Meet the new boss, same as the old boss?
posted at 2:23 pm on October 27, 2010 by Laura Curtis
Given New Orleans’ reputation for corruption – and especially given that this election is for the seat formerly held by William “Cold Cash” Jefferson – you would think Democrats would only endorse a relatively clean candidate. Instead, for the LA-2 seat that Joseph Cao won from William Jefferson, President Obama endorsed Cedric Richmond.
While running for City Council five years ago, Richmond lied under oath, was kicked out of the race and temporarily lost his license to practice law. But there are still other questions about Mr. Richmond serious enough that Juan LaFonta, Richmond’s Democratic primary opponent, has joined other local Democrats in support of Joseph Cao.
Local media have brushed off allegations that Richmond bought a Rolex with funds from a nonprofit set up to provide computer training and enrichment activities to underprivileged children. But they’re throwing out the baby with the bathwater, because there is far more to the allegations found in the original reporting of local blogger Jason Berry:
- New Orleans Community Enhancement, Inc. (NOCE) shared an address with Mr. Richmond, and it was from that address that he applied for grants for the nonprofit, using his Louisiana House of Representatives letterhead.
- More than half a million dollars of state grant money was funnelled through nonprofits which then quickly disappeared, which shared his address. This includes NOCE and NOCAP (New Orleans Computer Access Project), a nonprofit set up by Richmond’s longtime associate and sometime campaign manager Ike Spears at about the same time and with the same mission as NOCE. The property was owned by Crowder Development, which was owned by Ike Spears.
- In spite of the influx of cash, the first NOCE audit in 2001, revealed “significant payroll tax liabilities” which had not been paid, and raised “substantial doubt of the Organization’s ability to continue as a going concern.” The 2002 audit reported the same, and in 2003, auditor Desiree Honore admitted, “No accounting controls are exercised over cash disbursements and expenditure authorization, nor were cash accounts reconciled during the year.” In spite of this, Richmond kept the money rolling in until 2004.
- NOCE director Tina Dixon – stepdaughter of former La. state representative and Public Service Commissioner Irma Dixon – embezzled at least $30,000 from the charity. She plea-bargained charges down to a misdemeanor theft, and was ordered to pay restitution of less than half of what she stole. Her record was subsequently expunged. Rep. Cao has referred to her as Richmond’s “girlfriend,” although Richmond has refused to comment on the nature of their relationship.
The Times-Picayune and other local media have been less than eager to investigate these matters. Instead, they have attacked Cao for bringing them up: “For a former seminarian who’s still trying to preserve a squeaky-clean image, it’s some pretty nasty stuff,” one columnist wrote.
It is nasty stuff — very similar to the nasty stuff in which the Jefferson family engaged in order to enrich themselves, and Ike Spears’ close relationship with the Jefferson family makes it look even worse.
There’s no evidence that Cedric Richmond committed a crime, but it’s certainly fair to ask what he knew and when he knew it. He steered money to his friends’ non-profits, which were shoddily run, and funds were stolen. That’s a story, isn’t it?
It seems Louisiana has always suffered under corrupt politicians. Lafcadio Hearn wrote in 1879, “Times are not good here. The city is crumbling into ashes. It has been buried under taxes and frauds and maladministrations so that it has become a study for archaeologists…but it is better to live here in sackcloth and ashes than to own the whole state of Ohio.” At this point, it’s fair to say of Cedric Richmond, “Nothing proven.” But can’t New Orleans do better than that?