Calcasieu Parish District Attorney John DeRosier
On November 1, 2019, the Washington Post published a damning article regarding very obvious corruption within the Calcasieu Parish District Attorney’s Office. Be advised that the preceding linked article is incredibly thorough; however, it’s also quite lengthy. Accordingly, what we want to do is provide sort of a CliffsNotes edition below and tie the article into the corruption perpetrated in Calcasieu Parish entailing contractor Billy Broussard’s cleanup contract in the aftermath of Hurricane Rita:
===> Upon a court assigning a defendant to a given number of community service hours as part of a DA diversion program, DeRosier concocted a plan to permit such defendants to “buyout” the obligation to perform the community service at a rate of $8/hour (initially $10 but subsequently reduced) which had to be in the form of retailer gift cards (Wal Mart, Target, etc.) which were donated to DeRosier’s office.
===> DeRosier, four years after implementing the program in 2011, set up a nonprofit, the DA Community Assistance Fund (DACAF) to collect and distribute the cards. For the four years leading up to DACAF’s formation, there was no internal tracking or accounting whatsoever of the gift cards. None, zero, zilch, nada!
===> Though legal experts with whom the Washington Post consulted characterized the program as “problematic and possibly illegal,” DeRosier nevertheless routinely made a big show of distributing the cards at parades; meanwhile, former DA employees indicate some gift cards managed to end up in campaign contributors’ possession or being used by DA employees themselves (with one employee quoted as calling it a “slush fund”). “Friendly journalists” also obtained cards, but we can only assume that our recent post on DeRosier (the video contained therein of which the Washington Post article linked) failed to qualify us as “friendly” as no gift card was forthcoming to us after publication.
===> Audits of DeRosier’s office, performed by a firm headed by an individual who once served as DeRosier’s Campaign Treasurer and who gave tens of thousands of dollars to DeRosier’s campaigns, never even reference the gift cards.
At this time, let’s present a few excerpts from the Post article referenced above (any emphasis, particularly reference to Barbara Adam, is our own):
It isn’t clear exactly when DeRosier’s office began to offer an option to buy out community service, but according to Jenny Odom and McKenzie Marceaux Newman, two secretaries who previously worked in the office, it dates back to at least 2011. Odom started working for DeRosier in March 2012 as a secretary for the misdemeanor probation section. Newman started in June 2011 as a student worker, but by 2015 was head secretary for the pretrial diversion office.
The option was available to any defendant admitted to one of two programs: pretrial diversion or supervised misdemeanor probation. Both the pretrial diversion and misdemeanor probation offices are run by Barbara Adam, a longtime employee in the DA’s office dating back to the tenure of DeRosier’s predecessor, Rick Bryant.
According to these former employees, the receipt books were used only to verify which defendants had paid. “There was no accounting or verification of the amount that we took in each day,” said Odom. “That seemed like a big problem to me.”
Perhaps because there was no effort to log and track the cards, Newman and Odom say the office was sloppy in handling them. “One time, one of the receptionists quit, and we had to clean out her desk,” Odom says. “We moved her desk, and there were gift cards everywhere. Piles of them behind her desk. When we moved the copier, there were more gift cards. Just dozens of them that no one had noticed.”
Odom also saw staff using the gift cards for themselves, or for relatives. She says she first saw it before her first Christmas at the office in 2012. “At one point, [Barbara Adam] had her secretary load up a box of toys and put them in a separate room. I found out later that each box was for one of the probation officers to give to their grandchildren. I was like, I thought these were for needy families. Why are all these people in the office getting the toys? And then every year, it just got worse and more out of hand.”
Odom says one year Adam herself gave Odom a gift card and asked her to buy matching hat-and-glove sets, one each for a boy and a girl. “I went and got them and brought back the receipt. And then I watched her put them in a box, address it and send it to her grandkids in Texas.”
Odom says she tried to voice her concerns about what she had seen. “I was complaining. And I was complaining. And I was complaining. I told them, ‘I can’t do this anymore. This is the district attorney’s office. This is not the reason why we have this money. It’s supposed to go to needy families. It’s being abused.’ They wouldn’t listen.”
The final straw for Odom came in October 2015. “I was at my desk and Mr. DeRosier came in and he says, ‘I need $5,000 in cards — in gift cards.’ He wanted them in $1,000 denominations. One of the other secretaries said, ‘Oh, okay, I’ll check and see if we have that much.’ But then he repeated it in this tone that was like, ‘I’m not asking you, I’m telling you.’ And then he walked out of the office. When he left, two secretaries were discussing whether they even had that much on hand — and what they should tell them if they didn’t.”
The whole scene made her uncomfortable. “If he got the $5,000, there would have been no accounting for any of it. Again you have to understand, there was no way of knowing how much money was coming in and going out on these cards. They weren’t logged. No one tallied them up at the end of the day. Did we take in $20,000 and spend $2,000? What happened to the money left over? No one knew.”
That month, Odom and her husband wrote a letter to DeRosier laying out her objections to the gift cards. According to Odom, her husband later spoke on the phone about it with DeRosier.
Now, just as is indicated in our article entailing our efforts in making public records requests entailing invoices pertaining to the restraining order under which Broussard was placed for making his own public records requests and being stonewalled, the Washington Post reporter, Radley Balko, got a similar run around:
When I recently asked for a copy of the audit in a public records request, the public records custodian told me that no such audit exists. When I asked for records from the foundation, the custodian replied that the foundation is not part of the DA’s office, and therefore not subject to public records laws.
Now, again, let’s emphasize the fact that Barbara Adam is a DA employee overseeing the diversion program. Again, from the Post article:
At some point after establishing the nonprofit, DeRosier made another change to the community service buyout option: Where the office previously accepted gift cards from several stores, going forward, participants could purchase cards only from Stine, a Louisiana chain of home improvement stores. There’s only one Stine in Lake Charles. Barbara Adam’s sister is the store’s general manager. (Adam was also one of the initial board members of the foundation.)
“It didn’t make much sense,” says Newman. “The whole point was supposed to be to buy clothes and toys for needy families. Stine sells lumber and hardware.”
DeRosier says the switch was part of a decision to focus on relief from natural disasters. He also said he has regularly worked with the owners of Stine on various community projects. “I could care less whether [Barbara Adam] has a sister over there or not,” he said. “That is of no significance to me.”
The office also began accepting money orders instead of gift cards. According to Newman, that change made defendants much more likely to pay up than to engage in community service.
“They had to pay enrollment fees and other charges with a money order anyway,” she says. “So if they could afford it, it was just easier for them to just go ahead and buy out their community service while they’re at it instead of going to Walmart or Sam’s Club.”
Jenny Odom resigned in October 2015, in part due to her squeamishness about the gift cards. McKenzie Newman was fired last July. When she asked why, she says she was told that because Louisiana is an at-will employment state, the office didn’t need to provide a reason. At the time she left, she estimates that just her office — pretrial diversion — was taking in about 10 money orders per day. The most common amount of those money orders was $128, or half of the most common community service requirement (32 hours), at $8 per hour. That would mean that at a rough estimate, at least as of last year, the pretrial diversion office alone was taking in about $1,280 each business day in money orders, or more than $300,000 per year.
Marcus Owens, a partner at Loeb & Loeb and the former head of the IRS exempt organizations division; and Dianna Deeley, a consultant for nonprofits with more than 25 years of experience in the nonprofit world, were asked by Balko to examine the audits of DACAF. Again, from the Post article in quoting Owens:
“I think what it shows is that the accountant who prepared these returns is sort of floundering. She’s not sitting there going through the books and records, adding things up and calculating, because my guess is that there are no records.” He adds, half-jokingly, “Why weren’t they at least consistent in fabricating numbers?”
The next segment of the article touches on a topic we find EXTREMELY revealing (once again, emphasis is our own):
Under Louisiana law, every district attorney’s office must undergo an annual audit organized by the Louisiana Legislative Auditor, a state agency. (This is different from the audits DeRosier says he ordered for his nonprofit.) But despite the fact that the gift-card program has been in place since at least 2011, the annual public audits of DeRosier’s office have never assessed how much revenue the gift cards brought in to the office. The audits have never criticized the office for failing to include the gift cards in its annual financial reports. In fact, none of the public audits mention the gift cards at all.
Since DeRosier was elected, the public audit of his office has always been conducted by Langley, Williams & Co. of Lake Charles. The founding partner of that firm is Lester Langley Jr.
Langley has a long history with DeRosier. He was the treasurer for DeRosier’s first campaign, and over three elections dating back to 2005, Langley, his wife and his businesses have donated at least $29,500 to DeRosier’s campaigns, according to campaign finance disclosures. Over the same period, Langley’s firm was also paid more than $30,000 by DeRosier’s campaign for accounting services.
In an email response to my questions, Langley said he resigned as campaign treasurer once DeRosier was elected. This is true. But he also writes, “After Mr. DeRosier was elected, we resigned as the campaign bookkeepers in January 2006, at the same time I resigned as treasurer.” According to campaign finance records, between 2007 and 2010, DeRosier’s campaign made eight payments to Langley’s firm totaling over $18,000 for services that included “bookkeeping,” “campaign reporting” and “financial disclosure reporting.”
Langley’s son Nicholas is a partner at the accounting firm. He was also on the original board of directors for DeRosier’s nonprofit. Over email, the elder Langley said his son was offered a position on the board but “immediately declined to accept the position due to concerns of independence.”
That would have been in late 2015. But Langley was listed as a member of the board on the foundation’s 2016 tax returns, which were filed in November 2017. In fact, in March 2018, DeRosier’s secretary sent an email under the subject “Foundation Board Meeting.” In the body she wrote, “Just a reminder . . . We need to have a meeting so Nic Langley can be removed from the board.”
DeRosier and Langley both point out that Langley’s firm also conducted the audits for DeRosier’s predecessor, Rick Bryant. “He’s just very active in the community and in politics,” DeRosier says.
But Langley doesn’t appear to have the connections to Bryant that he has with DeRosier. A search of campaign finance records reveals no donations by Langley to Bryant’s campaign, and no expenditures by Bryant’s campaign to Langley’s firm.
I asked DeRosier if given all of this, Langley should be doing the public audit for his office. He replied, “I don’t see a conflict.” Langley also said he sees no conflict.
Now, obviously Balko, who had the noose pretty darn tight around DeRosier’s neck, had an obligation to provide DeRosier with an opportunity to defend his office. Let’s first take a look at quotes some of Balko’s sources had to make about whether judges had knowledge of DeRosier’s actions:
Several people I spoke with, including two former Louisiana prosecutors and two current public defenders, say they’d be shocked if judges had approved of the option to buy out community service, especially for misdemeanor probation.
“Misdemeanor probation is a court-ordered sentence,” one former Calcasieu Parish prosecutor said. “A district attorney cannot unilaterally alter the community service portion of that sentence in exchange for a donation to his slush fund. When the judges hear about this, they’ll be livid.”
Well, we’re not so sure that’s the case (entailing judges being “livid”) given that Broussard’s former attorney, Robin Sylvester, is on record in a recorded phone call as making the assertion that 14th JDC is apparently infested with “crooked judges.” By the way, in the way of a brief update on Broussard’s extensive ethics complaints with the Office of Disciplinary Counsel, we’re told only his complaint against Sylvester continues to work its way through the process.
Thanks to the Post article, we now believe we have a better insight into why! Recall that neither the Calcasieu Parish Police Jury nor Gravity District 8 of Ward 1 of Calcasieu Parish ever took a vote to place Broussard under restraining order. Further, when we sought the District’s legal invoices of its counsel, Russell Stutes, Jr., to examine those which pertained to the restraining order (Sam Gabb of the Police Jury admitted he did not invoice for his services), we were told that we would not receive them because they entailed Stutes’ “mental impressions.”
We now believe those “mental impressions” involved a direct order from DeRosier himself for Broussard to be placed under restraining order because he was coming way too close for comfort regarding over $1 million in funds Broussard asserts that he was cheated out of (with absolutely incredible supporting documentation to back up that claim)!
That (i.e. DeRosier issuing the directive that the restraining order be pursued as part of his “defense” of the CPPJ and GDD8) would certainly explain why neither body took a vote as was legally required for either Stutes or Gabb to proceed with the restraining order. Further, it explains why neither body seemed to even have knowledge of the restraining order’s existence! Finally, under that scenario, it’s very easy to see why Stutes would, under no circumstances, permit us to examine his legal invoices pertaining to filing the restraining order.
The best part of DeRosier’s “defense,” is when he literally threw Louisiana Inspector General Stephen Street under the bus (and Street’s response to same):
DeRosier also told me that he ran the idea for his nonprofit by Louisiana Inspector General Stephen Street, implying that Street gave approval for the idea. “I visited with the legislative auditor and the bar association, and both referred me to the state inspector general,” DeRosier said. “We went and met with him and explained the whole program to him. That’s about the time I formed the foundation.”
But in an email, Street was emphatic that this was not the case. “OIG has no legal authority to approve or disapprove of the non-profit activities described,” he wrote. ”I have not reviewed, nor am I familiar with the specifics of this foundation or its activities, and therefore did not give any permission, approval or disapproval for its establishment, funding and operations.”
Now, notice DeRosier states that he “visited with the Legislative Auditor.” If by chance what DeRosier states in that regard is the truth, then we can only assume this apparent blind-eye on the part of Legislative Auditor Daryl Purpera is yet another instance, as former GOHSEP Deputy Director Mark DeBossier stated (again on tape) that, “They’ll just close their eyes, stick their fingers in their ears, and we make sure that there’s no fingerprints on it.”
This is a video blog, after all, so at this time, we feel compelled to replicate the video associated with the preceding link because we find it to be one of the most fascinating video segments we’ve ever published:
Contractor Billy Broussard, at a meeting at the Louisiana Legislative Auditor’s Office on February 26, 2019, stuns attendees by playing a recording of former GOHSEP Deputy Director Mark DeBosier bragging of how he can convince the Legislative Auditor’s Office to turn a blind eye when he needs to.
We’re going to conclude this feature by providing our subscribers with a March 13, 2019 letter from Sen. Fred Mills to Gov. Edwards outlining in exacting detail how Broussard managed to be fleeced out of $1,131,717. We will also add that we have physically examined every single document which Mills references in that letter! Every single one!
Unfortunately, given all the corruption which swirls unabated in Calcasieu Parish, the best we may be able to do is to forewarn anyone considering doing business with any governmental entity there to run for the hills and just let them all “keep it in the family” as they appear hell-bent on doing, even to the point of flagrantly running a money-laundering gift card operation such as that depicted above!
After all, that is precisely what Broussard contends happened to him in that funds he contends were obtained from FEMA intended to pay him on his cleanup contract were instead diverted to on-staff employees of the Gravity District (i.e. “keeping it all in the family,”) for work they themselves did on areas of the bayou which were not even on the Army Corps’ wetland permit!
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