What has become known here on slabbed as the Jefferson Parish political corruption scandal is a multi-faceted affair that would take several posts to recap. In my opinion the big Kahuna is the River Birch landfill but we also have the petty corruption in the Redflex Contract along with some garden variety payroll fraud, and of course the blatant double-dealing which started it all in Bill Hubbard, his girlfriend, Tim Whitmer and Lagniappe Industries among other things. As Jim Letten’s boys began to examine all these items via subpoena there was commonality between all the scandals in the person in the Parish Attorney’s office whose job responsibilities included most all record requests in Anne Marie Vandenweghe.
Anyone following the NOLA media from late October of last year on were treated to a succession of headline making revelations regarding the manner former Parish President Aaron Broussard conducted Parish business including the items I mentioned above. Each revelation drug in more and more people as the web of systemic corruption in Parish government was laid bare for all to see. And with each revelation the pressure on the perpetrators that remained in Parish government increased. The Parish Council, charged with naming Broussard’s replacement, made promises of an open and transparent process but when it was all said and done former Legislative Auditor Steve Theriot was appointed interim Parish President via the bums rush in a move that stunned local good government activists. And still the bad news from Yenni continued to flow.
Around the time the media interest in the initial set of revelations began to wane, investigative reporter Val Bracy at Fox 8 began to air reports on continued problems at the Parish culminating in a report regarding an investigation into former Director of Inspection and Code Enforcement turned Judicial Candidate Debbie Villio and Aaron Broussard’s ex-wife Karen Parker Broussard. Later we found out there was a third person under investigation, disgraced former Parish Attorney Tom Wilkinson who evidently ran former Parish President Tim Coulon’s campaign from the Yenni Building. It also turned out to be the last straw for Team Theriot, which obviously viewed the press leaks and the prompt courteous service when Jim Letten’s boys came around bearing parchment as the problem at the Yenni Building rather than the double dealing. The worst thing in my mind is that Theriot almost pulled it off. This is what he did.
Before taking on the mess in Jefferson Parish, Steve Theriot served in the legislature but is probably best remembered as the guy who exposed the systemic corruption at Louisiana Citizen’s Insurance. Among politicians and the media alike the man commanded mucho respect. Sometimes that can blind people and even politicians and journalists are subject to various cognitive biases that are inherent to the human condition. In short Theriot had gravitas and he used it.
Since the gang had focused in on Anne Marie Vandenweghe as the source of the press and US Attorney problems that were impacting Parish employees she had to be curbed. To his credit Theriot had previously purged certain dead wood from the Parish’s payroll but he was smart enough to know he couldn’t just up and fire her without cause and even more important a pretext since the FBI had practically set up a branch office at the Yenni Building. Luckily for Theriot he still had plenty of pretexts left on the payroll including a part-time assistant Parish attorney Steve Mortillaro so he rolled out Mortillaro, Skip Hand and Anne Marie Vandenweghe as the latest parish employees deserving of the chop shop. Frankly it was masterful and even we almost fell for it because Mr Hand and Mr Mortillaro were involved in Operation Wrinkled Robe investigation into systemic corruption in the 24th Judicial District Courts and a good reporter like Rich Rainey would certainly want that background.
By lumping Anne Marie Vandenweghe in with those two gentleman an image was conveyed that was illusory. It turned out both Hand and Mortillaro were let go mainly because their part-time legal services were no longer needed. Mortillaro for example was assigned to the Stop Light Camera program to adjudicate those cases and once the double-dealing involving Judge Bob Murphy’s wife Julie and camera vender Redflex became public it signaled the effective end of the program so Mortillaro was expendable. To his credit a few weeks later Rich began to realize he had been punked as I offer this story he wrote on Mortillaro back in March in support of that assertion:
Before he lost his job March 3, Steve Mortillaro was collecting $11 an hour as a lawyer at the beck and call of Jefferson Parish’s stoplight camera program, he said Monday.
But his boss, former Parish Attorney Tom Wilkinson, has said Mortillaro worked in the parish health unit.
“I was surprised to see that, too,” Mortillaro said.
Mortillaro was terminated in interim Parish President Steve Theriot’s continuing campaign to clean up a government that has developed a reputation for political patronage. Mixed signals about Mortillaro’s role appears to be a symptom of a parish attorney’s office now on the skids during a growing federal criminal investigation into former Parish President Aaron Broussard’s administration.
Mixed signals out of Theriot were the rule of the day in mid March and a week or so earlier the Times Picayune ran an Oped that openly wondered about the more recent news regarding Hand, Mortillaro and Vandenweghe. By that point I know I was exasperated by the lackluster and frankly at times lazy reporting from the Jefferson Parish beat at the Picayune and I wrote a post that showed some of that exasperation as I profiled Ms Vandenweghe speaking out to Val Bracy about the events that lead to her being placed on suspension. It was there that we learned Theriot and the gang had accused Ms Vandenweghe of blogging while on tower. Our long time readers and hopefully the press will well remember that Theriot said on the record he had proof to support the allegations he made. Let’s circle back to that old post to sharpen the focus a bit:
And this brings us to the Times Picayune as there are only two venues where much blogging and commenting on the mess in Jefferson Parish has occurred. While we hold our site traffic information and the IP addys of our posters near and dear I did disclose in a recent post we’ve had no commenters post from a parish government IP address and frankly in todays day and age one would have to be fairly technologically dumb to even consider posting from work when such is frowned upon. If we cast a skeptical eye at Ms Vandenweghe’s claim that she did not engage in such activities while on tower then we are left with about three possibilities (2 being obvious) by my count as to the veracity of Mr. Theriot’s proof:
Ms Vandenweghe is lying. (proof valid)
Someone else used her work computer to blog on another venue. (proof planted)
?????? (“proof” obtained another way)
After several weeks of inaction on Ms Vandenweghe’s suspension, it was lifted as the public questioning of Theriot’s earlier actions intensified and that proof he claimed to have went poof and evidently disappeared. Westbank native turned Times Picayune reporter Paul Rioux chronicled her return to work in an incredibly lazy piece of reporting where he served as Mr Theriot’s mouthpiece and frames the story of her suspension as relating to the revelations involving disgraced former Parish Attorney Tom Wilkinson:
Assistant Jefferson Parish Attorney Anne Marie Vandenweghe, who had been placed on paid administrative leave in February, was reinstated this week, though a parish investigation into possible violations of employment policies is continuing, according to a memo signed by interim Parish President Steve Theriot.
The March 31 memo indicates a “preliminary investigation” found that Vandenweghe used her parish computer to perform legal work for her daughter and an outside job as a mediator.
Theriot said the investigation is not complete, but he ended Vandenweghe’s suspension and directed her to return to work Monday.
Vandenweghe’s Feb. 23 suspension was part of a major shakeup in the parish’s law department, including the suspension and subsequent resignation of Parish Attorney Tom Wilkinson.
Notice the only proof Theriot had when he sent Ms Vandenweghe home could have consisted of little more than typing a term paper or some such for her daughter on a parish computer. Up against the real problems we’ve detailed here on Slabbed it frankly goes beyond asinine and is an example of the reason I thought the Picayune’s reporting had became so lackluster. And the people who knew the score simply lost faith the Picayune was an honest player in this affair and clammed up.
And this brings us to the latest part of this sage, when Theriot and his band of idiots filed suit against the blogosphere which I feel safe in assuming every Slabbed reader is aware. After today’s Parish Council meeting where the gang got an earful from the citizenry the pols on the Parish Council tried to put a bit of distance between themselves and their new public image as totalitarian thugs. Problem is, in the process they admitted this whole things was in reality another attempt to crush Anne Amrie Vandenweghe. Dambala over at American Zombie got there first with the most:
according to Councilman Roberts’ assistant this lawsuit is targeting a single parish employee:
Councilman Roberts does not have all the specifics on the suit. Mr. Theriot did make comments at the opening of the council meeting this morning. The suit is specifically targeted at about 12 user names believed to be one person who is a current parish employee under investigation by his administration.
The Council was assured this is not an attempt to silence critics.
Councilman Roberts said he hopes this clarifies the issue for you. He wouldn’t expect the TP to report accurately on this as they don’t want people to fear posting in forums which he understands and so does everyone else that “this is our right”.
We are a bright community of bloggers here at Slabbed and it was George that placed the first pieces of that puzzle for us in between swinging in the trees:
I believe tis lil’ pup lawsuit is all about Ann Maria Vandenweghe’s whistleblower lawsuit which while I was scratching my butt and watching the last council meeting on Cox cable I heard John Joung (sic) read that the council was going into executive session on her personnel whistleblower appeal(i.e didn’t read her name but only the personnel suit number)and I’d be willing to bet the council discussed the filing of lil’ pup’s suit to chill AMV’s appeal.
I think the world believes it now and in a final ironic twist it appears Anne Marie Vandenweghe, like Roberts does trust the Picayune to get it right as Ignatius just pointed out in the comments. That said Rich Rainey at the Times Picayune has rolled out a third installment on Theriot’s SLAPP suit and the truth finally emerges:
Parish Council members said Theriot is using the lawsuit to target one or more administration employees suspected of posting comments online while on parish time.
Councilman Byron Lee said it is his understanding that the administration tried internally but failed to identify the employees. That left two options: Hire an outside contractor to examine parish computers, or sue. If NOLA.com delivers the names, there would be no reason to hire the contractor, he said
I was stunned by this admission. Remember folks this bunch of arrogant assholes on the Parish Council including Mr Theriot has been doing everything in their power to dig dirt on the person who honored Jim Letten’s subpoenas and blew the whistle on Debbie Villio for over 2 solid months and they have come away with nothing. At this point enter the idiots in the Parish Attorney’s office, most likely interim Parish Attorney Peggy Barton, with the bright idea to sue the paper on a fishing expedition for dirt. Now those fools threaten to squander even tax money hiring a contractor to examine Parish computers to find out who posted stuff like the following to the Picayune:
Tom ‘ Zacchaeus’ Wilkinson
Luke 19: Zacchaeus ( Z) was a hated TAX COLLECTOR who preyed on his own people as a Roman stooge. He ripped them off, making himself very wealthy and violating every trust and many laws along the way. But the occupying Roman forces protected him.
He was a man ‘short of stature’ and when Jesus was passing through Jericho where Z lived Z couldn’t see over the heads of the crowd so he climbed a tree and waited for the Messiah to go by. Jesus spotted Z and to the horror of the crowd of long-suffering victims of Z , Jesus showed kindness and mercy to Z.
Z confessed, repented and made reparations four times over what the law required at that time. Tom ‘Z’ Wilkinson: If you truly mean all you said in the TV interview with Fox 8 then PUBLICALLY CONFESS; REPENT AND MAKE REPARATION FOUR TIMES OVER TO ALL YOU HAVE HARMED.
Publically apologize to all you cursed using the foulest of language. Go to the FBI and confess all you know about the corruption in JP. Resign your Parish Attorney position and go work for free for the poor.
Stop lying, cheating, stealing…GET RIGHT WITH THE LORD.
I sit here in awe at the spectacular grounds for a lawsuit these arrogant self-absorbed dim-witted idiots on the Parish Council have given Ms Vandenweghe. You think they would learn because every time they have gone after her she has handed them their asses and made them look like complete clowns but not this bunch because they are too busy indulging their private vendettas to understand the public sees they are not doing the jobs for which they were elected. And evidently being taken to the woodshed today by the public had little effect on Byron Lee, Cynthia Lee-Sheng and Chris Roberts who are all special kind of asses. Frankly I’m not sure I see any keepers among this group yet there is persistent talk one or more may run to replace Theriot. It is an election campaign I personally look forward to covering here on Slabbed.
This brings us to Anne Marie Vandenweghe herself who I was able to reach for comment and I quote:
Not once has anyone from Parish Govt asked me for any blog name I use. No one has spoken to me at all other than in that kangaroo hearing and then when Theriot called me to reinstate me (albeit under a continued cloud of suspicion). All they ever had to do was ask me and I would have told them (that I blog). I have nothing to hide and I am proud to be a blogger.
Anne Marie on behalf of bloggers everywhere I’ll add we’re happy to have you with us in cyberspace.
Finally there is the personnel board and her whistleblower complaint. Our readers may remember the Parish Attorney’s office went to war with the Personnel Board saying the did not have jurisdiction to take a complaint on unclassified employees like Debbie Villio and Tom Wilkinson. The board voted 2-1 to hear the complaint and appointed their attorney as hearing officer. The hearing was evidently of the kangaroo court variety and the Parish picked up the Phelphs Dunbar tab for both Wilkinson and Villio. And the decision of the hearing officer? Something along the lines that the complaint was moot because he concluded the Personnel Board evidently did not have jurisdiction over non classified employees despite the fact the board voted 2-1 previously saying it did. Can our readers spell F-I-X? I think so.
Anne Marie was kind enough to share her appeal brief to the personnel board as this process is headed to a courtroom near you.
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Obviously there is still even more to report on this story. Stay tuned.
Please note the original story identified Debbie Villio as related to Elton Lagasse. That was not correct and this post has been modified to fix that error. Many thanks to a reader for the heads up and those that confirmed my bad read of that Val Bracy story. ~ sop