Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Reservoir consultant accused of improperly enriching himself

Allen Parish group to state: Terminate reservoir projects

BATON ROUGE — Opponents of state-funded reservoir projects are pushing lawmakers to get Louisiana out of the lakebuilding business following last week’s indictment of lake consultant Michael Thompson.

James Moore of Grant, a member of the Community Preservation Alliance, Allen Parish’s reservoir opposition group, sent letters to state lawmakers on Monday asking them to pass a resolution that would stop reservoir spending.

CPA members want Thompson to resign as consultant on reservoir projects in Allen, Washington, Morehouse, Ouachita, Caldwell and LaSalle parishes.

Thompson, 58, is accused of improperly enriching himself when he was chief of the Poverty Point Reservoir District in Richland Parish, in northeast Louisiana, from 1997 to 2002.

He is a former mayor of Delhi and the brother of state Rep. Francis Thompson, DDelhi. The proposed 3,700-acre Allen reservoir and others are modeled after Poverty Point Reservoir.

Gov. Kathleen Blanco, through press secretary Marie Centanni, commented to the American Press about the charges Thompson faces.

“Every citizen is innocent until proven guilty, and this is a matter for the courts to decide. In the meantime, Mr. Thompson has taken a voluntary leave of absence from the Commerce and Industry Board,” Centanni wrote.

Blanco has backed the statewide projects, saying they enhance economic development.

The CPA has maintained that even before Thompson’s indictment he and other lake officials made sweetheart deals and misused legislative connections to line their pockets.

“Should DOTD continue to pay Thompson $100,000 a year per lake for a half-dozen reservoirs? Thompson should resign as director of all current reservoirs,” reads Moore’s letter. “Since Thompson has been indicted by the FBI for illegally taking Louisiana taxpayers’ money, what will the state of Louisiana also do about this matter?”

In 2004, Thompson and others proposed that a lake be built in the Six and Ten Mile communities — a project that would have claimed many homes. A second site, Mill Creek in western Allen Parish, was ultimately favored since it affects no homeowners. Still, CPA aggressively opposes it.

Moore operates a Web site devoted to the CPA’s claims against Thompson, Francis Thompson and lake engineer Terry Denmon, among others.

Michael Thompson and Francis Thompson have denied any wrongdoing.

Last week, through his attorney, Michael Thompson issued a statement saying he is “absolutely innocent” of the charges against him. He will be arraigned in Monroe on June 29 in federal court. If convicted, he faces up to 20 years in prison or a $250,000 fine or both.

Francis Thompson, whose House district includes Poverty Point Reservoir, is a member of the Louisiana Political Museum’s Hall of Fame and one of the Legislature’s longest-serving members. He was elected in 1974.

He was instrumental in creating the reservoir and park and has steered tens of millions of state dollars into the reservoir and surrounding projects.

In 2002, Francis Thompson, along with Sen. Don Hines, DBunkie, and Rep. Herman Ray Hill, D-Dry Creek, sponsored legislation for the Allen Parish Reservoir.

Allen Parish Reservoir Committee member Buddy Farris reported in April that the permitting process for the reservoir was inching forward after being delayed in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

Farris and four others — Phil Beard, Matthew R. Hollins, Gary Pelican and Billy Reeves — make up the committee. Beard serves as chairman.

This legislative session, $800,000 has been allocated in House Bill 2 as Priority 1 general obligation bonds for the Allen project for land acquisition, rights of way, utilities, equipment and construction.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.


Friday, June 15, 2007

Indictment of Reservoir Official fuels questions

The Daily News BY JOHN H. WALKER Published/Last Modified on Friday, June 15, 2007 11:22 AM

BOGALUSA - The indictment of the man who serves as consultant to the Washington Parish Reservoir Commission has raised concerns among commission members and given new life to opponents to the project.

Michael Thompson, 58. of Delhi, who served as executive director of the Poverty Point Reservoir District and is a paid consultant on at least a half-dozen reservoirs proposed for construction around the state, was indicted by a federal grand jury alleging he illegally took money from the district while acting as director.

The indictment is based on the Hobbs Act and was returned in Lafayette on Tuesday.
It alleges that between Sept. 26, 1997, and June 20, 2002, Thompson obtained funds of Poverty Point Reservoir District to which he wasn't entitled while acting in his official capacity. The maximum penalty could be 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.

Reservoir commission member Bill Jenkins of Angie said late Thursday that he had been in communication with commission chairman Huey Pierce, who is out-of-state on vacation, and that Pierce was aware of the indictment.

"We're not real sure how it might affect us," Jenkins said. "We're aware of the indictment based on the news article, but we need to figure out what we need to do."

Jenkins said the commission would have to get together and see what action they needed to take.

"We've had (commission) members we've had to ask to step down in the past," Jenkins said, "but this looks like it may be a little more serious. We know there will be a lot of questions to answer ... we'll have to post and hold a public meeting and sit down and put together everything we've paid to him."
He said the commission had just been audited and that commissioners had just recently met and reviewed the audit.

For members of the Pete Pittman family, as well as others who live in the area targeted to become lake bottom, it substantiates their concerns over misuse of public funds.

Family members said Pete Pittman, currently hospitalized with a fractured vertebrae in his neck following a fall, "expressed relief" that someone had taken note of what they called "the wrongdoing that was apparently going on with the reservoirs across our state."

His daughter, Jalon Pittman Beech, said "Those of us who have been crying foul are not surprised at the indictment of the Washington Parish Reservoir Commission's very well paid consultant, Michael Thompson.
We expect more indictments to follow, possibly in our parish as well. We welcome the presence of the FBI in our parish."

Her brother, Winford, asked, "Should Thompson continue to get paid $100,000 per lake for six lakes while he is under indictment? Shouldn't he be dismissed and his pay cut off until the charges against him are cleared or he is found guilty?
Would you continue to pay or keep one of your employees in the same predicament?"

Thompson's indictment is the second in quick succession connected to Poverty Point. The first involved Kathy Cleveland, a former executive assistant for the district, who pleaded guilty to embezzling more than $150,000 from November 2000 until September 2005.

Cleveland, 55, of Epps, forged the name of the district's president on checks she wrote to petty cash, her husband and to herself for alleged reimbursement for mileage, meals, office supplies and other expenses to which she was not entitled, federal prosecutors said.

Michael Thompson is a former mayor of Delhi and brother of state Rep. Francis Thompson, D-Delhi, who authored the legislation allowing the creation of reservoir districts and ultimately created work for his brother.

Michael Thompson is "absolutely innocent," his lawyer, J. Michael Small, declared in a faxed statement.Small said the main witness against Thompson, Joe Cleveland, is trying to bargain for a light sentence for his wife, Kathy.

What is the Hobbs Act?

The Hobbs Act (18 U.S.C. ¤ 1951) prohibits actual or attempted robbery or extortion affecting interstate or foreign commerce. Although the Hobbs Act was enacted as a statute to combat racketeering in labor-management disputes, the statute is frequently used in connection with cases involving public corruption, commercial disputes and corruption directed at members of labor unions.

INDICTMENT: Document in pdf format

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