Car Mooch: LHA lieutenant driving illegally

by Leslie Turk

The Independent Weekly has just learned that the Lafayette Housing Authority official in charge of the embattled Disaster Housing Assistance Program, Jonathan Carmouche, is breaking the law every time he gets behind the wheel of an automobile, including LHA-owned vehicles.

The Independent Weekly has just learned that the Lafayette Housing Authority official in charge of the embattled Disaster Housing Assistance Program, which had an annual budget of $1.8 million, drives an LHA-owned vehicle despite that his driver's license has been suspended since July 12, according to the Louisiana Office of Motor Vehicles.

The 18th Judicial District Attorney's Office, which covers Iberville, West Baton Rouge and Pointe Coupee parishes, requested that LHA Deputy Director Jonathan Carmouche's license be suspended after he failed to pay a speeding ticket he received in February of this year. Carmouche was cited in Iberville Parish for driving 75 in 60 mph zone, apparently while traveling on a bridge, the ticket indicates. He was scheduled to appear in Iberville Parish court in Plaquemine on April 26 but did show up and did not pay the $171 fine. The DA's office asked the state Office of Motor Vehicles to suspend his license.

Carmouche was driving an LHA-owned vehicle, a 2006 Ford sports utility vehicle, when he was ticketed. It's unclear what kind of LHA business Carmouche was conducting at the time.

The penalty for driving with a suspended license is severe, commanding a $335 fine in the 15th Judicial District with a mandatory court appearance. Conviction results in the loss of driving privileges for one year, according to a local prosecutor. More critical, however, is the liability Carmouche's poor decision presents for the LHA. Should Carmouche get into an accident, his not having a valid driver's license would likely void the LHA's insurance coverage.

Carmouche's alleged mismanagement of the disaster housing program led to the dismissal of five case managers, Chris Williams, Beatrice Wilson (aka Porsha Evans), Charlie Esie, Linda Jefferson and Myra Parker, on Aug. 13. The pay of those managers, who started out making $11 an hour to help the down-and-out get back on their feet after the 2005 and 2008 hurricanes, skyrocketed 236 percent to $37 an hour from the time of the contracts' inception in late 2007. They also got a $600 monthly car allowance.

Carmouche, who makes $85,000 a year, says when the workload for case managers increased in 2008 after hurricanes Gustav and Ike, he recommended the existing case managers get more compensation rather than hire more workers. After repeated public records request for the current contracts of the case managers, those that would have been in place up until the time the contractors were fired, Carmouche finally acknowledged that the contracts were not up to date. In fact, the contracts are in such disarray that the one the LHA sent to us for Linda Jefferson, purportedly for the period March 2, 2009, to February 28 of this year, was for $12 an hour. Jefferson, like the other four case managers, was making $37 an hour when her contract was canceled Aug. 13. "Because of the continual extensions of the DHAP-Ike/Gustave [sic] program and the recurrent needs of the families, time did not permit to update the contracts with each extension," Carmouche wrote in an email response.

The Independent Weekly's investigation into the program revealed that Carmouche himself was getting a piece of the DHAP action, inspecting homes in the program "on Saturdays" for $75 a pop. He got an extra $20,000 from the LHA for inspecting homes in six parishes in 2009 and another $11,300 so far this year. He began inspecting DHAP homes in May 2009; the figures from LHA did not give a breakdown of how much he got from that program alone. Carmouche double-dipping on the DHAP may have constituted a U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development violation. He is no longer inspecting homes for the LHA.

Read more about the DHAP debacle in The Independent Weekly's Aug. 18 cover story, "Self Serving."

The LHA office and the LHA's automobile insurance agency, Bayou Classic Insurance out of Shreveport (the insurance is with Progressive), were both unaware that Carmouche's license is under suspension. LHA Executive Director Walter Guillory first learned of the suspension from our inquiry and assured us he would meet promptly with Carmouche and get back with us.

Carmouche did not immediately return a message seeking comment.