BATON ROUGE, La. (WAFB) - As the new year approaches, we’re taking a look back at some of the stories the 9News Investigators completed in 2019. Dozens of hours, public records requests, and conversations with sources and viewers made these stories possible.
For some, these stories will bring you back to the moment they broke, many times first or exclusively on WAFB. For others, these stories will serve as an introduction to the tireless journalists who pursue the truth and hold power to account for our station and community.
Our investigative team can be contacted by email at email@example.com.
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1.) The Sheriff and The Sex Offender
Multiple state agencies launched investigations into West Baton Rouge Sheriff Mike Cazes amid a series of reports from an undercover investigation by the 9News Investigators showing an undocumented immigrant, serving time for a sex crime against a 13-year-old girl, working unsupervised at his home.
The sheriff later admitted he had the inmate dropped off at his house. He said the two of them then used a van owned by West Baton Rouge Parish to drive to Baton Rouge to pick up a baby crib for the sheriff’s new grandchild. Then, they returned to the sheriff’s home in Port Allen.
The Department of Corrections (DOC) investigated whether the sheriff broke any laws by having an inmate working at his home and by driving a parish van for personal use. DOC forwarded their findings to LSP, which cleared the sheriff of any wrongdoing despite the appearance of inconsistencies in some explanations.
Meanwhile, the FBI said, “This matter is still under review and information is being assessed. In accordance with FBI policy, we can neither confirm nor deny the existence of an investigation.”
2.) La. secretary of state accused of violating state law, endorsing other candidates; complaint filed
Amid a 9News Investigation, Louisiana Secretary of State Kyle Ardoin’s office for the first time responded to concerns he may have violated a law that prevents him from campaigning or endorsing other political candidates.
In a now-removed video posted to his Facebook account, Secretary Ardoin is shown saying "Louisiana will continue to win. We will win with Donald Trump," at a Republican rally in Monroe on Thursday, Nov. 7.
When WAFB first started asking questions about the alleged violation, a spokesman for Ardoin’s campaign said no violation had occurred and the matter was a non-issue.
Other attempts to speak with Ardoin were not successful.
Later, WAFB would learn a citizen submitted an official complaint to the State Board of Ethics against Ardoin.
The board will now decide whether to move forward with an official investigation.
Following the news, Ardoin’s office released an official response to the allegations, saying:
“I have always been committed to fair, accurate and secure elections. It is crystal clear that no law was broken by me campaigning for reelection at an event where I received the endorsement of the President of the United States. What is also clear is that an overwhelming majority of Louisiana voters believe in the job we are doing, and I am excited about four more years of serving the great state of Louisiana.”
3.) LSP cadets injured in alleged of hazing, cheating scandal at training academy
A hazing scandal involving Louisiana State Police Cadets was first reported by WAFB Monday, Oct. 14 after multiple cadets reportedly sought medical treatment for severe injuries, according to sources with knowledge of the circumstances that led to the injuries.
LSP Colonel Kevin Reeves later apologized to the cadets involved, as well as their families, and promised a full investigation
The 9News Investigators would later identify and review the backgrounds of the three Louisiana State Police (LSP) troopers transferred out of the LSP training academy after the alleged incident.
The 9News Investigators uncovered 1,833 weapon-related incidents reported in schools statewide in 2018, after which point, further reporting showed most of those incidents were documented in the East Baton Rouge Parish School System (EBRPSS).
Amid the reports both members of law enforcement and school system officials addressed concerns raised by parents and provided updates on several guaranteed initiatives to create safer schools.
4.) Legislative Auditor launches investigation into Livingston tax assessor after 9News report
The Louisiana Legislative Auditor launched an investigation into the Livingston Parish Tax Assessor’s office after a 9News report showed allegations from a former employee of the assessor suggested he was valuing properties based on his likings or dislikings of the owner or whether they were a campaign contributor.
The 9News Investigators looked through the assessor’s campaign contributions and tracked specific contributors to their properties in Livingston Parish.
In one example, we found a home had not changed value in 17 years. In another example, we found a property’s value increased 173% amid a lawsuit between Taylor and the homeowner’s company.
Other allegations include the assessor or supervisors in his office telling employees to issue double homesteads for a single-family and the 9News Investigators did find an example of that, specifically with the assessor’s attorney.
5.) Flambeau Fest fallout takes toll on ticketholders, taxpayers
The City of Gonzales decided to move forward with a lawsuit to try to recover tax dollars from Flambeau Fest organizers and the media company behind the event, PI Entertainment following a series of investigative reports by WAFB.
Festival organizers contracted city police officers to direct traffic for the 2017 event, then skipped out on the bill. The nearly $3,000 for the 66 hours of overtime worked by officers ended up being covered by taxpayers after coming out of the department’s budget.
City leaders came forward with the claims after the 9News Investigators uncovered allegations from a hotel manager in Ascension Parish that concert organizers skipped out on a bill of more than $32,000 from the inaugural event.
An untold amount of ticket holders are also upset with the festival, alleging promoters have failed to make good on refunds or deliver a follow-up show.
The concert, its organizers, and PI Entertainment have since faced separate legal action, including a lawsuit by one of the lenders from the 2017 event, J.B. Interests, for more than $1.7 million.
6.) Parish officials skip town for lavish trip as storm makes landfall
One day after declaring a state of emergency for his parish, Ascension Parish President Kenny Matassa was checking into a hotel in Las Vegas, the 9News Investigators learned.
Matassa chose to attend a conference booked prior to Hurricane Barry developing on the gulf, but his decision to attend that conference despite some projections of serious damage being done in Louisiana after the storm’s landfall left others uneasy.
When WAFB started asking questions, Matassa fired back in a statement Monday, July 15, defending his decision and saying he chose to go because it was already paid for and scheduled.
The Nevada getaway racked up a bill of about $2,524 in flights through Southwest, nearly another $3,010 was spent on conference registrations, and around $6,773 was spent six rooms at Caesars Palace. Those rooms were not at either of the host hotels for the conference. The rates at those spots were between $149 to $179 per night, but the rooms Matassa’s crew chose cost taxpayers anywhere from an extra $1,400 to $2,000 more over the course of the trip.
7.) ‘Crisis’ in Clinton
The 9News Investigators extensively reported on former Clinton Mayor Lori Bell and the other for the town’s former police chief, Fred Dunn. Both were arrested for their alleged involvement with a leasing scheme for several SUVs.
Bell is accused of leasing four brand new Chevy Tahoe SUVs for the Town of Clinton in 2016 without the town aldermen’s approval. The 9News Investigators found it cost the town more than $200,000. When council members found out, the SUVs were taken out of circulation. Bell eventually pleaded no contest to a formal charge of “approval of application: incurring indebtedness.” She also resigned as mayor.
The 9News Investigators also found that while Dunn was the police chief, he signed as the counsel for those leases. Legally, that signature should have come from the town’s attorney. Dunn has since resigned as chief.
Amid those reports, the 9News Investigators also exposed that the Louisiana Department of Health cited 22 violations of the Safe Drinking Water Act in Clinton under Bell.
LDH sent the letter to Bell in September and gave her 90 days to respond with plans on how to correct the issues. However, other officials said nothing was done to correct the issue within the timeframe. The situation was feard to become a “public health emergency” if action wasn’t taken.
Bell later told the 9News Investigators she’d fixed all the issues, but immediately afterward LDH officials said that was incorrect. It wasn’t until a follow-up report months later that the town’s water system was in full compliance with all safe drinking water standards.