mercredi 9 janvier 2013

The Slabbed Nation Part 1(b): "unslabbed" Vandenweghe defeated

In December, 2011, within the context of reporting on Karen Parker Broussard's guilty plea for the federal crime of "misprision of a felony" as well as former Parish Attorney Tom Wilkinson's federal Grand Jury indictment, Times-Picayune reporter Richard Rainey noted that Anne-Marie Vandenweghe (aka "unslabbed") belonged to a certain  lineage of persons working for Jefferson Parish government:
The parish attorney's office that Wilkinson headed from 1996 to 2010 has long been home to political benefactors or friends. Among others who have collected pay there over the years were Paul Connick Sr., father of District Attorney Paul Connick Jr.; Jennifer Ansardi, daughter of 24th Judicial District Judge Glenn Ansardi; and Anne Marie Vandenweghe, a former Parish Council member.
Indeed, it turned out that while a council member, Vandenweghe spent wildly, even in the face of her previously avowed stance to stamp out such practices. In February, 1996, the New Orleans daily newspaper revealed:
Hefty cellular phone bills, a spate of seminars and an expensive helicopter ride propelled Donald Jones and Anne Marie Vandenweghe to their third straight year as the Jefferson Parish Council's leaders on office expenses.
In 1995, Vandenweghe spent $228,861 and Jones $224,100, not quite twice as much as T.J. "Butch" Ward, who spent the least: $130,138.
Jones defends his spending, saying he used the money to stimulate economic development in his district. He also said his district is the poorest and his constituents require more services.
Vandenweghe, who was defeated in the November election, declined to comment.
Those hefty phone bills continued even after "unslabbed" Vandenweghe left office, a situation that ultimately resulted in the public threat of legal action against her. Again, the Times-Picayune:
Jefferson Parish has sent a bill to former Councilwoman Anne Marie Vandenweghe for $249 in cellular phone and beeper charges incurred after she left office.
Vandenweghe kept her parish phone for 10 days after her term ended and logged 166 calls, parish phone records show.
The phone bills are peppered with calls to Vandeweghe's family members, including 10 calls to her father Antoon Vandenweghe's home in River Ridge, and four calls to her brother Roland Vandenweghe's home in McComb, Miss. There also are six calls to her home.
Vandenweghe didn't return calls to comment.
Vandenweghe's refusal to pay small sums owed to others in relation to her public office would resurface in 2007, when Gambit author Clancy duBos noted Vandenweghe was on a list that the Louisiana Ethics Commission gave to the state attorney general detailing politicians who reportedly still owed the state nearly a quarter of a million dollars in court-ordered judgments. "All outstanding judgments have been turned over to the Louisiana Attorney General collections section as of May 25," said Alesia Ardoin, staff attorney for the state ethics board.  The practice of not returning calls to comment would also become a pattern for Vandenweghe, the purported lover of free speech, as Times-Picayune reporter Manuel Roig-Franzia noted:
Under threat of a lawsuit, former Jefferson Parish Councilwoman Anne Marie Vandenweghe has repaid the parish for cellular phone and beeper charges incurred after she left office.
Vandenweghe's husband, Ray Valdes, delivered a check for $249.49 Thursday, Chief Administrative Assistant Dennis DiMarco said.
The parish has been trying to collect the money since June 18. After sending three letters asking Vandenweghe to repay the charges, Parish Attorney Tom Wilkinson this week prepared a lawsuit seeking to recoup the money.
Wilkinson said he gave Vandenweghe until today to reimburse the parish or face the lawsuit, which would have asked the former councilwoman to pay the charges along with attorney's fees and court costs.
Vandenweghe could not be reached to comment.
So, after losing both her race to retain her Council seat and her effort to become a state judge, Vandenweghe seemed to turn decisively away from democratic elective process and free speech to the Louisiana political patronage network. It's notable that her then-husband was Rafael "Ray" Valdes (Valdez).
Valdes has a most captivating history within New Orleans metro area politics and criminal investigation. In 2005, the New Orleans paper of record summarized:
Valdes, based in Metairie, arranged the financing for numerous high-dollar equipment leases at [New Orleans] City Hall during [former Mayor] Morial's tenure, including a controversial $81 million energy-efficiency contract with Johnson Controls Inc. that has been a focus of the ongoing federal investigation of Morial-era contracts. Valdes also arranged leases for hundreds of city buses, police cars and other vehicles. Top Nagin officials have complained bitterly about the above-market financing fees in some of those deals, which won't be completely paid off until 2022.
The financier contributed $5,000 to Jordan's 2002 campaign for district attorney through one of his companies, American Lease Financing LLC. He and a relative also made corporate and personal contributions of $15,000 to Morial's third-term bid. Valdes is the ex-husband of former Jefferson Parish Councilwoman Anne Marie Vandenweghe.
In a subsequent article entitled "City Hall bribery case is crowded," the newspaper published:
In the [federal] government's view, the conspiracy to gouge money from a huge City Hall contract signed by former Mayor Marc Morial was not limited to the four men whose guilty pleas, three of them at the eleventh hour last month, aborted an impending trial.
Another three members of Morial's inner circle and two sales representatives with the contractor, Johnson Controls Inc., are among 17 "unindicted co-conspirators" federal prosecutors also consider to have been participants in the bribery and kickback scheme.
The prosecution's list of unindicted co-conspirators includes Morial insiders Roy Rodney, Robert Tucker and Rafael "Ray" Valdes, as well as Johnson Controls saleswoman Lisa Loupe and her former boss, Jeff Feilden, who were both involved in selling City Hall on a 20-year energy-savings deal with a price tag of $81 million.
"unslabbed" Vandenweghe seems to have lived with Ray Valdes on Colonial Lane in Harahan, Louisiana, right next to the Colonial Golf & Country Club, part of a tony subdivision. In fact, Vandengweghe was a Director of the Colonial Grove Subdivision Homeowners Association.
Where "unslabbed" met Valdes remains unclear, however just after losing her race for judge, Vandenweghe reportedly had relied on her powerful political benefactor Harry Lee for help. The Baton Rouge Advocate reported in January, 2000 in an investigative article on "The politics of workers' compensation":
The role of political influence led to a row among three judges in 1996 when [Governor] Foster urged then Labor Secretary Robin Houston to hire a Republican politician from Jefferson Parish, Anne Marie Vandenweghe, as a judge.
That move angered two veteran judges, who claimed they had been passed over for the vacant position and wanted to be considered for it.
One of those judges, Sheral Kellar, said Vandenweghe was a friend of Jefferson Parish Sheriff Harry Lee and was hired because of "political favoritism."
Vandenweghe was hired "at the insistence of Gov. Foster, as a personal favor to his long-time friend, Sheriff Harry Lee," Kellar alleged in a complaint to the Civil Service Commission.
Vandenweghe ultimately defused the dispute by taking a different judge's position, and the Civil Service complaint was later dismissed. Vandenweghe, who resigned as a judge in August, did not return calls seeking comment.
Foster said his support for Vandenweghe was unrelated to politics.
"I recommended her because I knew her and thought she would do a good job. I have no idea what her philosophy was," the governor said.
It will be remembered that Harry Lee had endorsed and further supported Vandenweghe in her run for judge. "unslabbed" then tried running for a Jefferson Parish Council seat again, to end up in third place. Martha Carr of New Orleans' only daily newspaper picked up the story on October 30, 1999:
Third-place finisher Anne Marie Vandenweghe came out of hiding this week to endorse two-time opponent John Lavarine Jr. in the 5th District Parish Council seat.
Ironically, Lavarine hasn't spoken with Vandenweghe since he beat her for the council seat in 1995, he said.
Instead, Parish President Tim Coulon met with Vandenweghe to ask the ex-councilwoman to give Lavarine the nod.
Vandenweghe received 9 percent of the vote in the Oct. 23 primary, after avoiding public forums, refusing to return calls from the media and posting only a handful of campaign signs. Her answering machine was turned back on this week, but she did not return calls seeking comment.
"Anne Marie and I go back a long way, and I have the utmost respect for her," said Coulon, who served as former Parish President Mike Yenni's chief administrative assistant when Vandenweghe was a councilwoman. "All I did was ask her to find a way to support John. She put together the statement herself."
Lavarine's opponent, lawyer Robert Garrity, said he went to Vandenweghe 's home and sat on her front step for an hour after he learned of the endorsement. Vandenweghe had refused to answer several of his phone calls during the primary, and he wanted to know why she was backing her longtime opponent.
"All I got was a bunch of psycho-babble," Garrity said.
Garrity thinks Coulon agreed to give Vandenweghe a job in return for her endorsement.
Vandenweghe , who once worked as an assistant parish attorney, left her job as an administrative law judge for the Department of Labor in August.
"He bought her off," Garrity said. "Why else would she do it? She hates Lavarine."
Coulon said he did no such thing, and said Vandenweghe didn't propose a deal either.
"She didn't ask for employment or contracts, to her credit," Coulon said. "There was no exchange made."
Yet, despite President Coulon's assurances to the contrary, by late 2002 at least, Vandenweghe had been back on the Jefferson Parish government payroll for more than a year, hired by Coulon without the knowledge of Council members. The Times-Picayune once again had the story on October 5, 2002:
Three council members said Friday they have not seen or heard from Vandenweghe during the course of parish business. And two of them, including her two-time political opponent John Lavarine Jr., said they weren't even aware Vandenweghe was back on the public payroll.
"I've never seen her around here," Councilman Nick Giambelluca said. "If she's on the payroll, I'd like to know what cases she's worked on and where she reports to work."
Vandenweghe had worked as an assistant parish attorney for eight months in 1988, then she was hired as a legislative aide to Councilman Lloyd Giardina. She held that job until shortly before she was elected to the 5th Parish Council District seat in 1991, Parish President Tim Coulon said.
She was ousted by Lavarine after a single term. She ran again for the seat in 1999 but avoided public forums, did not return telephone calls from the news media and posted only a handful of campaign signs. After losing in the primary, she emerged briefly to endorse Lavarine, at Coulon 's request.
At that point, Lavarine's runoff opponent, Bob Garrity, accused Coulon of promising her a job.
"He bought her off," Garrity said at the time. "Why else would she do it? She hates Lavarine."
Coulon said he hired Vandenweghe in August 2001 but that it had nothing to do with political payback. Parish Attorney Tom Wilkinson said Vandenweghe is paid $12,000 a year and, like all assistants, is not required to report to the office for regular office hours or duty days.
Vandenweghe did not return calls for comment.
Councilman Ed Muniz said it's odd he was never informed that his former colleague was working for the Coulon administration.
"I've never seen her since she's been hired," he said. "I was quite surprised to find that out."
Does this sound a lot like Karen Parker Broussard's alleged situation, as reporter Rainey suggested in December, 2011?  Coulon did later insist Vandenweghe was really working on Parish projects from home. Online comments published anonymously on a New Orleans news media web site in February, 2010,--which cannot be verified--stated that Vandenweghe always picked up her pay checks personally to avoid having them sent by wire or post.
Political patronage or persuasion would continue to pay out for "unslabbed" as Vandenweghe would gain unelected positions with Jefferson Parish after her divorce from unindicted co-conspirator in federal crimes, Ray Valdes. She left the Parish attorney's office in April, 2006 (according to her advertisement in a Bar Society ADR supplement). A comment on Slabbed from what looks like yet another Vandenweghe online "sock puppet" viewfromhell filled in certain information about changes in "unslabbed" Vandenweghe's Parish Attorney's Office employment in a comment from September 17, 2010:
Vandenweghe claims Wilkinson and blow-buddy Timmy Whitmer (another disgraced former JP who was forced to resign in the face of FBI and US Attorney inquiries ) removed her from her Hearing Officer position because one of their friends ( WJ Leblanc?) did not like her rulings re properties in his neighborhood. Something about her being a Social Worker and Little Nazi Daughter Nicole Amstutz ( Prosecutor for JP in that court) complained Vandenweghe was ‘too religious’ and ‘too kind’ to the Reverands on the West Bank. You can read between those lines, right? Then adding injury to insult Timmy and Tommy ‘redlined’ Vandenweghe freezing her salary and any advancement. Newly hired attorneys are coming in at higher salaries than Vandenweghe ( check it out on the Parish website).
Her dislike of  Tom Wilkinson and Timothy Whitmer seems hardly bridled. She ended up in late 2009 as the Assistant Parish Attorney in charge of fulfilling Public Record Requests by citizens, the media, attorneys, law enforcement, and the Grand Jury. Eventually, Vandenweghe would be fired from her position as Assistant Parish Attorney in late 2010 by newly-elected President John Young. When Parish President Aaron Broussard resigned in January, 2010, his successor Steve Theriot would place "unslabbed" on administrative leave.
Vandenweghe herself summarizes what happened under Theriot in her federal lawsuit:
plaintiff [Vandenweghe] alleges that defendants purposefully and systematically defamed her in statements to the press and at recorded meetings whereby they wrongfully and with malice accused her of “blogging” and inappropriate use of computers at the workplace, and publicly placed her on administrative leave for such alleged behavior.
Indeed, in May, 2010, President Theriot proceeded to file a defamation lawsuit against John Doe defendants specifically naming the Slabbed blog and to seek the identities of anonymous bloggers, including  “viewfromhell.”
Defendants have systematically published messages on the Internet using the forums and blogs on and [later,] purportedly dedicated to a discussion of Jefferson Parish and its management.
In May, 2010, Boudreaux/Vandenweghe admitted to the Times-Picayune newspaper that “she had commented online about Jefferson Parish officials but only on her own time and computer and only under one user name.”
Theriot later withdrew the lawsuit after a public outcry--including in blogs & forums-- over “free speech,” and never got to the point of discovering who the anonymous bloggers were.
"unslabbed" Vandenweghe herself , as plaintiff in a lawsuit against her former employer, explained what happened after she was placed on leave by Theriot:
Plaintiff’s pastor, Marion Lauricella, and many of her fellow church members contacted plaintiff upon learning in the press and other media of her removal from the Parish Attorney’s office. Plaintiff’s elderly mother and other family members and friends contacted her with grave concerns upon hearing the news accounts linking her removal with that of Wilkinson and with the ongoing corruption scandals in Jefferson Parish.
The next question: who's who?

(Anybody who would like to share information or stories about Vandenweghe or the identities of other Slabbed Nation members is encouraged to write in on comments.)

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