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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