Longtime Lafayette Parish School Board Member Mike Hefner is having a hard time coming to terms with why some of Lafayette's more prominent business people are continuing to support Pat LeBlanc's candidacy for state representative in District 43. In his campaign literature, LeBlanc says he will continue working to improve education. "I support education reforms that ensure that more of our tax dollars get to the classroom, and I want to see an emphasis put on helping all children succeed."
The irony of those words is too much for Hefner to swallow. Some LeBlanc supporters may have short memories, but the well-respected school board member does not. Hefner says in the mid-1980s the LeBlancs, then doing business as LeBlanc & Associates Inc. (with Pat as secretary/treasurer, according to the Secretary of State's records), did not pay to correct a design flaw that caused problems at Ridge Elementary. The contractor, the Lemoine Co., followed the LeBlancs' specifications on the driveway, which after only a few years had begun to crumble. Hefner says the Lemoines agreed to remedy the project at their cost, about $60,000. But when the school board sent the LeBlancs a demand letter asking for reimbursement, they got a surprising response: "When [school board attorney Lane Roy] got a response back, they were saying, 'Good luck, the firm is bankrupt,'" Hefner says.
Bankruptcy records indicate that LeBlanc & Associates filed Chapter 11 bankruptcy reorganization on Feb. 2, 1987, and the very next month, Pat, his father Jaco and brother Mike formed The LeBlanc Group, another architectural firm. LeBlanc and Associates' Chapter 11 was converted to Chapter 7 (liquidation) on April 5, 1988, and the case closed in May of the following year, according to bankruptcy records. In the meantime, however, the LeBlancs were back in business, building a conglomerate of companies that have made Pat LeBlanc a very wealthy man. LeBlanc entities now include LCS Corrections Services, Premier Management Enterprises and LeBlanc Construction Co. LCS is the fifth largest private prison company in the country and has 900 employees in Louisiana, Texas and Alabama.
About a decade after the Ridge incident, The LeBlanc Group was vying for a lucrative contract to design the multi-million dollar N.P. Moss Middle School. "When they applied for the architectural contract for N.P. Moss in '97 my concern was I remembered this design problem we had trouble collecting on, getting a warranty on," Hefner says. "I tend to remember that."
Heated controversy erupted when it was discovered that The LeBlanc Group had not renewed its architectural license, and attorney Roy recommended that The LeBlanc Group be disqualified from the selection process. The contract was eventually awarded to a firm that was not in the initial running.
Fast forward to the present, and LeBlanc is again surrounded by unanswered questions, this time involving an alleged bribery scandal in Texas. Bexar County Sheriff Ralph Lopez recently resigned and pleaded no contest to three misdemeanor charges, including not reporting a gift from Pat and Mike LeBlanc's Premier Management. Less than a month later, Lopez's longtime campaign manager, John Reynolds, a member of the board that awarded Premier contracts to run the jail's commissaries, pleaded guilty to felony theft in an agreement that has the 70-year-old facing 10 years in prison.
The LeBlancs have maintained their innocence, but the sheriff and his friend now have criminal records due to their relationship with the LeBlancs' company, Premier, and its contracts to sell soda and candy to prisoners.
LeBlanc has told The Independent Weekly and other media outlets that he thinks it's OK that he took elected officials on golf trips to Costa Rica when he was vying for contracts with them ' even likening such jaunts to the way private business is conducted in the oilfield. We disagree. Premier got approval for its first commissary contract in April 2005 and four months later took the sheriff and Reynolds on an all-expense paid golf trip to Costa Rica. Both LeBlanc brothers were on the trip, and Premier subsequently was awarded the rights to another contract.
LeBlanc also apparently thinks it's OK to pay "consulting fees" to elected officials or their friends in an attempt to secure business. We disagree. Reynolds' plea agreement includes information that he received two checks for consulting services of an unknown nature. Michael LeBlanc was the source of one of those checks, and Premier was the other, which was written for $5,014. "Ian [Williamson, Premier's CEO at the time] also stated that he asked John Reynolds why the 'consulting fee' he was charging was $5,014 and not $5,000 even, and John Reynolds told him that $5,000 looked too funny," according to an investigator's report filed in the plea agreement.
An FBI spokesman told The Daily Advertiser that the FBI is still investigating the "interstate aspects of if and how a scheme was perpetrated to illegally influence the (jail commissary) contract.
In an investigative story published last month in the San Antonio Express-News, the paper revealed that the Bexar County sheriff and his friends weren't the only ones in South Texas to benefit from helping Premier. "Sheriffs of two other counties awarded contracts to [Premier], and either they or their associates reaped financial benefits," the paper wrote.
LeBlanc also has a history of suing or threatening media outlets that report on his business dealings. The LeBlancs have sued the Express-News for libel over reports published in 2005 (as of last week, there had been no activity regarding the lawsuit for a year). Recently, Patrick LeBlanc threatened to sue Lafayette radio station KVOL 1330 AM for airing a conversation an online news service had with campaign worker Judy Keller.
On Oct. 8, LeBlanc's attorney, Christopher A. Edwards (Edwin Edwards' nephew and Congressman Charles Boustany's brother-in-law), sent an e-mail to KLFY and Page Cortez, LeBlanc's challenger, threatening a lawsuit over an anti-Pat LeBlanc ad. (Cortez has not run any negative ads; the ad in question was placed by Leadership for Louisiana, the political action committee founded by state Sen. Mike Michot and state Rep. Joel Robideaux.) KLFY has continued to run the ad, and the LeBlanc campaign has since threatened to sue Leadership for Louisiana, too.
If LeBlanc believes that intimidation tactics and wooing government officials with gifts and money are OK, it sets a troubling precedent for how he might conduct himself as an elected official. And although LeBlanc portrays himself as a staunch conservative Republican, the war he's waging in this campaign is against a fellow conservative Republican. If this is how he reacts to someone with similar values in his own political party, it doesn't bode well for LeBlanc's ability to effectively reach across party lines.
The last thing Lafayette and Louisiana needs is a representative with a hollow platform of ethics reform.
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