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Sound Off Louisiana Video Blog Post for
Corey delaHoussaye


Sound Off Louisiana has reviewed a transcript of the 2,197-page appeal hearing entailing Livingston Parish and the State of Louisiana's appeal of FEMA’s denial of $58 million in Gustav cleanup costs, and it’s a real eye-opener!  The appeal hearing transpired in Washington, D. C., and it lasted for a week in mid-May of 2014.  Highlights of the hearing taken from the transcript:

Brian Fairburn was Livingston Parish’s Emergency Manager and Coordinator for Homeland Security at the time Gustav struck.  As such, he hired monitors who would oversee operations to ensure FEMA reimbursement eligibility. 

Fairburn testified that Mike Grimmer, then-Livingston Parish President, indicated to him that he had grave concerns regarding some of the itemized charges on the FEMA project worksheet and likely would not sign off on it.  When asked why, Fairburn indicated Grimmer stated, “The costs are too high and we have permitting issues.  (He) specifically told me we were taking kickbacks, that we were just out there creating work for these contractors to do.”  When asked whom Grimmer asserted was taking kickbacks, Fairburn responded, “Jimmy McCoy (Councilman from District 2), and he included me as being in on it also.” Fairburn added that Grimmer, “tried to ruin McCoy,” and that he “wanted to show that there was trouble, corruption, and crime in the parish.”  Fairburn also testified that he was terminated soon after the Gustav project but added that, upon Layton Ricks defeating Grimmer for parish president, he was rehired. 

Fairburn continued his testimony by stating that, during a meeting on November 26, 2008, Eddie Aydell of Alvin Fairburn and Associates (no relation to Brian) expressed serious reservations about proper permitting with the Army Corps and that Aydell was “scared” the Corps would assert, “You should have had a permit before you ever started.”  That’s where delaHoussaye entered the picture.  He was hired to assist with permitting issues.  Fairburn added that McCoy stated that the Parish “would not” be obtaining any Corps permits.  Fairburn concluded by relaying that Grimmer “shut the project down,” after which the Corps issued a cease and desist order on drainage projects. 

FEMA’s attorneys were not happy with state and parish attorneys’ attempts to turn the hearing into a trial of delaHoussaye, and they strongly objected to 20 exhibits and depositions pertaining to matters they contended were unrelated to the hearing entailing photographs of delaHoussaye and his son.  FEMA attorney Linda Litke stated:  delaHoussaye was hired a year after the disaster in 2009 to basically go through the documentation and clean up the mess……  The parish attempted to criminally indict him…..They have now attempted to proceed with criminal action against him without an indictment.  It is reprehensible that they would bring this documentation in this case……DelaHoussaye is a confirmed FBI informant.  He was a whistleblower, and that is why the parish has gone after him.”  CLICK HERE  to see highlights of the preceding quote from Litke as well as other commentary she had for the state and parish attorneys.

Perhaps the most riveting testimony was that of former Parish President Mike Grimmer, who testified that McCoy signed a contract addendum even though Grimmer was the only one with authority to do so.  He said he was “unaware the contract addendum was even out there.”  He indicated the addendum greatly increased the prices, including an increase in the per linear foot price from $2.75 to $4.75, another column increased from $5.50 to $7.75, the next column from $9.50 to $14, and the final column of “greater than 35” went from $16.75 to $20.75.

Grimmer stated that he got calls from irate homeowners regarding crews, “trespassing on their properties….. and the trees had been taken with no permission.”  Grimmer also testified he obtained invoices for payment on work performed at local schools and North Park which had already been paid by other local agencies.  He referenced Legislative Auditor Daryl Purpera's report which he testified that he’d requested.  He said it reinforced his concerns about documentation problems for cleanup operations.  Grimmer’s response took “no exception” to the report.  Significantly (and as Mr. delaHoussaye points out in the video interview), as highlighted on page 8 of that report, Mr. James Clark, owner of CC&C Contractors, billed the Parish $5,800 for operating a truck for the debris cleanup.  Simultaneously, Mr. Clark, who is also the full-time director for the Livingston Parish Sewerage District 1 & 2, reported working for and billing the District for 63 hours of operating a truck.  Asked for an explanation, Clark stated that, because he owned the company, he was entitled to payment even though he was not present for the alleged truck operations nor did he actually perform the truck operations entailing the cleanup efforts for which he personally billed through his company.

That report also cited a contractor for hiring direct family members of Councilmen McCoy and Don Wheat and that this may have violated ethics laws, so the matter was referred to the Louisiana Ethics Board.  Wheat, Councilman from District 6, responded angrily to the report and stated that Gov. Jindal’s GOHSEP’s Office had indicated the FEMA report was “fundamentally flawed” and on appeal and that Purpera, “continued with the same flaws and I urge you to correct your mistakes.”

Grimmer expressed shock when he attended an Office of Emergency Preparedness (OEP) meeting in May of 2009 and a $42 million tab for wet debris removal was “dropped in my lap.”  Grimmer asked for a breakdown and, on June 9, 2009, he got one and an indication that the final tab was estimated at $92 million.  He refused to sign off on the $42 million and verbally instructed all work to cease, and the Army Corps followed up with a written cease and desist order shutting down all drainage work.

FEMA attorneys then provided the panel with a handout of a power point presentation created by Grimmer entitled, “The Truth about the Debris Cleanup.”  Slides were presented depicting:  an oak tree removal for $8,415, two other single-tree removals for $6,570 and $4,600, and a pile of limbs for $2,805.  Grimmer said those types of vastly inflated costs prompted his decision to shut down the entire project.

Grimmer then appealed to Judge Daniels to permit him to explain his rationale for the shutdown, which Judge Daniels granted.  He then presented a rather lengthy and emotional statement in which he asked and answered his own questions, and he essentially relayed that he would be all alone to account to Purpera if he’d approved the project worksheet and that contractors, monitors, councilmen, and others would all be “gone and happy.”  Frustrated at the obvious impact Grimmer was having, state and parish attorneys objected, but Judge Daniels ruled Grimmer could continue.  He then expanded on how the whole episode and his decision had adversely impacted him in the community, with long-time friends and business associates distancing themselves from him and people being angry at him but that, “at the end of the day,” he felt he’d made the right decision and felt vindicated by Purpera’s report. 

Cross examination focused on Grimmer’s frosty relationship with council members and him having referenced five such members as “the five amigos.”  Grimmer confirmed McCoy and Wheat were included in the five.  Thereafter, Grimmer admitted that delaHoussaye shared the fact that FBI investigator Steven Sollie had contacted him and that he was cooperating in an FBI investigation of the Gustav cleanup operations.  State and parish attorneys sought for Grimmer to admit that he “had no interest” in the project’s costs until he obtained knowledge of the ongoing FBI investigation, a charge Grimmer vehemently denied.  Grimmer also indicated that, though he couldn’t remember which one, a FEMA monitor was paid $20,000 to make debris FEMA-eligible.  Grimmer was then asked, “Have you ever been in the news for, say, anything like arrests?”  Simultaneously, FEMA attorneys objected and Grimmer responded, “That is personal!”  Judge Daniels ruled the question was beyond the scope of a cross examination.

  The panel ruled in FEMA’s favor.  The three-judge panel obviously got a glimpse into the rampant corruption existing within Livingston Parish governmental operations. 

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