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Louisiana leaders reject LA's corrupt reputation; play tu quoque

From this:

The struggle was never more evident than last week when Gov. Kathleen Blanco, Lt. Gov. Mitch Landrieu and New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin appeared before congressional committees asking for help to rebuild after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, in a series of speeches that each included a defense of the state.
With several members of Congress openly suggesting since Katrina that Louisiana isn't trustworthy enough to handle billions of dollars in disaster relief aid, Blanco pledged accountability in spending.
She said the state was hiring a nationally recognized accounting firm to review the flow of federal dollars through Louisiana and that she would hire another accounting firm to audit those first auditors.
"I want to emphasize that the financial affairs of Louisiana will be transparent and wide open. I believe that we will stand well to expected scrutiny by the public, the Congress and the media," she told a meeting of House subcommittees that oversee the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the Environmental Protection Agency, FEMA and other agencies crucial to Louisiana's recovery.
"I expect to account for every single penny of federal money that is received by the state of Louisiana," she said.
New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin urged the lawmakers to Google his record.
"You will see that since I have been in office almost four years, my whole focus has been on reform of government, honesty and integrity," he said...
"All manner of ugly words have been used to describe us by people sitting in their ivory towers. We have moved a million miles, but our old reputation continues to haunt us," Blanco said earlier this month.
And Landrieu was particularly straightforward when he appeared before the U.S. House committees with Blanco and Nagin.
The lieutenant governor said Louisiana doesn't corner the market on public corruption, noting that seven states with members on those subcommittees had more public corruption convictions than his state did.
In a letter he submitted to the subcommittees, Landrieu said New York, Illinois and Florida have twice as many federal public corruption convictions than Louisiana, and California has three times as many.
He said in the past decade, governors of New Jersey, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Arizona, Illinois, Ohio and Alabama all have been indicted - though he failed to mention that Louisiana's former four-term governor, Edwin Edwards, also is behind bars for a corruption scheme.
"I question the political tactics of basically 'kicking our state' while it is down," he wrote. "Now, we come to Congress - the voice of the American people to seek help. And yet, in the media, at the office water cooler, at the family dinner table and even in the hallways of the Capitol, we have been made to feel corrupt, selfish and unworthy of aid."
The problem is Louisiana officials have gone to jail over the years. One of its congressmen currently is under investigation. Federal prosecutors set up shop before the hurricanes in the Orleans Parish school board offices. Jefferson Parish judges have been convicted recently as part of a wide-ranging corruption investigation...

Sen. Larry Craig: fraud part of Louisiana's culture

WASHINGTON -- A U.S. senator from Idaho is the latest to slam Louisiana's reputation for political corruption as Congress considers whether to spend billions of dollars on hurricane recovery.
Sen. Larry Craig, a Republican, told his home state constituents that fraud is as much a part of the fabric of Louisiana as it is in Iraq and that flooded sections of New Orleans should be abandoned.
"Fraud is in the culture of Iraqis. I believe that is true in the state of Louisiana as well," Craig was quoted as saying Thursday in the Lewiston (Idaho) Morning Tribune.
The McCall (Idaho) Star News, quoted him saying "Louisiana and New Orleans are the most corrupt governments in our country and they always have been. . . . A rookie cop in New Orleans, they pay him or her $17,000 starting pay and then wink and say you better make the rest of it on the street..."

Auditing federal contracts difficult; no central database

From the AP report "With U.S. Katrina aid, tracing money isn't easy":

Trying to track who is getting what portion of the billions of dollars in federal Hurricane Katrina aid is enough to give any auditor a headache - and is a problem that critics say creates alarming gaps in public oversight.
The database of contracts is incomplete, information released by federal agencies is spotty and sporadic, and disclosure of many no-bid contracts is not required by law.
...Under federal election law, a click of a mouse traces every campaign donation. Yet no comprehensive public database exists for federal contracts.
...Federal law requires that agencies disclose contract awards, typically by one of two government-sponsored databases. Through loopholes, waivers of contract rules and technical glitches, information is omitted or can go unreported for months.
...The omissions since Katrina struck include a $236 million contract with Carnival Cruise Lines to provide housing for evacuees that legislators have criticized as wasteful, and open-ended contracts with Intelsat and Bechtel Corp. awarded partly because of their previous relationships with the government...
...An audit by the Government Accountability Office last month found that the primary database, known as the Federal Procurement Data System, was inaccurate and incomplete. GAO said that there were repeated delays by the Pentagon in switching to a new system that would allow the department to report its awards in real time.
Scott Amey, the general counsel of the Project on Government Oversight, said that his group compiled its own database of contractors with a history of spending waste or other misconduct, and said that some of the culprits - politically connected Fluor, Bechtel and Halliburton - were among the biggest initial winners of Katrina contracts...

NYT on New Orleans' history of corruption

There's a roundup of recent events in "History of corruption stirs fears about relief aid", also available here.This was printed in the NYT 10/1 here.

NOPD cops took Cadillacs from dealership?

At the very least, they deserve an award for boldness:

Acting New Orleans Police Superintendent Warren Riley said Thursday that as many as 40 officers from the department's 3rd District, including the commanding captain, are "under scrutiny" for possibly bolting the city in the clutch and heading to Baton Rouge in Cadillacs from a New Orleans dealership...
"It is a subject that is under review," Riley said, stopping short of saying he has launched a formal investigation. Asked if Capt. Donald Paisant, who replaced Capt. James Scott as the 3rd District commander, was a part of that review, Riley said, "Certainly the commander of that district is under scrutiny."
Last week, after reports surfaced that the Louisiana attorney general's office was investigating the alleged theft of about 200 cars from Sewell Cadillac Chevrolet, possibly by NOPD officers, Riley revealed his own internal investigations...
He acknowledged then that an unspecified number of officers were being looked at for their alleged involvement in the Sewell incident, which took place in the first four days after Katrina ripped through town.
Riley said he was surprised to learn that "at least 40" 3rd District officers were in Baton Rouge after the hurricane. Riley said that at some point after a number of 3rd District teams were rescued from the Louisiana State University Dental School he spoke to clumps of them at the Hampton Inn and Suites on Convention Center Boulevard...

UPDATE: There's more from the AP here. The dealership president says the cars might have been taken even before the hurricane hit town, and:

[Dealership prez Doug Stead] said the cars included 88 new Cadillacs and Chevrolets, 40 used cars, 52 customers' cars and a restored 1970 El Camino and 1966 Impala.
''We put the loss on new cars at $3.7 million,'' Stead said. ``The used cars ran another $900,000.''
When reports first surfaced last month that officers may have taken the cars, New Orleans Police Superintendent Warren Riley said it was not considered looting because the officers patrolled in the cars.
''There were some officers who did use Cadillacs,'' Riley said. "Those cars were not stolen.''
On Friday, police spokesman Capt. Marlon Defillo said the department's only comment was that it was cooperating with the attorney general's investigation.
...Stead said he got a call Aug. 28 while evacuating the city, telling him one of the dealership's garage doors was open. The rest of his trip was spent fielding calls about his cars.
...Keys to the new and used cars were kept in a locked box on the second floor, Stead said. The box was taken on a forklift to the third floor, where a blowtorch was used to open it, he said. For cars without keys, the ignitions were jimmied, he said.

Study: Iraq, local corruption interfered with relief effort

The Defense Dep't commissioned an "independent and critical review" of the response to Katrina to be conducted by "Stephen Henthorne, a former professor of the US Army's War College and an adviser to the Pentagon who was a deputy-director in the Louisiana relief efforts."
The Independent UK says it's seen a copy of the report:

It charts how "corruption and mismanagement within the New Orleans city government" had "diverted money earmarked for improving flood protection to other, more vote-getting, projects. Past mayors and governors gambled that the long-expected Big Killer hurricane would never happen. That bet was lost with Hurricane Katrina."
The report concludes that although the US military did a good job in carrying out emergency missions, there were some serious shortcomings.
The report states that Brigadier General Michael D Barbero, commander of the Joint Readiness Training Centre at Fort Polk, Louisiana, refused permission for special forces units who volunteered to join relief efforts, to do so. General Barbero also refused to release other troops.
"The same general did take in some families from Hurricane Katrina, but only military families living off the base," the report says. "He has done a similar thing for military families displaced by Hurricane Rita. However, he declined to share water with the citizens of Leesville, who are out of water, and his civil affairs staff have to sneak off post in civilian clothes to help coordinate relief efforts." The report says deployment in the Iraq war led to serious problems. "Another major factor in the delayed response to the hurricane aftermath was that the bulk of the Louisiana and Mississippi National Guard was deployed in Iraq.
"Even though all the states have 'compacts' with each other, pledging to come to the aid of other states, it takes time, money and effort to activate and deploy National Guard troops from other states to fill in"...

Then, it goes on to advise against the plan of Bush and others to weaken Posse Comitatus.
However, according to this:

This statement is not supported by the facts. 3,000 of 11,000 members of the Louisiana National Guard and 4,000 of 13,000 members of the Mississippi National Guard were deployed to Iraq, leaving more than 17,000 National Guardsmen for hurricane relief efforts. This does not constitute the "bulk" of troops as they said the report stated.

FBI investigating NOPD corruption, phantom cops; $5k bonus

[11/14/05 UPDATE: To avoid confusion, see also "NOPD phantom cops: real or fiction?"]

Gregory Rodriguez supports illegal aliens rebuilding New Orleans

Gregory Rodriguez - a contributing editor to the Los Angeles Times - offers "La Nueva Orleans". He discusses how illegal aliens from Mexico will help rebuild New Orleans and then will settle there, displacing the original population of blacks and whites. Obviously, if we were talking about whites displacing blacks and Hispanics that would be considered racist, but - in the "liberal" worldview - it's not racist to encourage Hispanics to displace black and white Americans.
He covers the points previously discussed here in "Word is out, illegals coming for rebuilding jobs", "Give Illegal Aliens' Jobs to Unemployed Katrina Victims", and "Will illegal aliens take rebuilding jobs?"
Obviously, no American should support this, but clearly some people - including president Bush and Sen Harry Reid - do support it. Rather, we should do whatever is necessary to encourage and allow American workers to rebuild an American city. Unfortunately, some people are conflicted due to racial reasons or because they're corrupt.
He ends with this:
Last week, the White House said it will push its plan to allow illegal immigrants already in the U.S. to become legal guest workers. Good. Hurricane Katrina exposed the nation's black-white divide. Post-Katrina reconstruction will soon spotlight the hypocrisy of refusing to grant legal status to those who will rebuild the Gulf Coast and New Orleans.

"Levee Board chief got thousands in back pay"

I'll leave it to someone else to figure out if anything illegal was done in the following, but it shure sounds suspicious:

Less than a month before Hurricane Katrina wrecked the Orleans Levee Board's finances and left the levees it maintains in shambles, board President Jim Huey requested and got nearly $100,000 in back pay that the agency's hired legal advisers - one of whom is a relative of his wife - determined he was entitled to receive.
The payment for about $96,000, which was made without approval from the board or its staff attorney, came on the advice of Gerard Metzger and George Carmouche, two contract lawyers with close ties to Huey, who was originally appointed by former Gov. Edwin Edwards in 1992 and reappointed by Govs. Mike Foster and Kathleen Blanco. Carmouche, of Baton Rouge, is a first cousin of Huey's wife, Becky Metzger of Metairie, and has been a close friend of Huey's since the two attended high school together at Holy Cross.
After cursory research, board officials indicated several months ago that Huey, who has no formal administrative duties, was not eligible for any compensation beyond the $75 per diem that board members can receive for each day they work on agency business.
State lawmakers also rejected the extra pay for Huey. In the waning hours of the Legislature's 2005 session, state Sen. Francis Heitmeier, a Huey ally, tried unsuccessfully to make Huey eligible for a $60,000 annual salary by inserting the pay provision into an unrelated piece of legislation...

UPDATE: Huey has resigned, and "AG Foti: fmr. Levee Board president Jim Huey broke law".

Fed. engineer: locals skimmed funds for levees

This post reprints an email from Allan McIsaac, who is apparently an engineer who worked on NO's levee system for the feds:

I tell you truly that in my 40-year career as an engineer, the local authorities in our New Orleans levee project take the prize in the area of callous disregard and their bungling remains notorious to this day. Truly, it was scandalous. Consequently, I find it hard to cast a major portion of blame for this disaster on any other entity than the local representatives of those unfortunate people in New Orleans. The truth is, at least the last three mayors of New Orleans are grossly negligent and in dereliction of duty in regards to repeatedly skimming federal funds allocated for their levee fortification.

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