Friday, August 17, 2018

The Plaquemines Files - Introduction

Over the past 12 years (as of July 4, 2018 ) since I launched AZ, I’ve seen a lot of stories of corruption in New Orleans and the state in general.  There are some basic things I’ve learned over this period about how the “process” works.

For example...there is almost always a real estate component involved in every instance of corruption.  It’s always the first place to look.  Thanks to unique Louisiana legal devices such as “counter letters”, real estate is far and away the best way to hide quid pro quo payouts for political favors here in our little postage stamp of the world.

Point is, I’ve come to know the culture of Louisiana corruption as a journalist and a student. In many ways, I consider this blog a twelve-year graduate thesis on the subject.  I’m not saying I'm a PhD on the matter but I certainly have my grad degree in graft from “Louisiana Scam U”.

I have seen some things….much more than I wrote about here on AZ.  Many things I simply couldn’t substantiate in order to meet the threshold of being able to publish but more often I come across stories that are simply too complicated or large for little, old me to tackle with little to no resources.

That has a lot to do with my silence over the past year.  


About two years ago I re-initiated contact with one of my sources in a neighboring parish...Plaquemines.  The stories I had originally heard from her piqued my interest and frankly I had trouble wrapping my head around many of the things I was being told.  But I listened and recorded those stories.  Now I'm at a point where I'm confident I can share them.

The End of the Earth

Plaquemines is located at the very end of the Mississippi River.  It’s the land mass that comprises the mouth of the country’s primary artery. 

Beginning at its northernmost parish seat, Belle Chase, the entire Parish is mostly a small land mass running  no more than a mile outwards from the levees, on both the eastern and western side, along the Mississippi. It’s southernmost township, Venice, is the last inhabitable area along the river before it flushes out into the Gulf of Mexico.  The parish's very existence is wholly reliant on the integrity of the federal levee system that keeps the river funneled along its manmade path.

Plaquemines is in a fight for its life against nature…and its losing. 
Land mass is eroding away in to the Gulf at a startling rate.  So much so that one of the most valuable commodities in the parish is  mud.  The Army of Corps of Engineers farms mud/soil from specific locations in the parish called “borrow pits” in order to fight the Sisyphus attempts to keep the parish levee system from fading into the Gulf of Mexico.  

If you’re lucky enough to have a “mud farm” you can end up making a small fortune.  

In fact, mud is so valuable in Plaquemines it’s illegal to transport it across Parish lines.  

As if the onslaught from mother nature wasn’t bad enough, government corruption has eaten away the parish from within.  Construction kickbacks, bid-rigging, voter intimidation, outright theft…even mud smuggling….you name it, it’s going down in Plaq.   

How Bad is it?

The tales of corruption are overwhelming and almost too brazen to seem true.  It's not just kickbacks and palm greasing…there are multiple stories of physical threats being made to public employees and would-be whistleblowers who attempted to come forward, complain or simply knew too much. 

The stories range in scale from thousands of dollars of public work being done on private properties to 100’s of millions of unanswered federal dollars being spent on a water system in which not only was the work not done, the expenditure paper trail seems to have disappeared quicker than the Braithwaite levee during Hurricane Issac.

Were the situation simply state and local funds being mishandled, it might not be such an interesting story but fate has bestowed 100s of millions of federal and corporate dollars on Plaquemines in the wake of two massive calamities….one natural, one manmade:  Hurricane Katrina and the BP Macondo oil spill. 
 Is anyone paying attention? 

Michelle Wilcox is a Plaquemines Parish Government (PPG) whistleblower.

A lifelong resident, she’s also a mother, a wife, a hairdresser and a former employee of Lt. Governor Billy Nungesser who also served as Plaquemines President.

While working for Nungesser, she found herself exposed to documents and dealings that began to ethically challenge her commitment to her job.   The corruption she was witnessing had real world consequences for the health and safety of Plaquemines residents…herself, her family, her friends and neighbors.  

Michelle is not one to remain quiet. 

The Plaquemines Files - Michelle Wilcox on the make up of the parish from Spyboy Media, LLC. on Vimeo.

She launched a one-woman whistleblower campaign which grew to a small support group, mostly women, to expose the corruption that was occurring in the Parish while methodically collecting documentation to back up the claims.

All of this at great cost....Michelle, her family and other people attempting to expose the corruption, including current and past government employees, have received threats and physical acts of intimidation to silence them:

The Plaquemines Files - Michelle Wilcox on threats from Spyboy Media, LLC. on Vimeo.
The Plaquemines Files - Michelle Wilcox on the nature of the threats against her from Spyboy Media, LLC. on Vimeo.

Two Sets of Books?

 Some of the documents Michelle kept, the PPG seems to have misplaced or have "alternate" expenditures that don't match the original ones in her possession.

In fact, Nungessor himself gave Michelle a series of expenditures, invoices, checks and financial documents when she was working for him.  She has kept that information on her computer and organized it in spreadsheets that document how the Parish spent much of the federal dollars it was receiving after Katrina.

Shortly after Amos Cormier Jr. was elected Parish President in 2014, his office decided to look into the allegations of corruption that Michelle and others had made regarding the previous administrations.  Instead of pursuing criminal charges, they decided to file civil suits against many of the former Parish employees who allegedly misspent public funds.  They contacted Michelle to get information and the financial documents she had in her possession.  She worked with them and turned over all the documents she had on a thumb drive to an attorney working for Cormier, Peter Barbee.

In June, during one of the civil cases against the Parish filed against former PPG Director of Public Works, Bryon Williams, Barbee, one of the prosecuting attorneys, made the curious move of stating Michelle was “ a liar and is nuts” in court chambers in front of the judge and the defense attorneys. Barbee’s accusation against Michelle was reported in the local Parish newspaper, The Plaquemines Gazette, and the affidavit signed by defense attorney Michael L. Mullin was circulated on Facebook in an effort to humiliate her.

For some reason, Barbee never introduced the financial records Michelle had provided him into the court record which could have made a significant impact in the case. Nor was Michelle ever subpoenaed to testify in the case.  She even called Judge Kevin Conner’s office to clarify she had the documents and would gladly turn them over to the court.

William's case was dismissed by Judge Michael Clement but it is currently under appeal.  

It seems no one, including the prosecution, wanted the contents of the thumb drive to be entered in to the court record.

What’s on the thumb drive?

This is where our Plaquemines investigation will begin….with the files no one wants exposed. 

I am going to publish these files here according to their respective year.  Then in subsequent stories we are going to look at the multitude of issues Michelle has been trying to expose over the past several years. 

Here are the links to the files:






Stay tuned....

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