Folks we all gotta take off our hats to the DMR Beat Team at the Sun Herald because the gang is doing a great job, especially in today’s day and age of the local newsroom cut to the bone by absentee investor owned chains like the Sun Herald’s McClatchy that struggle under massive corporate debtloads. Bad times in the newspaper industry are no secret but the Sun Herald’s reporting on the unfolding scandal at DMR should remind us all of the societal value of high quality investigative journalism.
I mention this because often times one has to often read between the lines in a straight news story to fully understand the situation the reporter(s) is (are) trying to convey. Today it does not take much reading to figure out the Sun Herald would love to fully flesh out this entire DMR topic but they feel stymied. Here’s a long winded explanation why.
Today’s top story on DMR by Anita Lee and Karen Nelson on Bill Walker’s Foundation is mostly a recap of previous reporting dating back to December 8, 2012. That said it had a few new quotes from CMR Chairman Vernon Asper and yes, he comes across as clueless Billy Walker tool, which he surely was considering he chaired the Commission on Marine Resources yet evidently knew next to nothing about what was going on at the agency. This in turn is a massive breach of Asper’s fiduciary duty as Chairman of the CMR but we need to circle that for now. It also had quotes from emails involving Bill Walker’s son Scott arranging one of those taxpayer funded fishin’ trips with representatives of an engineering firm out of Mobile, Thompson Engineering. It was nice to see the taxpayers bought beer and that Pascagoula Mayor and fellow crony capitalist Robbie Maxwell has entered into the equation. Maxwell, Pascagoula’s part time Mayor is as bad as Bill Walker folks, maybe even worse IMHO.
As bad as this is, and believe me what Phil Bryant’s coastal political cronies have done is very bad, none of this is new and Gov Phil, better than anyone should know exactly what I’m talking about as he was state auditor when it all came down: ENRON.
It was massive accounting frauds at ENRON and WorldCom that led to government regulation of large swaths of the CPA profession and deservedly so I’ll add. For instance at ENRON there was an ossified, ineffectual Board of Directors stacked with politically connected phonies like Senator Phil Gramm’s wife Wendy, an economist that could rationalize about anything. At DMR, by their own admission we have a Board of Trustees that had no clue what was going on and who evidently did not bother to engage their jobs beyond the free boat rides, fishing trips etc. When the people that are supposed to be running the show are asleep at the switch bad things happen as we found out at ENRON and now DMR.
ENRON used off balance sheet special purpose entities or (SPE in accounting lingo) as a major vehicle for much of the criminal activity that occurred DMR director Bill Walker created an off books foundation that sucked all manner of tax dollars away from DMR’ mission to support the boats Walker used to wine and dine everyone on the taxpayer dime and lord knows what else.
And speaking of what else I detailed some of it as it relates to Hancock County’s role in the CIAP disaster. None of these schemes are particularly innovative and in fact are of the in your face variety. When there is no oversight to begin with why bother with the bells and whistles of a complex corruption enterprise like the one Aaron Broussard created in Jefferson Parish. Lest I digress.
Governor Phil should well remember from his time as State Auditor that in 1992 the Governmental Accounting Standards Board issued GASB Statement 14, The Financial Reporting Entity under which Billy Walker’s Private Foundation certainly fell. Yet here is Walker with his own private slush fund buying millions of dollars of fishing boats and lord knows what else and no one knew anything about it. The question ladies and gents is what does this say about the level of oversight at these state agencies? Simple folks, despite Governor Phil serially saying for years at speaking engagements “In God we trust, all others we audit”, nobody was auditing his coast based political cronies at DMR, or even worse if someone did audit them there is an audit failure of massive proportion. It is just that bad folks but we already know all this from months ago.
So back to the Sun Herald feeling stymied thing. Here are two links to other reporting on DMR within the past few days:
- Florida’s foundation a contrast to Mississippi’s ~ Paul Hampton
- Subpoenas seek two key accounts in DMR probe ~ Karen Nelson
The first story is a worthy profile of the Florida equivalent not for profit to Billy Walker’s slush fund, the Marine Resources Development Foundation. The second had not much new information in it as Karen Nelson confirmed what anyone with any semblance of a connection to the Bolton Building already knew that the place was crawling with investigators.
The next trio of news stories reveals the reason for the rehashing of old news and betrays some frustration from the powers that be at the Sun Herald:
- SUN HERALD | Editorial: Taxpayers are Attorney General Jim Hood’s ultimate client
- Representing both the people and the government? ~ Michael Newsom
- Attorneys: DMR wrong to withhold financial records from public ~ Anita Lee
That’s right folks, Mississippi officialdom is withholding public records from the paper, have been for months in fact. You get the feeling the newspaper really wants to kick Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood, a man with a self professed dislike of Mississippi political bloggers, square in the nuts. It is almost a woman scorned type of feeling that comes through the editorial I linked above. It is at this point that I feel compelled to do a compare and contrast between Slabbed New Media and the Sun Herald.
Last summer I sent a massive public records request to the Parish of Jefferson involving documents from the Aaron Broussard administration, some of which were also subject of a massive federal grand jury investigation involving systemic corruption in Jefferson Parish. In fact, as a result of my public records request, the Parish eventually identified over 30 boxes of documents that were responsive to the original set of federal grand jury subpoenas that had not been previous identified or turned over to the authorities. The Parish initially denied Slabbed’s public records request.
Likewise the Sun Herald sent in a PRR for information on the two accounts they identified in their reporting on DMR friends and family program and were turned down because of a contrived exception to the Mississippi Public Records Statute. The Sun Herald has been sucking on that for months and the frustration boiled over in today’s paper. I think it is clear they will not sue to preserve their rights. That said we need to quote from Anita’s story, Attorneys: DMR wrong to withhold financial records from public to add a bit of depth to the discussion:
DMR attorney Sandy Chesnut, assigned to represent the agency by the Attorney General’s Office, claims the financial records fall under the criminal investigations exemption to the state Public Records Act.
Not so, say attorneys Henry Laird of Gulfport and Charlie Mitchell, assistant dean of journalism at the University of Mississippi.
“These are clearly public records,” Laird said. “The Department of Marine Resources is not a criminal investigation agency that can avail itself of this exemption to the Public Records Act.
“These records were not generated in pursuing a criminal investigation. They were not generated by a criminal investigatory agency. So their claim that they are exempt from the Public Records Act is not true. Even if it were, the records were not generated to further an investigation.
“The objection to furnishing these public records is not well-reasoned. It is wrong.”
Besides moonlighting as the attorney for Aaron Broussard’s corrupt Canadian based business associates Goatherder Attorney Henry Laird represents the Sun Herald and his quote on not being well reasoned resonated with me for several reasons. At this point in our compare and contrast I’ll add when Jefferson Parish turned Slabbed New Media down, I turned with complete confidence to my crack attorney Bobby Truitt, from whom the mere threat of litigation opened the door for Slabbed New Media and the journalism in the public interest that took place after such as this public document exposing Laird’s clients Charles Leary and Vaughn Perret as liars regarding the extent to which Broussard was involved in marketing their overseas business ventures as Broussard shook down Parish contractors to invest in these schemes:
How do we know the Sun Herald isn’t going to sue? Mainly because they’ve taken to their editorial page complaining and are quoting their lawyer in news stories belly aching about it. Now back to that Not well-reasoned thing. I would submit that should Sun Herald choose to sue fort these records, General Hood could point to previous legal positions taken by Attorney Laird in his unsuccessful SPEECH Act suit against Slabbed and his curious arguments that public records are somehow not public when they involve self admitted felon Aaron Broussard’s gay business associates in Canada. Then again I think Glenn Nardi knows better that to let Laird litigate anything for ’em, which in turn adversely impacts the news operation as illustrated today. I’m personally very thankful I have by far the better man working on behalf of the public’s interest here at Slabbed.