A contentious lawsuit and a mysterious contract extension puts a cloud over Mosquito Control Contractor, Inc.'s 22-year reign in Iberia Parish.
Mosquito Control Contractors, Inc. holds the longest continual contractual arrangement with Iberia Parish of any contractor in the parish's history. Since first winning the contract in 1982, MCCI's contract has only gone out for bid once in 22 years.
Over the course of the past two years, allegations of inconsistencies between work billed and performed by MCCI prompted the Iberia Parish Council to hire an auditor and monitor for the contract. The audit and reports from the monitor confirmed the billing problems, and in September 2004, the council cancelled its MCCI contract for mosquito control, and Iberia Parish District Attorney Phil Haney filed suit against the company for breach of contract, money due and damages. MCCI countersued. If the suit is not settled within the next week, the trial begins June 7 in Iberia Parish.
The upcoming trial is an unexpected twist in the longstanding relationship between Iberia Parish President Will Langlinais and MCCI President Glenn Stokes. Since 1982, the longtime friends have executed millions of dollars in contracts for Stokes to provide services including mosquito spraying, drainage to alleviate mosquito breeding sites and garbage pickup. But after the 2004 district attorney's investigation and the recent discovery of a mysterious contract extension that was implemented without the knowledge or approval of the Iberia Parish Council, Langlinais and Stokes' powerful alliance is splintering in a flurry of accusations and lawsuits.
Stokes is also the mosquito control contractor for Lafayette and has multiple mosquito control contracts in Acadiana. "Other parishes have contracts with MCCI ' St. Martin, St. Mary ' and all eyes are on Glenn Stokes right now," says Langlinais. "It's not a good situation."
The current allegations are strangely in keeping with a contract that began more than two decades ago under bizarre circumstances. When former Iberia Parish Councilman Lloyd Nicholson wanted to start a mosquito abatement program in Iberia Parish, Stokes' impressive resume ' the Harvard-educated entomologist was Mosquito Control Director for Jefferson Parish ' won him the contract in 1982.
What Nicholson didn't know was that six months earlier, Stokes was arrested in Jefferson Parish after setting fire to the homes of two of his business associates who decided to start their own mosquito control company. Stokes pled guilty to two counts of aggravated arson in Jefferson Parish, and his Iberia Parish contract commenced during the course of his year-long jail term. "It embarrassed myself and the parish," Nicholson says. (Stokes was granted an automatic first offender pardon on Oct. 7, 1985.)
MCCI's one-year contract was worth $450,000 a year, and was the only one of its kind in the state; all other mosquito programs were executed in house by parish public works departments. At the time, Langlinais was a police juror and rising political force in Iberia Parish.
In 1984, Iberia Parish changed its form of government from police jury to a home rule charter. First Parish President Francis Romero died in office that year, and his son, Craig Romero, was appointed parish president and held the seat until moving on to the state Senate in 1992. Langlinais was elected parish president in April 1993.
From 1987 through 2003, the mosquito control contract was never again put out for bid. The contract was amended multiple times, and the term extended from three years to five years. A second contract for source reduction was also awarded to Stokes in 1992 and was designed to run concurrently with the mosquito spraying contract. (Source reduction is a drainage program to eliminate standing, stagnant water.) Nicholson was no longer on the council when the source reduction contract was written, but he was still close to council members. "The source reduction contract originated with the administrative leaders of the council," he says, referring to Craig Romero and Langlinais.
Nicholson makes no bones about the purpose of the source reduction contract. "It was designed for the administration to be able to do political favors," he says. "When the news about the contract came out, Glenn and I were playing golf. I said, 'Doing that is the greatest mistake you can make, son.'" According to Nicholson, Stokes shrugged off his warning.
Mosquito control costs rose from an initial $450,000 the first year to $1.2 million for the joint mosquito abatement contracts in 2003.
Greater Iberia Chamber of Commerce member and former Iberia Industrial Development Foundation President Teb Porter also questions the structure of the source reduction contract. It allows Stokes' company to work on private property for jobs ranging from cleaning a ditch to filling low lying areas ' projects potentially costing thousands of public dollars. Porter says that source reduction gives Langlinais, who signs off on each work order, the ability to use public funds to do favors for his constituents under the mantle of public health and safety.
Monitoring how source reduction is used has always been problematic, according to Porter. "The justification from the attorney general's office for source reduction on private property is that it's a public safety issue," Porter says. "This has more to do with something like a chemical spill on private property. It was never meant to be applied to source reduction. That just gave Will [Langlinais] carte blanche to go on private property."
Porter and chemist and environmental consultant Wilma Subra, disgusted with the lack of a bid process for the contracts, began examining public documents related to MCCI's 1998-2003 contract. The pair discovered that the Army Corps of Engineers had not issued any permits for source reduction projects that impacted wetlands, a parish requirement. Subra also says that MCCI's efficiency and accounting were substandard. "Source reduction projects are designed to address mosquito breeding areas, and some had been sitting unperformed for as long as a year," she notes. "It also became obvious that there was a lack of documentation for charges against the contract in the area of number of projects and equipment usage, for which money was being paid."
"There's not one source reduction project that did not have Will Langlinais' signature on it," adds Porter. "It was blatant abuse of a person in political office wasting monies. Here we are, we don't have enough money to fix our roads, and Will's improving private property at public expense."
Langlinais scoffs at Porter's accusations. "None of these people call Will Langlinais to get a project," he says. "As far as my signature being on the contracts," Langlinais adds, "it's required that I sign every work order." In regard to the billing issues Porter and Subra unearthed, Langlinias says that the problems were addressed. "Many of [Porter's] issues were unfounded," he notes. "If he'd read the contract he wouldn't make these statements."
Langlinais says Porter's accusations are personal. "Teb can say what he'd like to say. That's his opinion. I'm an elected official. If I go out and patch a pothole, it's political. If I dig a ditch, it's political. Everything in life is political. The truth of the matter is when he says it's political, it's political on his part. He was a campaign manager for a woman, Greta Green, who ran against me. It's sour grapes."
Subra and Porter took their findings to District Attorney Phil Haney and briefed individual council members and the parish council and Langlinais in public meetings, leading to the audit examining all of the billing records back to 1993.
Meanwhile, the deadline to renew the mosquito control contract loomed. The parish council, after hearing testimony by Porter and Subra, became wary of Stokes. "There was a lot of noise made about the contract this last time, a lot of noise about why it wasn't put out for bid," says Assistant District Attorney Wayne Landry.
"Some of the council wanted to kill the contract completely," Councilman Bernard Broussard says. Several members of the Iberia Parish Council had been outspoken for years about bidding out the MCCI contract. "We should have been out for bid several times to see what was on the market," councilman George Gros says. But Gros could never amass enough votes on the 14-member council to override the pattern of renewals.
"To Mr. Stokes' credit," Landry notes, "he had the votes, and he was able to keep the votes to keep it from going out for bid." Instead, the council voted to renew the contract with MCCI, but also amended it.
Broussard added a provision that the contract could be cancelled if enough problems were discovered during the audit. "Some of the allegations being made against the contractor ' I had no way to know at that moment if they were true or not," says Broussard. "I wanted a way to break the contract if there were significant problems." The contract was signed in May 2003, with a council resolution attached that allowed for cancellation "due to any significant findings resulting from a [lack of] compliance or financial audit of the current contractor."
The audit uncovered problems in how the Consumer Price Index was applied to the contract price, compounding the cost of the contract over the 10-year period.
Another stipulation of the new contract, requested by the Chamber of Commerce, was the addition of a monitor. Mike Stockstill, who had retired from the public health department six years ago and was working as a consultant for parish government, was hired as the mosquito control contract monitor. Before Stockstill took over the contract, "Stokes was monitoring himself," says Council Clerk Diane Phillips.
Stockstill found discrepancies in the way MCCI was charging for hours worked in the 2003 contract. "When I was named monitor, I met with Glenn Stokes first," Stockstill says. "We discussed some projects ' housekeeping items as it related to the contract." Stockstill discovered what he says are billing discrepancies totaling $80,000. "The issues with source reduction began to appear after the first year of the contract," he says. "That came to a head when they didn't satisfy the amount of hours contracted. They were overpaid. They refused to give the money back."
When Stokes balked, Iberia Parish canceled the source reduction contract on Sept. 16, 2004 and filed suit against MCCI for breach of contract, money due and damages. Stokes filed a countersuit claiming the council had attempted to renege on a legal contract and asked for damages for fees lost due to his inability to work.
Langlinais, who is accustomed to extolling the virtues of MCCI's work, is now in the unfamiliar position of representing petitioner Iberia Parish in the lawsuit against Stokes. "Well, to put it simply," says Langlinais, "I don't think this is an issue dealing with performance on the part of the contractor. It's about billing practices regarding CPI and monies owed. We are of the opinion we are owed $80,000 on the source reduction part of the contract. Of course [Stokes] has his own version. Until these issues are resolved by a jury, we'll have to see."
"The parish indicated to me that we didn't attain all the source reduction hours that were necessary in the contract," says Stokes. He claims that some work-related situations, such as when a crew is waiting for a dump truck to arrive, cannot be metered. "It's not provable either way whether we were working or not."
Stokes says his reputation has been damaged by the lawsuit, and there was a political conspiracy to keep him from fulfilling the 2003 contract. "[MCCI's] work was done at the highest level," he says. "This has to do with personalities. The principals in the suit, Iberia Parish Council, DA's office, administration ' I'm not getting along with most of them. Mr. Gros, he's one of the outspoken members of the council and one of the leaders. He's against mosquito control. I think it's a vendetta."
Langlinais denies there was any plan to oust Stokes. "If a contractor signed a contract, he's required to perform. [Stokes] told me people were out sick, people were on vacation. Despite what he claims, he could have made his hours. I can't control his employees. He agreed to the terms of the contract. He didn't meet the hours, and he's going to pay back. It's easy to say we tried to sabotage that thing. He knows better than that."
Stokes' team of attorneys includes Bernie Boudreaux, the former district attorney for Iberia Parish from 1981-2000. Boudreaux is intimately familiar with the MCCI contracts ' his office negotiated multiple mosquito spraying and source reduction contracts between the council, Langlinais and Stokes. But if Stokes hoped bringing Boudreaux back into the fold would prompt Langlinais to recommend that the council settle the suit, it hasn't worked. The council voted on May 24, 2005 to continue pursuing its claim.
In 1993, the spraying portion of the contract had been signed for a five-year term, and after that the contract continued renegotiation for five-year periods. However, in reviewing the home rule charter, which had been adopted in 1984, the district attorney's office discovered that the charter limits service contracts (such as mosquito control) to three years. "I think a five-year period violated the parish's charter," Landry says. "We didn't catch it for years."
This throws a new twist into the suit, as the contract could be nullified. "If the judge is of the impression that the contract violates the charter, he could declare it void," says Landry. "Or MCCI could win the day, and the five-year term be declared legal."
But the issues of contract length or billing irregularities pale in comparison to the questions raised by the discovery of a mysterious contract executed by Langlinais and Stokes without the parish council's knowledge or approval.
During a March 21, 2005 deposition of councilman Jerome Fitch, Stokes' lawyers introduced a one-page document between Iberia Parish Government and MCCI, signed on July 14, 2000 by Stokes and Langlinais. It was a five-year contract extension for MCCI with an additional five-year renewal option. At the time it was signed, MCCI's mosquito control contract still had three years remaining until it was up for renegotiation.
Fitch was baffled by the document and said he was unaware it existed.
Langlinais, in an April 28 deposition, was asked about the contract extension by an MCCI attorney. "Mr. Stokes came to see me regarding this issue," Langlinais said. "I had a conversation, I seem to recall, with a council member who indicated that he had spoken with Mr. Stokes, as well. I felt that I was within my authority to do this. I signed it, and here we are. â?¦ And incidentally, that council member was Mr. Jerome Fitch."
"It's unbelievable," Fitch says about Langlinais' deposition. "I was not in that room. I knew nothing about the document. I was not there at the signing of that document. I would not sign any contract without council approval."
Council Clerk Diane Phillips scoured her files looking for a record of the contract extension, but found nothing. "This office and no council member as far as I know, was advised of this contract extension," she says.
The contract is signed by Langlinais and Stokes and witnessed by Langlinais' secretary Jolyn Fleming and former Iberia Parish Administrative Assistant Ted Migues. Stamped by the clerk of court "Filed for Record, 2001 August 15," the document wasn't filed until more than a year after the contract was signed.
Stokes never acknowledged the five-year 2000 contract during the months of parish council negotiations leading up to the 2003 contract. He told the Daily Iberian recently that the 2000 contract is a "valid agreement." Stokes argued that the contract extension is the operative document and should be upheld. "It should have been in effect, should be in effect and, of course, it is a legal interpretation."
Council members are not happy. "If we had a contract in place, why did we spend month after month hammering out a new contract?" asks Bernard Broussard. "We're sitting in all these meetings. We thought we were negotiating a clean slate."
Iberia Councilman Gros asked Langlinais in a May 4 finance committee meeting as to why the contract extension was not in information presented to the council.
The minutes from that meeting state that "Langlinais responded that he felt he was within his authority as Parish President to execute the extension to the mosquito control services contract at the time he signed the contract extension. He further explained that he felt that if a document was recorded in the Clerk of Court's Office, as this document was (approximately one year and one month after execution), it would have been provided to the council."
He later added that he felt the [new] contract negotiated and authorized by the council would override the contract extension that he executed and felt that it was not necessary to point out the extension that was signed.
Langlinais told The Independent Weekly that he doesn't remember why the contract was signed three years before it was due to expire. "I really don't know," he says. "I think [Stokes] came to me, if I remember right, in July of 2000, if I would consider an extension. We had done some extensions in the past. I did it. I approved it."
Stokes says he had previously signed contract extensions in advance of contract expirations. "They are signed in advance of the contract expiring so you get the same quality of service and the cost is frozen," he says. "Under state law, a professional service doesn't have to be rebid."
Landry believes that the charter does not give Langlinais the power to extend contracts without council approval, or that the contract is a legal document. "I don't think the parish president had the authority to do that," he says. "This was a contract that was awarded by the parish council."
Why did Langlinais, without council knowledge, give Stokes a potential 10-year contract extension that would have guaranteed his contract through 2008 and possibly 2013? "Everybody would love to know the answer to that question," Landry says. "I haven't accepted any legal reasoning as to why a contract extension for this service was executed in 2000, when the existing contract had an additional three years to continue. In his deposition Stokes says he came to Will and thought it was a good idea. There seem to be only two people who know anything, and they don't seem to have any good recollection of why it was done."
MOSQUITO CONTRAL CONTRACTORS, INC./IBERIA PARISH TIMELINE
MCCI and its president Glenn Stokes win the first mosquito control contract from Iberia Parish
Iberia Parish changes from police jury to home rule charter, limiting service contracts to three years.
Mosquito control contract goes out for bid the only time in the last 22 years
Will Langlinais is elected president of Iberia Parish
Langlinais and MCCI President Glenn Stokes sign a five-year contract extension for MCCI without the approval of Iberia Parish Council
Iberia Parish hires an auditor and monitor for the MCCI contract
Iberia Parish cancels the MCCI contract and sues MCCI for $80,000. MCCI countersues.
Trial set to begin June 7 regarding the lawsuits between Iberia Parish and MCCI