Here's a pop quiz: When was the last time you saw a local district attorney bring a public corruption case in Louisiana? It's not a trick question.
I'm not sure I know the answer myself. Let's just say it's rare. There are several reasons why, and they all have to do with politics. Go figure.
DAs have to run for office, so they typically have to line up support among the local courthouse crowd. Bringing public corruption cases against those same folks is the political equivalent of biting the hand that feeds you.
At the same time, if a DA were to bring corruption charges against a local official, many would look first at the political implications — and potential motivations — behind the charges. The law requires prosecutors to recuse themselves when there might be a conflict of interest; DAs thus ask the state attorney general's office to step in or appoint a special prosecutor when that happens.
So, if a DA fails to investigate, he's suspected of playing politics. If he brings charges, same rules apply. I'm not justifying the lack of local corruption cases ... I'm just explaining it.
All of which underscores the role the U.S. Justice Department plays in the fight against corruption in Louisiana. If it weren't for the feds, we might never see crooked politicians go to jail.
I was reminded of this last week when news broke that former Jefferson Parish President Aaron Broussard, his ex-wife, and his former parish attorney reportedly received "target letters" from federal investigators. Also last week, members of the Parish Council — and new Parish President John Young, himself a former council member — were subpoenaed by a federal grand jury investigating an array of potential corruption cases in Jefferson.
And this is just the start.
Broussard and former parish attorney Tom Wilkinson will have to explain how Broussard's ex, Karen Parker, worked as a paralegal in Wilkinson's office even though she had no qualifications to do so. Being classified as a paralegal allowed Parker to earn $65,000 a year while she did her job as an ID card processor, a job that paid no more than $43,000.
Broussard and Wilkinson resigned under a cloud last year; Parker was later canned. Other "paralegals" with no certification have since been fired.
A target letter is not an indictment, but it usually means the recipient is about to get indicted. Broussard's attorney confirmed possible charges of wire fraud, conspiracy and misuse of federal money.
This is not a complicated case, and the feds typically start with the low-hanging fruit.
As for the council members, I must note that they are witnesses, not targets. Their subpoenas may have more to do with a potential case involving the lucrative but controversial landfill contract awarded to River Birch Inc. during Broussard's tenure as parish president.
The Jefferson Parish investigations have been public knowledge for a while, but now they have entered a more public phase.
Which gives this story a political twist: Parish elections are coming up in the fall, along with statewide elections. The timing of these investigations couldn't be worse for Jefferson Parish incumbents.
The normally placid waters of Jefferson politics have been roiling since the scandals broke in late 2009. Jefferson Parish voters historically have tolerated their politicians' chumminess, but they are plenty pissed off — and rightly so — at the arrogance currently on display.
It's a safe bet that voter unrest, if not outright hostility, will be a big factor in parish elections in October. If a revolution can happen in 18 days in Egypt, it can happen in six months in Jefferson.