Richard Rainey steps up for the Times Picayune with 400 companies are asked about ties to Tim Whitmer.
The Jefferson Parish Council has mailed 404 letters — one to every company making money on a parish contract — in a new effort to map the extent of former chief administrator Tim Whitmer’s private insurance business with the government and its vendors…
The effort has already coaxed one more parish contractor to disclose its arrangement with Lagniappe Industries, the agency Whitmer owns with his wife, Dawn, Deputy Parish Attorney Louis Gruntz said. He said Beta Testing and Inspection, a construction inspection firm, confirmed it did business with Lagniappe, making it the eighth parish contractor known to be connected to Whitmer or his associates. Seven companies were previously identified by the news media or parish officials.
Parish officials and federal authorities began their investigations after The Times-Picayune reported in November that Lagniappe was making commissions off insurance policies sold to employees at West Jefferson Medical Center, the publicly owned hospital in Marrero.
The council’s letters to all contractors expand on an initial investigation by the parish attorney’s office. Until now, Gruntz said, parish investigators had sent letters only to those companies known to have connections to Whitmer’s insurance business. Among them: Kass Brothers Inc., Fleming Construction Co., Sizeler Thompson Brown Architects, Veolia Transportation, All South Consulting Engineers, Hubbard Enterprises and River Birch Inc.
The new letters ask each company to disclose the timing and scope of any arrangement the company has with the Whitmers, former Parish President Tim Coulon and his wife, Mary, or the late Maurice “Hippo” Katz and his wife, Judy. All six were insurance agents with ties to Lagniappe or THT Group, the trade name of a partnership among Coulon, Whitmer and Katz.
Each letter gives contractors — including The Times-Picayune, which holds the parish’s official journal contract — 10 days to respond. Gruntz said he didn’t have a total number of replies so far, but he said they are coming in steadily. Alan Gandolfi, the council’s research and budget analysis director, said 13 letters have been returned with improper addresses.
The letters preempt the April effective date of a new parish law requiring all contractors to disclose all insurance agents, companies and affiliates when they apply for public work.
Gruntz said parish officials can’t cancel existing contracts with companies that are found to be doing business with Lagniappe. However, state laws do prevent similar conflicts of interest, so such cases will be sent to state investigators, he said…
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