigrants?
U.S. Sen. David Vitter, a Metairie Republican, has filed legislation that would require banks and other financial institutions to verify the citizenship of anyone trying to obtain a bank or credit card. The bill is being pushed partly in response to the loophole that allowed the Sept. 11 hijackers to obtain credit cards from United States banks to finance their terrorist activities. 'Some banks throughout Louisiana have already stated their intent to accept matricula ID cards as a form of identification," Vitter says. 'In doing so, they receive no guarantee that the individual presenting such a document is not an illegal immigrant or worse " on a terrorist watch list. Preventing the use of questionable documents as an acceptable form of identification will add another layer of security to the banking process." Vitter is the second Louisiana lawmaker in so many months to take a swing at immigration policy. U.S. Rep. Charlie Melancon, a Napoleonville Democrat, is touting his own bill " the Secure America through Verification and Enforcement (SAVE) Act " which he says would 'drastically reduce illegal immigration" through stricter border security, employer verification and interior enforcement. — Alford

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