If you missed the Advocate’s investigative piece on former Jefferson Parish sheriff Newell Normand and the extracurricular financial activity he was undertaking, about which he was questioned by the FBI before resigning his position last year, it’s worth a read.
What we already know about Normand was that he was catching $57,000 per year from a side business he and his chief deputy Craig Taffaro had, in which they were positioned as middle men between offshore services firm Harvey Gulf and Pelican Marine, a company providing grocery services to the offshore industry. The FBI characterized Normand and Taffaro’s arrangement as a “no-work contract,” something we’d be quite satisfied in having for ourselves and we’d bet lots of our readers wouldn’t oppose, either.
This wasn’t illegal, but Taffaro’s tax filings for that business were deficient and he was convicted last week for six counts of tax evasion, five counts of filing a false tax return and one count of failing to file a tax return. He’s being sentenced on April 4. So far nothing has happened to Normand as a result of his participation in the arrangement – it’s not a sure thing anything will happen to him other than he quit as the sheriff in Jefferson Parish in advance of the Taffaro case coming to light. Now Normand bloviates on WWL Radio’s airwaves for a living every day.
But what the Advocate picked up and published yesterday is something else which emerged from Normand’s FBI interview – namely, that he was catching checks from yet another source while serving as Jefferson Parish sheriff.
Yet the agents’ interest extended beyond Normand’s business with Taffaro, a newly released government memo shows. Toward the end of an hour-long interview at Sheriff’s Office headquarters, the agents began questioning the sheriff about why he was paid $3,000 each month by a company controlled by a politically active businessman.
Normand told them that developer Joseph Georgusis’ firm New Product Development LLC was paying him for his advice on real estate deals, according to the memo, which summarizes their conversation. The document adds that “Normand is not (a) realtor and he does not have a real estate company,” and that he “only consults on the business side of the real estate deals.”
In addition to his $36,000 annual income from the consulting gig, Normand also acknowledged to the feds that Georgusis had contributed a total of $56,000 toward the education of Normand’s daughter in 2014 and 2015. The money went into a bank account jointly controlled by Normand; his wife, Shawn Bridgewater; and his daughter. The memo describes the money as a gift.
It is not clear whether the payments from Georgusis’ firm continued to flow after Normand abruptly retired in August. The former sheriff yet to file a disclosure form for last year.
Normand declined to discuss the consulting work or the gifts with The Advocate.
“I don’t have a comment. I’m not involved in anything illegal, nefarious or otherwise, as much as you try to make it seem that way,” he said.
Georgusis is the developer of the land along Veterans Memorial Boulevard in Metairie just east of the intersection with Causeway Boulevard where the Trader Joe’s went in a few years ago, and that land had been the subject of a protracted local political battle – it was zoned for residential construction and it took a lot of heavy lifting to get it rezoned for a shopping center. It turns out that Normand is partners with Georgusis in a restaurant called The Grille which sits on that property.
One might come to the conclusion given these facts that the free college tuition and the “consulting contract” and the share of the restaurant constitute a bribe paid to Normand for his influence in getting that land rezoned. It might appear that’s what the FBI was interested in finding out when they asked Normand about those arrangements.
But so far nobody has charged Normand with anything. On the other hand, you need a U.S. Attorney – not an interim guy who’s uninterested in rocking the boat, but a real U.S. Attorney – to push an investigation of such a prominent public figure into a grand jury room.
We don’t have one for the Eastern District of Louisiana as yet, so we don’t know whether the FBI’s apparent suspicions about all this will ultimately bear fruit. Interestingly enough, the apparent leading candidate for that job is former assistant U.S. Attorney Peter Strasser, who is a law partner at the New Orleans firm of Chaffee McCall (to be fair, Chaffee McCall is a large firm with lots of partners) with Normand’s wife Shawn Bridgewater; the scuttlebutt is Strasser is Normand’s guy. We’re told Strasser has been telling people if he gets the job as U.S. Attorney in New Orleans and the trail leads to Normand’s guilt then he’ll follow it to the end.
We’ll see about that.
What we can say is this is the kind of thing former FBI Special Agent in Charge Jeffrey Sallet was talking about when he said corruption in the New Orleans area “can’t get much worse.”
And since Normand induced some 23 Republican elected officials in Jefferson Parish to cross party lines to back tax-raising Democrat John Bel Edwards, not to mention ginning up a media controversy just before the 2015 gubernatorial primary election by arresting a private investigator working for David Vitter’s campaign for having the “record” app live on his phone at a public coffee house Normand was holding court in, Normand’s troubles with corruption are Edwards’ troubles with corruption.
Let’s not forget that Bridgewater got the contract to serve as the executive counsel for the Louisiana Stadium and Exposition District, the entity which operates the Louisiana Superdome, thanks to Edwards.
The Normand case can operate as a pretty good barometer of Louisiana’s political future. A place serious about doing something to stem the out-of-control political corruption which infects it would make damn sure that shenanigans like this be accounted for. But Louisiana, and the New Orleans area in particular, has no particular history of being such a place.
Either that changes, or nobody ought to be surprised when our productive citizens decamp for Texas and Florida and other such locales and leave us at the mercy of the crooks who govern us.