Former New Orleans Louisiana Chief Deputy Of Traffic Court James Singleton Charged With Stealing Money From Traffic Violators

May 19, 2012

NEW ORLEANS, LOUISIANA – The former chief deputy of New Orleans Traffic Court has been formally charged with stealing money from unsuspecting traffic violators, an alleged scam we detailed in an earlier 4Investigates story.

James Singleton was charged today in a one-count bill of information. He is charged with felony theft as an agent of an organization receiving federal funds.

Singleton is accused of taking at least $9,760 from at least six victims, but never clearing their violations in the court’s computer system. Sources tell Channel 4 that Singleton may not have acted alone and is cooperating with a larger investigation.

Singleton was arrested April 20 based on a criminal complaint and has since been out on bond. The fact that Singleton was charged through a bill of information, rather than a grand jury indictment, is a sign that he is cooperating with authorities.

U.S. Attorney Jim Letten said the charge against Singleton illustrates the goverment’s “zero tolerance for corruption.”

“In addition to using his position to steal from citizens, Singleton’s conduct denied essential funds to New Orleans traffic court and to the city’s public defender’s office,” he said.

According to traffic court officials, Singleton was in charge of giving “reinstatement letters” to traffic violators who paid off their tickets to regain their suspended licenses and driving privileges. But officials became suspicious when some of those violators returned to court after being re-arrested for the same unpaid violations.

Rochelle Evans said she was a victim. Evans had racked up multiple tickets, so she paid them off with her income tax refund. She thought the matter was over until she got pulled over again and arrested.

“I got pulled over by the police officer and he told me that my driver’s license was suspended, and I went to telling him, that can’t be so, because it was handled already and it wasn’t,” Evans said.

When Evans went back to court, she got the bad news: none of the tickets was marked as paid.

Noel Cassanova, chief clerk of traffic court, said he heard identical complaints from others. He reviewed the cases and found a common thread: reinstatement letters signed by Singleton.

“The letter says the tickets are satisfied, but the computer says they’re open and pending,” Cassanova said.

After several such complaints, Cassanova and the traffic court judges confronted Singleton. He initially denied stealing money, but in September 2010 handed in his resignation.

The court reported Singleton to the Orleans Parish District Attorney’s Office and the FBI. During the course of an 18-month investigation, more than a dozen additional alleged victims came forward, all with reinstatement letters signed by Singleton.

Channel 4 also began investigating and found several more people who said they were victimized. One woman said she went to an ATM on several occasions to pay Singleton hundreds of dollars. Another alleged victim said Singleton came to her house to collect.

In the course of our investigation, Singleton was quietly arrested by the FBI. In its affidavit, the FBI says Singleton admitted pocketing the money.

WWL-TV has not been able to contact Singleton, who is not related to the former New Orleans city councilman of the same name, for comment.

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New Orleans Louisiana Police Officers Sentenced To Just 6 To 65 Years In Federal Prison After Opening Fire On Unarmed Citizens After Katrina – Department Wanted To Prosecute Two Survivors For Lying After Official Investigation Resulted In Report Full Of Lies

April 4, 2012

NEW ORLEANS, LOUISIANA – A federal judge Wednesday sentenced five former New Orleans police officers to prison terms ranging from six to 65 years for the shootings of unarmed civilians in the chaotic aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, prosecutors said.

The shootings occurred on the Danziger Bridge on September 4, 2005, six days after much of New Orleans went underwater when the powerful hurricane slammed into the Gulf Coast. The ex-officers were convicted in August on a combined 25 counts of civil rights violations.

U.S. District Judge Kurt Engelhardt imposed the stiffest sentence on former officer Robert Faulcon, who was handed a 65-year term for his involvement in shooting two of the victims. Former sergeants Kenneth Bowen and Robert Gisevius got 40 years for their roles in the incident, while ex-officer Robert Villavaso was sentenced to 38 years.

The lightest term went to former detective sergeant Arthur Kaufman, who was sentenced to six years for attempting to cover up what the officers had done, according to the U.S. attorney’s office in New Orleans.

The men were accused of opening fire on an unarmed family, killing 17-year-old James Brissette and wounding four others. Minutes later, Faulcon shot and killed Ronald Madison, a 40-year-old man described by Justice Department officials as having severe mental disabilities and who was trying to flee the scene when he was shot, according to the Justice Department.

At the time, New Orleans police said they got into a running gun battle with several people. Prosecutors said Kaufman wrote the department’s formal report on the incident, which concluded the shootings were justified and recommended the prosecution of two of the survivors “on the basis of false evidence.”

During the trial, the defense asked the jury to consider the stressful circumstances the officers were operating under following Katrina. The shootings took place during a week of dire flooding, rampant looting and death by drowning, and police were strained by suicides and desertion among their ranks.

But U.S. Attorney Jim Letten said the prison sentences send the message that “when the crisis we face is the most threatening, that when the challenges are the greatest, the rules don’t go out the window.”

“In fact, that’s when the discipline, when the honesty of our public servants, our police and the men and women of law enforcement are most critical,” Letten said.

Romell Madison, brother of victim Ronald Madison, told reporters after Wednesday’s proceedings that his family was happy with the sentences, even though prosecutors had to enter into plea agreements with several other officers to obtain the convictions.

“I think it made a big difference, even though they did give them lower sentences, that they did come forth and testify to get the truth out,” Madison said. “At least we got to the truth.”

Five other officers, including a lieutenant, have already pleaded guilty and been sentenced to prison terms of up to eight years in the case for conspiracy and obstruction of justice. Letten said the plea deals were necessary to break a “logjam” that had prevented investigators to get the whole story of what happened on the Danziger Bridge, in New Orleans East.

The Justice Department brought charges after a similar case brought by local prosecutors foundered. Thomas Perez, the head of the department’s civil rights division, said the feds inherited a “cold case” when they took over in 2008.

“There were many, many New Orleans police officers who performed courageous, selfless acts of heroism in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina,” Perez said. “But regrettably, the acts of heroism of so many have been overshadowed by the misconduct of a few.

“What we learned in this trial — what we learned in these convictions — is that the Constitution never takes a holiday. The Constitution applies every day of every week, and no police officer can take it upon himself or herself to suspend the Constitution.”

The Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division launched an investigation into what it called “patterns or practices” of alleged misconduct by New Orleans police in the aftermath of Katrina, which killed nearly 1,500 people in Louisiana and more than 1,700 across the Gulf Coast. Police Superintendent Ronal Serpas said Wednesday that his department “will continue to take bold and decisive actions to right the wrongs inside the department, some of which we now know go back seven full years.”

Mary Howell, a lawyer for the Madison family, said those promised reforms are “the most critical part in all of this.”

“This just can’t ever happen again,” she said.

Lance Madison, who was with his brother on the bridge that September day, told reporters that he is grateful that his brother had received justice. But he added, “I try to avoid the Danzinger Bridge, because when I go there, it just brings back memories of what I went through.”

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Four New Orleans Louisiana Police Officers Receive 38 To 65 Years In Federal Prison For Danziger Bridge Murders And Shootings Of Unarmed Residents And Following Cover Up Efforts

April 4, 2012

NEW ORLEANS, LOUISIANA – Four former New Orleans policemen convicted of shootings in 2005 that killed two unarmed people and wounded four others following Hurricane Katrina were given sentences on Wednesday ranging from 38 to 65 years in prison.

A fifth former police officer who did not participate in the shootings but engineered a four-year cover-up of the crimes was sentenced the six years.

The sentencing of the five men in federal court completed one of the last cases of police misconduct in New Orleans more than six years after the devastating hurricane flooded the city and triggered a chaotic aftermath.

Last August, a jury found former policemen Kenneth Bowen, Robert Faulcon, Robert Gisevius and Anthony Villavaso guilty on multiple charges including federal civil rights violations stemming from the September 4, 2005, incident.

Bowen and Gisevius were sentenced to 40 years each and Villavaso to 38 years by U.S. District Court Judge Kurt Englehardt. Faulcon was sentenced to 65 years.

A fifth officer, homicide detective Arthur “Archie” Kaufman, was convicted of covering up the crimes through a series of false reports and lies that continued for more than four years.

Another police detective charged with participating in the cover-up is slated for trial in May.

The five who were sentenced on Wednesday were among a dozen officers who responded to a radio call that police were taking fire near the Danziger Bridge in eastern New Orleans just days after Hurricane Katrina slammed into the city.

The officers packed into a rental truck and sped to the site. Witnesses testified that when the officers arrived, they jumped out of the truck and repeatedly fired assault rifles, shotguns and handguns at civilians walking on the bridge.

“The officers who shot innocent people on the bridge and then went to great lengths to cover up their own crimes have finally been held accountable for their actions,” U.S. Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division Thomas Perez said in a statement. “As a result of today’s sentencing, the city of New Orleans can take another step forward.”

James Bresette, 17, and Ronald Madison, 40, were killed in the incident.

In reports filed by the officers or on their behalf, they claimed they shot only after being threatened or fired on and that they had seen weapons in the victims’ hands.

Kaufman was later convicted of planting a handgun at the scene.

During the six-week-long trial in 2011, lead prosecutor Barbara “Bobbi” Bernstein presented testimony from dozens of witnesses, including eastern New Orleans resident Susan Bartholomew, who lost her arm from a shotgun blast in the incident.

Witnesses included five police officers who earlier pleaded guilty to roles in the shootings or cover-up. Four of the officers testified for the prosecution, and all five began serving sentences that range from three to eight years.

Federal prosecutors and the FBI took up the case in 2009 after a previous case brought by the New Orleans district attorney was thrown out because of a prosecutor’s misconduct.

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US Secret Service Pisses Away Tax Dollars Trying To ID Woman Who Said “Pretend Its Obama” While Candidate Was Firing Pistol At Target On Shooting Range

March 23, 2012

WEST MONROE, LOUISIANA – Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum said Friday that he will support the eventual GOP nominee, if it isn’t him, despite what he insists are similarities between front-runner Mitt Romney and President Barack Obama that make them indistinguishable on some issues.

“I will support whoever wins the Republican primary to beat Barack Obama,” Santorum told supporters at a police gun range in northern Louisiana.

Poised to do well in Louisiana’s primary Saturday, Santorum sought to explain his comment Thursday in Texas that Romney and Obama are so similar on the issues that Republicans might just as well vote to give the president a second term instead of casting their ballots for Romney.

Santorum argues that he is the only Republican candidate who can offer voters a stark contrast with Obama.

After testing his marksmanship with a .45 caliber semiautomatic Colt pistol, Santorum told reporters: “If you don’t have a choice, then a lot of voters are going to vote for what they have. That’s why we have to have a choice.”

“I’ve said repeatedly and will continue to say, I’ll vote for whoever the Republican nominee is and I will work for him,” he added. “Barack Obama is a disaster, but we can’t have someone who agrees with him on some of the biggest issues of the day.”

While Santorum tamped down one fire, a supporter in the audience added an off-message wrinkle. As he fired the pistol, a woman in the crowd shouted: “Pretend it’s Obama.”

Santorum was wearing protective ear muffs. He said later that he didn’t hear the remark but denounced it as “absurd.”

“It’s a very terrible and horrible remark and I’m glad I didn’t hear it,” he said.

The Secret Service, which provides security for Santorum, was trying to identify the woman.

“Typically, in an incident like this, we attempt to identify the individual, speak to them and then figure out what the next steps are,” said spokesman Edwin Donovan. “People have a right to free speech but we have a right and an obligation to determine what their intent is.”

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Crazed Louisiana Lawmakers Ban Cash When Buying Other People’s Trash

October 19, 2011

LOUISIANA – Cold hard cash. It’s good everywhere you go, right? You can use it to pay for anything.

But that’s not the case here in Louisiana now. It’s a law that was passed during this year’s busy legislative session.

House bill 195 basically says those who buy and sell second hand goods cannot use cash to make those transactions, and it flew so far under the radar most businesses don’t even know about it.

“We’re gonna lose a lot of business,” says Danny Guidry, who owns the Pioneer Trading Post in Lafayette. He deals in buying and selling unique second hand items.

“We don’t want this cash transaction to be taken away from us. It’s an everyday transaction,” Guidry explains.

Guidry says, “I think everyone in this business once they find out about it. They’re will definitely be a lot of uproar.”

The law states those who buy or sell second hand goods are prohibited from using cash. State representative Rickey Hardy co-authored the bill.

Hardy says, “they give a check or a cashiers money order, or electronic one of those three mechanisms is used.”

Hardy says the bill is targeted at criminals who steal anything from copper to televisions, and sell them for a quick buck. Having a paper trail will make it easier for law enforcement.

“It’s a mechanism to be used so the police department has something to go on and have a lead,” explains Hardy.

Guidry feels his store shouldn’t have to change it’s ways of doing business, because he may possibly buy or sell stolen goods. Something he says has happened once in his eight years.

“We are being targeted for something we shouldn’t be.”

Besides non-profit resellers like Goodwill, and garage sales, the language of the bill encompasses stores like the Pioneer Trading Post and flea markets.

Lawyer Thad Ackel Jr. feels the passage of this bill begins a slippery slope for economic freedom in the state.

“The government is placing a significant restriction on individuals transacting in their own private property,” says Ackel.

Pawn shops have been forced to keep records of their clients for years. However under this bill they are still allowed to deal in cash.

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Poor Planning: Taxpayer Funded $36 Million Terminal At Monroe Louisiana Regional Airport Can’t Connect To Airplanes

October 13, 2011

LOUISIANA – Monroe Regional Airport officials learned Tuesday passenger loading and unloading bridges at the new $36 million terminal are not able to connect to airplanes.

Airport director Cleve Norrell confirmed Tuesday afternoon that some of the loading and unloading bridges at the new terminal appear they will not be able to connect to some of the airplanes.

He said airport officials are working to determine what caused the problem, if the issue resulted from a design flaw during the construction process or if it was a result of an error on the city’s part.

“We are checking them out to see what the problem is, but it looks like some of them will fit and some won’t fit,” Norrell said. “We’re not sure what will fix it right now, but that’s what we’re working on. There are a lot of variables, but we’ll know when we try to put them up to the plane. We’re working to remedy the problem.”

Monroe Mayor Jamie Mayo said he was made aware of the problem late Tuesday.

“I’m trying to find out what’s going on,” Mayo said. “What I’ve been told is the loading bridges are not long enough to reach the airplanes. They are several feet short, which presents a problem for the planes connecting to the loading bridges. There’s a certain distance the planes have to stop at the building, and the loading bridges cannot reach out there. I don’t know if there was a test, but there should have been one. I am very concerned whether or not a test was done prior to the first plane coming in, and I’m going to get to the root of the problem. It’s just not acceptable.”

He said in the meantime, the airport will have to improvise with the loading and unloading of passengers.

The new 58,000-square-foot terminal was constructed by Lincoln Builders of Ruston.

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$325,000 Lawsuit Charges Gretna Louisiana Police Officer Joseph Mekdessie With Taser Weapon Attack On 7 Year Old Boy – Officer Also Subject Of $32 Million Lawsuit In Penis Case

August 26, 2011

A Gretna police officer accused in a lawsuit this month of unleashing his canine on a suspect whose penis was nearly severed has been accused in another lawsuit of injuring a 7-year-old boy with his Taser, a shock intended for the boy’s father who says he wrongly arrested during a traffic stop. Officer Joseph Mekdessie, Chief Arthur Lawson, the Gretna Police Department and the City of Gretna are named in the lawsuit filed Thursday in U.S. District Court in New Orleans by attorneys for Marlon Bordelon Sr., and his son Marlon Bordelon Jr., who seek $325,000 in damages in the May 21 incident.

Lawson said Monday he had not seen the lawsuit and could not comment, but he knew of no instances in which a child was hit with a Taser.

The Bordelons were “traveling home” when Mekdessie conducted a traffic stop and allegedly shined his flashlight in the boy’s face, leading the father to question why the officer was doing it, according to the lawsuit filed by attorney Edwin Shorty Jr. The officer then asked the elder Bordelon for his license and registration, and asked him to get out of the car.

The father twice asked why he was being ordered out of the car and refused to get out, “prompting Officer Mekdessie to say, ‘Don’t get tased in front of your son.'”

“Mr. Bordelon then asked the officer, ‘So you’re just gonna tase me in front of my son?'” and again refused to get out of his car, according to the lawsuit.

When the father told his son to call his mother, Mekdessie fired his Taser, striking the man and his son. Mekdessie fired the Taser a second time at the man, causing him to fall out of the car and onto the ground, where the officer placed a stun gun to the man’s neck and shocked him before putting him in handcuffs and dragging him and punched in the neck and face, according to the lawsuit.

Marlon Bordelon Jr. was taken to Children’s Hospital, where a burn mark on his leg caused by the Taser was noted, according to the lawsuit. After he was released from jail on charges of battery on a police officer and traffic offenses, Bordelon Sr., was treated for a black eye and first-degree burns, according to the lawsuit.

Mekdessie “mislabeled” Bordelon’s “involuntary gestations,” caused by his being shocked, Bordelon alleges. Bordelon says he did nothing wrong, but that Mekdessie “sought to falsely prosecute … and to concoct a false story against him.”

The lawsuit accused Lawson and the police department of not properly training officers to use Tasers and approve their use even when there is no threat to the officer.

Mekdessie, Lawson, Officer Roland Kindell and the police department were sued Aug. 9, by Cody Melancon of Gretna, who alleges his constitutional rights were violated May 31, when Mekdessie, Kindell and other officers went to his apartment to arrest him on a warrant.

Melancon admits he initially tried to hide from the officers. But he said he surrendered, and despite complying, Mekdessie allegedly released his police canine, Zin, without cause. The dog bit at Melancon’s groin area, causing extensive damage and leaving him sexually dysfunctional. Melancon seeks $31 million in damages.

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