Next stop for LUS/Fiber debacle: D.A. Stutes, Public Service Commission

Photo by Travis Gauthier
City Councilwoman Liz Hebert wants the Public Service Commission and district attorney to determine whether any laws were broken in financial transactions between LUS and Fiber.

The gist: Late last night, City Council members questioned a representative of Metairie-based CPA firm Carr, Riggs & Ingram about his forensic analysis of transactions between LUS and LUS Fiber, pressing him on the decision to forgo an interview with the man the firm’s report repeatedly accuses of illegal conduct. The council also decided to send the findings to the Public Service Commission and district attorney for definitive answers on whether any laws were broken. 

“You didn’t see the value in sitting down and talking with him, even though this whole report is about him?” Councilwoman Liz Hebert asked, holding up the 32-page report. Hebert was responding to forensic auditor J.P. Tujague’s assertion that he didn’t need to speak to former LUS Director Terry Huval because attorneys from the Oats & Marino firm, representing LCG, had already interviewed him. “We had his answers,” Tujague told Hebert. 

Huval had a single phone interview with attorneys Steve Oats and Larry Marino on April 9 for about three hours. 

The report repeatedly claims Huval flouted state law to inflate Fiber’s revenue. While the report echoes some of the claims made by both the Robideaux and Guillory administrations but with more detail, it also implies silent complicity among current and former employees of LCG, LUS and Fiber in alleged pricing schemes that started nearly a decade ago to prop up the struggling Fiber division. The auditors did not determine a total dollar amount Fiber should reimburse; the Robideaux administration estimated questionable payments of about $10 million. 

Next stop: The district attorney and PSC. In an email to fellow council members just after midnight, Hebert reiterated that she wants a Louisiana Public Service Commission ruling on whether the state’s Fair Competition Act was violated (the PSC has limited oversight over Fiber and has routinely found it in compliance), and would like to hear from District Attorney Keith Stutes, who has been reviewing documents for months, about whether he plans to open an investigation into the allegations. “If any payments were illegal then have Fiber pay LUS back with interest by increasing [the] debt Fiber owes LUS,” Hebert wrote.

Building on questions she posed last night, Hebert also asked for a written breakdown of how LUS and Fiber have made changes to avoid similar issues in the future. 

“Once this has been done, we can start the search for a new LUS Director,” the councilwoman concluded. 

LUS has been without permanent leadership for almost two years. The Guillory administration has moved to replace NewGen Strategies, the consulting engineering firm that raised questions about the qualifications of interim Director Lowell Duhon, who was appointed to the position by former Mayor-President Joel Robideaux and retained by his successor. Mayor-President Josh Guillory accused the firm of failing to discover the suspect payments from LUS to Fiber. NewGen fired back on July 2, saying Guillory’s decision to publicly lay out a case for terminating the longtime consultant (NewGen was never formally notified of Guillory’s intentions) was malicious and politically motivated. 

This story has been updated to reflect that Huval's interview with Oats & Marino was by phone, not in person.
About the Author

A founding editor of both The Independent and ABiz and senior editor at The Times of Acadiana in the 1990s, Leslie Turk has worked in the newspaper business in Lafayette for almost three decades. Her work has also appeared in The New York Times and The Acadiana Advocate. Email her at leslie@thecurrentla.com.

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