mardi 15 janvier 2013

The Slabbed Nation Part 1(c): "unslabbed" Vandenweghe, 2010, and the Lauricellas

"Vandenweghe, who served on the Parish Council from 1992 to 1996, spearheaded efforts in recent months to make public records readily available to federal agents, lawyers, the news media and individuals as investigations into former Parish President Aaron Broussard's administration picked up steam." - Richard Rainey, Times-Picayune

Perhaps some of the seemingly independent voices on the Internet, in civil court filings, and even in the mainstream news media and criminal court filings, in the New Orleans metro area from at least 2009 until now were not so independent, random, and/or unconnected. Some of those voices were part of a seemingly concerted public relations campaign to shape public opinion and also to target certain persons or groups. There are questions of legal ethics, professional responsibility, and potentially prosecutorial (mis)conduct wrapped up in all of this, as Mark Moseley at The Lens has suggested.

During 2012, as a consequence of lawsuits filed by Frederick Heebe, the co-owner of the River Birch Landfill, two Assistant U.S. Attorneys (AUSA) in U.S. Attorney Jim Letten's office admitted to blogging online regarding New Orleans & Jefferson Parish politics as well as criminal investigations & prosecutions then being conducted by the U.S. Attorney (USAO). AUSA Sal Perricone was the first. He insisted that he had acted alone in blogging, and that no one else in the USAO knew he was doing so. The aftermath of the 2nd suit against 1st AUSA Jan Maselli Mann put the lie to that assertion.

There had also been allegations made in 2012 by the defendants in two federal criminal prosecutions that Grand Jury & USAO leaks were coming from the USAO or Grand Jury—the Broussard-Wilkinson prosecution, and the Danziger Bridge shootings prosecution. Coincidentally, two federal judges—Judge Head and Judge Englehardt—had ordered Letten's office to conduct an investigation into such alleged leaks. Letten assigned Jan Maselli Mann—and apparently no one else—to conduct both investigations.

When the revelation came to light that Mann had been blogging under the pseudonym “eweman,” even as she "investigated" blogging and leaks, both judges took action.

Judge Englehardt issued a strongly worded opinion and called for an independent investigator. Judge Head sua sponte stated that he would consider submissions from Broussard and Wilkinson regarding the AUSA blogging scandal and published previously sealed communications in the court record. U.S. Attorney Letten resigned on December 6, 2012.

In his November 26, 2012, opinion, Judge Englehardt described what he saw as “the sophomoric antics” of federal prosecutors. He described a situation in which the AUSAs' “grandstanding comments” were “publicly available to those who were called as witnesses, or were to be called as witnesses in the future, including defense witnesses who were yet to testify, but may well have been monitoring media accounts of the trial, including those on and the accompanying flotsam set forth underneath in the form of 'comments.'”
The federal judge continued:
it must always be remembered that federal criminal prosecution of individuals is not a game; it is not a sport or some grand competition where “winning,” above all else, is everything. Rather, it is a search for the truth, following irrefutable evidence and reasonable logical inferences drawn from such evidence, while maintaining the high standards of professionalism and ethics expected of all lawyers across the country. It must also be remembered, with irony, that Defendants in this very case are criminally accused by the United States government, inter alia, of falsifying stories and reports, omitting the truth, misrepresenting facts, and giving false statements to authorities, including the FBI.
Judge Englehardt, after a review of facts and testimony, also came to the following conclusion: “no one, especially this Court, could reasonably find it credible that Perricone and former First AUSA Mann, while posting under the same articles, and responding to and echoing each other's posts, were unaware of the identity of the other.” The judge also said that “the activities of Perricone and former First AUSA Mann, both those of commission and those omission, might also constitute prosecutable criminal conduct,” referring specifically to “activities before this court.”

Though not framing it as such, Judge Englehardt found that Perricone and Mann acted in concert in their online blogging, splitting at least 5 online monikers between them (4 for Perricone). He also suggested that they conspired to cover up the extent and concurrent nature of their activities once Perricone was publicly unmasked, including misleading the court and the general public.

Under Jim Letten, the New Orleans USAO had become known and publicly acclaimed for rooting out political corruption.

The self-same fervent, “win at all costs,” attitude towards allegedly and actually corrupt politicos and government officials extended beyond Letten's office into the blogasphere, including prominently on Slabbed and, the 2 entities named in interim Jefferson Parish President Steve Theriot's perhaps prescient defamation lawsuit, in the context of which he publicly implicated Vandenweghe with blogging on government time. Slabbed's decisive turn to what Doug Handshoe termed & tagged as the “Jefferson Parish Political Corruption Scandal” occurred at exactly the same time as Letten's office was arguing before the Broussard/Wilkinson Grand Jury. Bloggers felt and believed they were part of the effort . . . and maybe they were.


Consider, for a moment, the position in which "unslabbed" Vandenweghe found herself in late 2009. She was the Assistant Parish Attorney, presumably with access to every nook & cranny of Parish government due to her position as the official in charge of fulfilling Public Record Requests. Her father had just died. And she had failed to achieve either an important political or judicial position, which had been life goals in the 1990s and 2000s, as seen in earlier parts of this series. 

Embittering? Perhaps.

She clearly held animosity towards some of her colleagues and superiors. She perhaps felt mistreated by the Parish and believed that the corrupt political system in Jefferson had betrayed her, when it was supposed to have gone her way. Her salary was reportedly frozen--"redlined"--and she was not advancing within President Aaron Broussard's administration or that of his interim replacement. Her political allies who appear to have been Parish President Coulon and Sheriff Harry Lee were either out of office (Coulon) or had passed away (Lee). She was no longer married to un-indicted co-conspirator in federal crimes and powerful financier Ray Valdes, and had married former lawyer A. J. Boudreaux, who had "a mixed personality disorder with prominent narcissistic and other features," according to a decision in his lawsuit against his disability insurance company. He and Anne-Marie Vandenweghe declared bankruptcy in 2005, Chapter 7. Among other debts, they faced a federal tax lien.

Lots of facts point to "unslabbed" Vandenweghe thinking it might be time to take action.

Those who acts as gatekeepers or brokers of valuable or limited resources, including information, are often in very socially (if not politically or economically) powerful positions. They can wield that power with a vengeance, given opportunity and motive.  For instance:
In August 2009, plaintiff [Vandenweghe], the Assistant Parish Attorney in charge of responding to public records requests, received a Public Records Request (“PRR”) from legal counsel for Waste Management, the operator of the public landfill for the Parish, seeking the production of any contracts which may exist between River Birch Landfill (“River Birch”) and the Parish.
Vandenweghe had direct contact with the FBI, the USAO, and the media, and was also online blogging anonymously about Jefferson politics, seemingly using various anonymous handles besides "unslabbed." She also presumably had the capacity to know all about Jefferson Parish records and to steer those making inquiries in specific directions.

As Richard Rainey of the Times-Picayune wrote on February 23, 2010:
 Vandenweghe, who served on the Parish Council from 1992 to 1996, spearheaded efforts in recent months to make public records readily available to federal agents, lawyers, the news media and individuals as investigations into former Parish President Aaron Broussard's administration picked up steam. She is paid $64,717 a year.

The concerted federal investigation by U.S. Attorney Letten's office into Jefferson Parish corruption appears to have started sometime in the last quarter of 2009. Remarkably, Vandenweghe's civil lawsuit against Jefferson Parish would almost totally mirror the USAO's investigation (or visa versa), with many of the allegations that subsequently appeared in the lawsuit first having been aired publicly in the Slabbed comment section months before. The Times-Picayune's Richard Rainey noted the similarities:
The suit touches on practically every aspect of alleged wrongdoing that prompted federal authorities to begin investigating the Broussard administration.
Along with Broussard, chief administrative officer Tim Whitmer and parish attorney Tom Wilkinson also resigned. And Theriot fired Broussard's wife, Karen Parker, on suspicion that she and Broussard were committing payroll fraud.
It was exactly simultaneous with the federal investigation that New Orleans metro area news media--prominently the Times-Picayune and Fox 8 News but also reporter Lee Zurick--also began investigations into Parish President Broussard's administration. Letten's office had the ultimate goal of proving fraud and corruption in the awarding of a multimillion dollar landfill contract to River Birch Landfill. Along the way, the USAO also pursued Broussard, his ex wife (Karen Parker), his Chief Administrative Officer (Timothy Whitmer), and the Parish Attorney, Wilkinson--the one who had publicly threatened to sue Vandenweghe over her phone bill.

Simultaneous with the ramping up of the Jefferson investigations, there were the Assistant U.S. Attorneys blogging online--particularly but not only at Broussard and his administration. The most famous examples are AUSA Sal Perricone and AUSA Jan Maselli Mann, who was Letten's right-hand until the longstanding Republican U.S. Attorney resigned amidst the blogging scandal. In January, 2010, the Slabbed blog--which had always focused on post-Hurricane Katrina insurance litigation, mostly in Mississippi--suddenly started publishing about the Jefferson scandal. At the same time, "unslabbed" Vandenweghe started to appear prominently in the Slabbed comment sections making the allegations that would later appear in her lawsuits, in federal investigations, and in Grand Jury indictments and USAO filings.

At least as early as November 10, 2009, the Times-Picayune as well as Fox 8 News and its investigative reporter Val Bracy were making Public Record Requests through Vandenweghe to Jefferson Parish. The Parish actually sued to halt such requests citing an ongoing federal criminal investigation and a Grand Jury subpoena. The lawsuit also named reporters Lee Zurick, Drew Broach, and Richard Rainey as well as the Times-Picayune newspaper itself. Vandenweghe was fulfilling PRRs for River Birch as early as August, 2009, and according to the Times-Picayune, federal prosecutors subpoenaed River Birch on December 20, 2009.

Vandenweghe states in her August, 2011, federal lawsuit that in January of 2010, there was a Public Record Request (PRR) from Channel 8 Fox News "inquiring about payroll irregularities." There was also a PRR from Fox 8 for the Jefferson Parish Attorney’s organizational chart. Finally, there was a "Channel 8 Fox News PRR regarding" three paralegals allegedly not working in the jobs they were being paid for, including Karen Parker-Broussard. It's unclear how in late 2009/early 2010 Val Bracy or anyone else at Fox 8 News would know exactly what to ask for in the PRRs that would result in damning revelations about governmental corruption, facilitating the Grand Jury investigation. 

Consider this "unslabbed" Vandenweghe comment published on Slabbed on February 6, 2010, which appears to have been one of Vandenweghe's first appearances as "unslabbed":
Where was Parish Attorney Tom Wilkinson while these three were STEALTH PARALEGALS on his payroll ? Head of the Law Dept and he says and does nothing to stop this payroll fraud? He admitted he knew about [Karen Parker] Broussard and was ‘told’ she was on his payroll. If he suspected this was not right he of all people should have reported it. One oopsie-slipsie well maybe. But THREE illegals and he does nothing ? What is up with that? oh yeah Tom $$$$$$
And what about his Deputy Peggy Barton? She was listed on the Organizational Chart for the Parish Attorney’s office as the Administrator with Parker-Broussard directly under her supervision as late as May 2009 , Then when Val Bracy asks for a copy of the Organizational Chart Barton revises it twice within days of the request and POOF suddently the box with Karen Parker Broussard is gone. HMMM.
And why did Deano Bonano start playing hot potato with Barton when she fingered his Chief of Security Knopp as KPB’s supervisor? So many questions and so few answers.
Anyone out there following the penalty phase of messing with public records?
Hindering or attempting to hinder public access to public records is FELONY territory boys and girls.
Vandenweghe was blogging allegations including specific first-hand details that would surface in the press and in federal indictments later on. Conveniently, the reporter for Fox 8 News, Val Bracy, just happened to make a Public Record Request for precisely the information that would implicate Broussard & Wilkinson in illegalities like payroll fraud. Not surprisingly, "Whitmerate" appeared to lend moral support to "unslabbed" within 25 minutes of the "unslabbed" comment, chiming in with "So right."

Whitmergate then reappeared on Slabbed the next morning to re-publish a comment from by "Lettenhaveit," an obvious reference to the then-U.S. Attorney Jim Letten:
Posted by Lettenhaveit
February 07, 2010, 10:13AM
After reading the account of WILKINSON putting the x-wife of his good buddy BROUSSARD ( the same person he claims gave him $70,000 in raises over the last 34 months when it was most probably WHITMER who signed off on the raises )….ok, back to Karen being put under a bus going 2 miles an hour. What occurred to me was the similarity of events surrounding Debbie Villio’s resignation to run for Judge the first time and Karen’s resignation to campaign for BROUSSARD. Both Villio and Parker were employees of JEFFERSON PARISH ; both resigned to pursue political activities; upon their “re-hiring, both had there record of absence altered to Leave With Out Pay; and as a result of this “alteration”, both were able to claim continuous service, retroactively, so as not to interrupt benefit requirements (RETIREMENT). All this was done under the direction of WHITMER and the knowledge of WILKINSON. These two men created a criminal fiction to facilitate payroll fraud. CLASSIFIED EMPLOYEES ARE PROHIBITED FROM TAKING A LWOP TO ENGAGE IN POLITICAL ACTIVITY. THIS PROHIBITION IS APPLICABLE TO OTHER EMPLOYEES AS WELL and is specifically set forth in the Personal Rules of Employment in Jefferson Parish. Period. No ands, ifs, or buts. WHITMER and WILKINSON and anyone else who conspired with them need to be held accountable in a court of law. Additionally, WILKINSON should be brought before the bar on an ethics complaint. WHITMER is gone and it way past time for WILKINSON to be fired or asked to resign. Come on THERIOT, do your job !
Whitmergate rarely re-posts material from, though notably, Whitmergate would later (August, 2011) go to Slabbed to republish comments of "dramatis personae," one of the identities used by then-AUSA Sal Perricone.

In early February, 2010, "lettenhaveit" as republished on Slabbed by "Whitmergate" as well as "unslabbed's" publications on Slabbed itself just happened to presage the federal indictments against Broussard and Wilkinson that would come down on December 2, 2011. Notably, "lettenhaveit" would be one of the identities sought in interim President Theriot's defamation lawsuit in May, 2010--the one in which he allegedly publicly aired his view that Vandenweghe was blogging on parish time.
Let's compare Vandenweghe's allegations with Richard Rainey's December 2, 2011, summary of the Broussard indictment for the Times-Picayune, some 22 months later:
A federal grand jury on Friday indicted Broussard, 62, Parker, 46, and former parish attorney Tom Wilkinson, 53, on charges that they manipulated the payroll to the tune of $410,463, mostly in enhanced pay for Parker as a paralegal supervisor in Wilkinson's department. Each faces 33 felony counts of conspiracy to steal federal money, conspiracy to commit wire fraud and wire fraud.
. . . . .
The indictments are the first against Jefferson Parish officials in a sprawling federal investigation that metasticized after news media reports of possible corruption in Broussard's administration.
. . . . .
Despite the investigation's complexity, Friday's indictment focused only on payroll fraud, including $323,000 that Parker received while ostensibly working for Wilkinson.
Parker spent 11 years working for the Parish Council before she quit in July 2003 to help Broussard, then the council chairman, run for parish president. After he won, Wilkinson hired her as a "paralegal supervisor."
It was a job that she was neither trained nor certified to do, according to the indictment. Yet Wilkinson boosted her salary to $48,000 -- a $19,000 raise and $3,000 higher than her new job's salary cap, the indictment states. He also erased her 2003 resignation, reclassifying her time away as a leave of absence. That let her continue to collect pay raises, tenure bonuses and health care benefits that a break in her public work would have jeopardized.
. . . . .
Meanwhile, Broussard let Wilkinson keep his job as parish attorney, a post he had held since 1996. During Broussard's tenure, Wilkinson saw his annual pay jump seven times and increase by more than 80 percent. By February 2009, he was making $184,000.
It was a mutually beneficial relationship, according to the indictment.
At the same time she was blogging, in January & February, 2010, Vandenweghe was responding to federal subpoenas from the same Grand Jury that would later indict the Broussards & Wilkinson, and personally delivering documents to the courthouse in front of clued-in TV and newspaper cameras; she was also fulfilling PRRs for the garbage contract competitors of River Birch.

According to information appearing on Slabbed and elsewhere, in May, 2011, a judge in Nova Scotia was asked to look at apparent insider links between Fox 8 News (Louisiana Media Company)--who was the defendant in a Nova Scotia Supreme Court lawsuit--and the persons commenting on Slabbed. Plaintiffs in that case had noted that information privy only to Fox 8 ended up on Slabbed. The judge found: that information appearing on Slabbed was  "indicative of an insider connection or  association with Louisiana Media," including comment posts by "Whitmergate."

Remarkably, in early January, 2010, the Metropolitan Crime Commission (MCC) of New Orleans had filed a complaint with the Louisiana Ethics Administration about Broussard. (Coincidentally, 1st AUSA Jan Maselli Mann's father, Joe Maselli, sat on both boards--Ethics and MCC, and her brother subsequently sat on the MCC board). The complaint included an allegation that President Broussard had rented his "Nova Scotia lodge" to parish government contractors, implying unethical or even criminal activity. The allegation was based on privileged and confidential sources, "tips," received by the MCC. On September 18, 2010, "viewfromhell" posted the following comment on Slabbed:
It is important to point out that Anne Marie Vandenweghe put all the above on official notice about the Prohibited Political Activities of Villio and Wilkinson with her Personnel Board Whistleblower lawsuit. Word is she went to her superior, Louis Gruntz, who made some lame visit to the DA’s office and returned to tell her nothing could be done. Only when she investigated further and presented the evidence to the Personnel Board ( in several Executive Sessions per the TV accounts) and to Gruntz in front of them did anyone even pretend to take notice. Question: Who does she go to now with evidence of wrongdoing? Who does anyone in Jefferson Parish go to? If they are all in collusion no one can send anything to their superiors when their superiors are all in on the deal. And as for an Anonymous Tip Line— that only works if more than one person has access to the information about the illegal/unethical activity. If I am the only person with access to the incriminating evidence ( other than the bad guys/gals) and I can be identified because I am the only possible leak, an Anonymous Tip Line does me NO GOOD.
The MCC has a Anti-Public Corruption Program:
Anti-Public Corruption Program
: Allows citizens and public employees to report criminal or unethical acts or acts of administrative wrongdoing committed in the course of public service or employment.  Callers can provide information in the strictest of confidence and may be eligible for rewards.
What's more, as alleged in discovery materials provided by Fox 8:
Beginning on January 4, 2010 through January 6, 2010 the Defendant’s "investigative" reporter Val Bracy exchanged 22 calls between her phone number and phone numbers identified by the Defendant [Fox 8] as belonging to Metropolitan Crime Commission President Raphael [sic] Goyeneche. This included at least 24 minutes in 4 distinct calls of more than 1 minute each on January 6, 2010 before 4:00 p.m.
Fox 8 News received a copy of the Ethics Board complaint--which was based on anonymous tips--the same day it was drafted, more than 24 hours before it was even received by the Louisiana Ethics Administration. This was a violation of Louisiana criminal statue, which states that all such complaints are to be kept strictly confidential.

Title 45 (12)(a)  It shall be a misdemeanor, punishable by a fine of not more than two thousand dollars or imprisonment for not more than one year, or both, for any member of the board, its executive secretary, other employee, or any other person, to make public the testimony taken at a private investigation or private hearing of the board or to make any public statement or give out any information concerning a private investigation or private hearing of the board without the written request of the public servant or other person investigated.
Val Bracy had set up an interview with Broussard for the same day--January 6--but did not tell him she had the MCC complaint letter. She then conducted a "gotcha journalism" interview with Broussard, including broadcasting segments featuring Goyeneche roundly criticizing Broussard. The interview with Broussard mentioning the Ethics Board complaint was aired on the Fox 8 evening news that same day. Transcripts of the Broussard interview--including portions never aired by Fox 8--would later end up on Slabbed, posted there by "Whitmergate," which was just part of the evidence considered by the Nova Scotia Supreme Court judge in his fact finding 

It is no secret that Jim Letten and Rafael Goyeneche, President of the MCC frequently worked together, and did so on the Jefferson Parish corruption investigation. As the Times-Picayune reported on the day of Aaron Broussard's guilty plea:

Besides Broussard and his attorney, Robert Jenkins, U.S. Attorney Jim Letten and Metropolitan Crime Commission President Rafael Goyeneche were also in the courtroom. Letten has credited commission [sic] with helping the investigation. (

That Nova Scotia judge would then issue an Order to Automattic, Inc., the parent company of the WordPress blogging site where Slabbed was located, to provide identifying information about "Whitmergate," "unslabbed," "Sop81_1" and others. Automattic of San Francisco, California, obeyed the court's Order, supplying email address and IP address information. As per the court record in Nova Scotia, Automattic stated that "unslabbed" provided the email address (The email address Anne-Marie Vandenweghe currently uses to register with the Louisiana Bar Association is
Ultimately, the Nova Scotia lawsuit was amended, this time to be against Doug Handshoe and a Jane Doe defendant identified by the above email address. That is, as later stated by Handshoe, Vandenweghe was Handshoe's co-defendant. 

Vandenweghe put in her federal lawsuit against Jefferson Parish that the sole named witness to her emotional distress and public embarrassment after President Theriot placed her on administrative leave was her Pastor, Marion Lauricella. Marion "Sugar" Lauricella died on August 19, 2010. The Times-Picayune published an article about him on August 20, 2010. Vandenweghe's defamation lawsuit listing him as the sole named witness was filed on August 25, 2010. He died 6 days before she filed the lawsuit naming him as a witness to defamation.

Indeed, Anne-Marie was ordained as a minister by the Universal Life Church, where her online profile lists her church as the Harahan Christian Church where "Sugar" Lauricella was chief pastor. Who also got his minster's qualification from the Universal Life Church? Its current pastor and Sugar's grandson, David Lauricella, Jr. According to her public profile, Vandenweghe's services included Weddings, Bible Studies, Retreats, & Outreach in Community as a minister at Sugar Lauricella's church. 

As related in the Times-Picayune obituary, "Lauricella's father, Frank, was a farmer and a professional gambler who raised him to deal cards in the back room of their home. Lauricella eventually took over running the Saturday poker games." Sugar was the first cousin of Francis "Hank" Lauricella, a former Louisiana State Senator and a principal along with his son Louis Lauricella in the Lauricella Land Company, Colonial Finance, and Waste Remediation, LLC. Waste Remediation is in turn owner of Waste Remediation of Plaquemines, which partnered with a company named Concrete Busters of Louisiana to submit a waste disposal bid to Jefferson Parish in 2008.

On February 25, 2010, "Whitmergate" was again commenting on Slabbed, presaging public revelations the future federal criminal investigation into River Birch, seeming to speak as a first-hand witness to events:
The following is but one path in a turn in the River Birch landfill labyrinth. Wilkinson conspired in tandem with Whitmer to facilitate the promoting of an RFP. I can remember Whitmer’s infamous quip comparing the request for the RFP to a fishing trip for the best deal. The pond was stacked and Heebe was hooked. Rainey’s article in Jan. 14, 2009, Times Picayune sets up the story of this myriad of deception.
RFP No.176 is now in motion. A RFP evaluation committee is created. The voting members are: Tom Wilkinson, Parish Attorney and Secretary of the Evaluation Committee, Alan Gandolfi, the Council’s Budget guy; and John Fos ? . They elected not to afford Marnie Winter, Director of Environmental Affairs, a voting status. We now know from a recent article reporting on the Council’s call for a contract for a consultant to review the River Birch fiasco, that other than Ms. Winter, a PHD in the field, the three voting members had absolutely no expertise or experience to critique the RFPs in question. That’s lawyers for ya’… know everything about nothing.
On December 22, 2008, Mr. Wilkinson sends a letter to then Council Chairman John Young reporting the the final scores of the two companies, River Birch 274/300 and Concrete Busters 143/300. To date no one seems to be able to find the individual work sheets of these esteemed committee members. Hmmmmmmmmm
That early 2010 post on Slabbed looks eerily familiar to anyone reading Times-Picayune reporter Paul Rioux's September, 2012, article on River Birch summarizing the federal lawsuit that competitor Waste Management would file against River Birch in September, 2011:
Attorneys for Waste Management, which runs the parish dump, filed a civil racketeering lawsuit accusing Broussard's administration of essentially fishing in a stocked pond, knowing River Birch would take the bait and submit a sweeping proposal to handle all residential trash.

Aucun commentaire:

Enregistrer un commentaire