Anyone keeping up with the recent commentary on the unfolding Jeferson Parish Political Corruption Scandal understands exactly how far reaching the systemic corruption extends. We’re holding lots of information for publication including some very early information we received from a concerned citizen on the way things were done in Jefferson Parish circa the late 1980’s and it is there we begin with the case of Steimle & Associates v Camp Dresser, a racketeering suit so old it does not appear on PACER. The case involved allegations of corruption involving then Jefferson Parish council member Jimmy Lawson. This bit of background comes courtesy of West Law which does have the related cases in their database. This is from US District Court Judge Patrick Carr’s opinion dated October 6, 1996 as the case was dismissed on a technicality:
Because the issue is when plaintiff knew certain facts, the background of this matter is set out in some detail. Plaintiff and defendant are both environmental engineering concerns involved in local government construction contracts regarding waste disposal. Prior to the late 1980s, plaintiff was a subcontractor for defendant on several jobs. The relationship between the parties deteriorated and they became rivals. Plaintiff hired an investigatory firm which went through the trash of defendant, gleaning defendant’s internal documents. A local newspaper published stories about defendant and its methods of obtaining contracts, apparently based on those documents.
It seems as though Steve Steimle had a PI digging dirt on the competition and he hit gold rummaging via ye old dumpster dive. Implicated for receiving gifts was Jimmy Lawson. As Judge Carr pointed out all this hit the media as we continue:
The one factual exception referred to is in the RICO statement, which refers to and copies a letter sent in December, 1991, by defendant to many persons. Plaintiff contends that the letter constitutes mail fraud. The letter is concerned with explaining the then-recent newspaper stories about the activities of defendant. It sets out that defendant had recently learned plaintiff had been providing the newspaper reporter with documents from defendant’s trash and that defendant had filed the state court action involving that.
I imagine the folks at Camp Dresser had some ‘splaining to do after Mr Steimle went public with his dumpster gold and I equally suspect that good old Jimmy Lawson was one of the letter’s recipients along with the rest of the merry band of miscreants on the Jefferson Parish Council. Camp Dresser immediately sued Steimle to obtain a preliminary injunction barring further dumpster dives which they got. Steimle appealed to the Louisiana 5th Circuit and this is an excerpt from their opinion which upheld the injunction:
Steimle and Sunbelt also argue that CDM does not have standing to enjoin them from disseminating any information recovered from personal documents of their employees. Sunbelt and Emmer specifically argue that the expectation of privacy is so low that they are entitled to retrieve and use the information. The documents retrieved from the dumpster number in the thousands. Some of those papers include personal information on employees, as well as the business related documents. We disagree.
The documents in this case are numerous. Whether or not they contain personal information related to employees, the question is simply whether CDM showed a likelihood of succeeding on the claim, which we have found that it did. Furthermore, CDM has an interest in protecting the information it maintains on its employees.
Our next stop is from today’s the Sunday Times Picayune and Richard Rainey & Paul Rioux’s latest installment in as the Jefferson Parish Corruption World Turns as we find out that interim Parish Council President Steve Theriot has decided to give Jimmy Lawson and another Aaron Broussard political hack the axe:
Streamlining the executive staff is a highlight of several reforms Theriot hopes to install to combat Jefferson’s history of patronage and rambling bureaucracy. They come in answer to the scandal that has wracked the parish and left former Parish President Aaron Broussard’s administration under federal investigation.
Problems arose in November after disclosures that Broussard’s chief administrator, Tim Whitmer, had parish contractors and public agencies as insurance clients. Since then, investigators have extended their reach to include the parish payroll and other departments.
Broussard resigned Jan. 8; his chief administrative officer, Tim Whitmer, resigned four days earlier.
Should Theriot’s proposal take effect, gone would be two executive assistant positions currently filled by close friends of Broussard: D.J. Mumphrey, Kenner’s former fire chief, and Jimmy Lawson, who served on the Parish Council with Broussard in the 1970s.
Surely Mr Theriot remembers Lawson well and not just from the 1970s as this story indicates. Lawson has been a very well-known local pig at the trough and has stirred controversy since he left the parish council as this Paul Rioux story from last summer on his hiring indicates:
Two weeks after questions of political patronage were raised when a top aide to Jefferson Parish President Aaron Broussard left for a higher-paying job with another public agency, Broussard filled the vacancy with a well-connected former parish councilman who was embroiled in his own public-payroll controversy six years ago.
Jimmy Lawson, whose 20-year tenure on the council ended in 1996, was appointed Monday to serve as an executive assistant to Broussard at a salary of $87,000, an increase of more than $25,000 from his pay as an administrator with the Jefferson Parish school district.
Lawson was at the center of a public sector employment controversy in 2003, when the Jefferson Parish School Board voted 6-3 to hire him to coordinate West Bank bus routes.
A former teacher and School Board member in the 1970s, Lawson had no transportation background but was chosen over a woman with 18 years’ experience routing FedEx trucks, leading some board members to suspect a backroom political deal.
In 2000, some members of the Jefferson Parish Housing Authority board accused Lawson of using his political connections to influence board appointments and votes while working as a paid consultant for firms doing business with the authority.
Lawson, who did not return a call Wednesday seeking comment, denied the accusation at the time, saying, “I have to earn a living. I’m no different than anyone else. I’m a private individual.”
Broussard dismissed the criticisms of Lawson as normal political skirmishes.
“Anybody that has been an elected official for as long as Jimmy was is going to have had their share of controversies, and those controversies are going to follow them to the grave, ” he said.
I suspect some of those stories about the gifts he received from Camp Dresser were among those share of controversies to which Broussard spoke. Speaking of engineering does any of this tie into the River Birch controversy? You betcha it does but first we must review:
On August 20, 2008 Jefferson Parish councilperson Jennifer Sneed resigned her office 8 months into her new term. According to Richard Rainey’s report on the resignation/love-in:
The remaining council members went around the horn to praise Sneed, who is resigning effective Friday. She and her family bought a house in New Orleans and will no longer live in Old Metairie in the council’s 5th District.
“When that happened, it just became clear that it was time for me to exit public life and focus 100 percent of my time on private life,” she said………………
Councilman Chris Roberts of Gretna encouraged Sneed and her husband, Fred Heebe, to maintain close ties to Jefferson. He mentioned Heebe’s real estate investments west of the Mississippi River.
Parish President Aaron Broussard said Sneed made the right choice, “putting the most value on the right things at the right time: your children in their formative years.”
Certainly Ms Sneed, who succeeded David Vitter in the Louisiana legislature before joining the Parish council, is not the first person to enter Jefferson parish politics lily white and exit soiled as the commenters to Mr Rainey’s story implied:
Ward, Hebee and Sneed = Riverburch landfill. Worth MILLIONS. Job well done.
Others weren’t buying her reasons for leaving and logic dictates those reasons were BS. Chris Roberts betrayed what everyone on the parish council was thinking in those real estate investments on the west bank. With that in mind astute observers were not surprised when it was announced in January 2009 the Parish was negotiating with Sneed’s husband and his company on a new landfill contract. Richard Rainey filed that story for the T-P:
Jefferson Parish Council asked Parish President Aaron Broussard this morning to begin talks on a deal to close the parish landfill for the next 25 years.
In a 7-0 vote, the council approved negotiations with River Birch Inc., which owns a large private landfill in Waggaman near the parish dump. Responding to the parish’s limited search for a contractor to dispose of natural debris, or “woody” waste, River Birch last year offered to funnel all waste from unincorporated Jefferson and Jean Lafitte to its own site.
Today’s decision lets Broussard’s administration negotiate terms of a possible deal.
River Birch is owned by Fred Heebe, whose wife, Jennifer Sneed, resigned from the council last year.
Following a few links we get a flavor for the time frame relating to the supposed need for a new landfill per this December 2008 Richard Rainey report:
This fall, Broussard’s administration asked for proposals to dispose of yard waste, tree limbs and other natural debris. Bidders also could offer new destinations for other trash headed to the landfill.
Parish Attorney Tom Wilkinson said the administration did not draft the proposal request with River Birch’s comprehensive offer in mind. Nor was the administration influenced by the current contract with Waste Management to manage Jefferson’s dump. That contract could expire as early as 2009.
Next up we need to visit with a Paul Rioux story on the execution of the River Birch contract circa June 2009:
The Jefferson Parish Council unanimously approved a deal Wednesday to close the parish dump in Waggaman for 25 years and send garbage to the nearby River Birch Landfill after being assured that parish officials will seek to preserve the option of eventually reopening the dump.
The deal will pay River Birch up to $6.4 million next year and is projected to save the parish $19 million to $23 million over the 25-year contract, parish administrators said.
“There are going to be significant long-term savings from closing the landfill, but it’s important to preserve it as an asset for future generations,” Council Chairman Tom Capella said.
River Birch officials have estimated the parish landfill has $182 million worth of undeveloped space for future dumping.
Parish Attorney Tom Wilkinson, who negotiated the landmark deal, said the parish recently applied to the state Department of Environmental Quality to renew its permit for the dump through 2019.
What this early story omits is that Wilkinson had help negotiating the contract with River Birch owner Fred Heebe. There was a Whitmer in the woodpile and Lagniappe Industries was lurking in the shadows as Richard Rainey reported in December 2009 as we introduce Tim Coulon back into the mix:
The business relationship between Dawn Whitmer and River Birch Inc. poses new questions about the influence of her husband, who, as the parish’s No. 2 executive, oversaw the public process that ended with River Birch winning a $6.4 million-per-year deal to dispose of Jefferson’s household garbage…………………………
In late 2005, Heebe said he met with Tim Coulon, a Lagniappe agent and the former parish president who had promoted Tim Whitmer to Jefferson chief administrative officer seven years earlier. Coulon pitched his brokerage work, asking if he could sell policies to Heebe’s employees. Heebe said he agreed, and Coulon took over the accounts.
As soon as an arrangement was reached, Dawn Whitmer stepped in as the go-to agent for employee health insurance policies, said Dominick Fazzio, Heebe’s chief financial officer.
“We went ahead and switched agents. It might have been right after Katrina that this happened,” Fazzio said. “After we went with Tim (Coulon), the person we started having contact with was Dawn Whitmer.”…………………………..
Heebe said he never felt pressured in 2005 to select Coulon and didn’t know at the time about Coulon’s insurance connections with the Whitmers. He said Broussard, who has admitted doing $5,000 in “legal work” for Lagniappe and promoting the company this summer to several local businesses, wasn’t involved.
Lagniappe became a licensed insurance agency in October 2005, just weeks after Hurricane Katrina made landfall and close to the same time that Heebe said Coulon approached him. At the time, Wayne Landwerlin of Group Insurance Associates Inc. was handling Shadowlake’s insurance accounts.
Landwerlin said Tuesday he had just transferred Shadowlake’s insurance business from United Healthcare of Louisiana to Humana Health Benefit Plan of Louisiana in April 2006 and enrolled 11 employees when he was told that THT Group would take over as of on July 1, 2006.
“It was illogical and out of character for Shadowlake, Mr. Ward and Mr. Heebe to change after we had completed all the work and after our long history of providing them with good service,” Landwerlin said, who recalled that he wasn’t given any reason for the switch.
A few years later, however, Tim Whitmer was a key player in the parish’s move to rework its garbage disposal contract, which Heebe had long sought and ended up winning
The events in context well tell the story of how the current mess was made. So what does a Parish council used to collecting landfill graft to do? You bring back Camp Dresser & McKee of course, to provide the analysis on the current contract with Fred Heebe’s company and perhaps even more. Again we visit with Richard Rainey:
Under a newly focused lens of public scrutiny, Jefferson Parish officials are weighing three engineering firms to rehash the costs and benefits of last year’s landmark deal to shutter its public garbage dump for the next 25 years.
Those firms — Camp Dresser & McKee of Cambridge, Mass., Golder Associates of Houston and MSW Resources of Rockwall, Texas — submitted their qualifications last week to interim Parish President Steve Theriot’s administration. Once hired, the winning firm will conduct the first independent financial analysis of the parish’s $6.4-million-a-year contract to send its household garbage to River Birch Inc., a private landfill company owned by Fred Heebe and Jim Ward……………………..
Of the three firms now seeking the analysis contract, Camp, Dresser & McKee is perhaps the most familiar. With a branch office in New Orleans, it has been a frequent contributor to political campaigns and consultant to Jefferson and other local governments.
In May 2003, in fact, the firm evaluated the efficacy of the Jefferson Parish landfill, which the pending River Birch deal would close. “The landfill is one of the parish’s greatest capital assets, and long-term planning is essential to preserving its value and ensuring that it is utilized efficiently,” stated the company’s report to Jefferson Parish.
Last year, CDM sent $8,500 in contributions to Broussard and Parish Council members John Young, Tom Capella, Cynthia Lee-Sheng and Elton Lagasse, according to their campaign finance reports. The company has sent money to Councilmen Louis Congemi and Byron Lee in previous years, records show.
We’ve been banging a good bit on the T-P of late and I stand by those criticisms but this post could not have been authored without Richard Rainey and Paul Rioux’s beat reporting. Thanks guys for a job well done.
There is nothing new under the sun but there are lots of old things we don’t know. ~ Ambrose Bierce, The Devil’s Dictionary
As our commenters have noted this was all done in the open which brings me to the letter R and Bierce’s definition of Rascal:
RASCAL, n. A fool considered under another aspect.