The gist: Despite persistent efforts, the Guillory administration failed to mount a compelling ad hoc criminal case against longtime LUS and LUS Fiber Director Terry Huval, the district attorney concludes in a pair of letters to LCG’s legal department and the mayor-president obtained by The Current through a public records request. Further, District Attorney Keith Stutes insists what LCG alleged was a criminal scheme to cover up “illegal” subsidies of LUS Fiber is exclusively a matter for the Louisiana Public Service Commission, which has limited oversight of Fiber.
Stutes’ scathing response documents repeated efforts to produce evidence that would result in charges against Huval. The outgoing district attorney is unsparing in his criticism of the LCG legal department’s conduct, finding fault with the mayor-president, himself a lawyer, and his chief legal officer, Greg Logan, for their aggression against agencies they oversee.
“Due process requires LCG to advocate a position in favor of LUS and LUS Fiber [and in opposition to the finding of a ‘violation’], rather than against LUS and LUS Fiber [capitulating to a finding of a ‘violation,’ ultimately resulting in serious economic consequences to be suffered to LCG and/or the City of Lafayette],” Stutes writes in a letter dated Sept. 8 (bold face is his), the second of two responses to LCG’s criminal complaint against Huval and his subordinates. Following self-reports from the Robideaux and Guillory administrations, the questionable payments — totaling about $10 million — are before the Public Service Commission for review.
Contacted late Wednesday, Logan told The Current he was up against a deadline and needed to “read and research a couple of things” before responding. The Current will update this story when we hear back from him.
In an admonishing tone, Stutes debunks Guillory’s public reference to a “raid” on LUS and chastises the administration’s consistent use of words, without material evidence, like “destruction of public records,” “misappropriation,” “illegal activity,” “guilty” and “malfeasance” in written and public statements accusing Huval and four unnamed employees of deleting emails and other potential crimes. (Again, bold face is Stutes’ emphasis.)
“[S]trong rhetoric and advocacy do not supply the necessary proof to warrant criminal charges which must be established beyond a reasonable doubt,” Stutes writes. “While awaiting the results of your continuing investigation for such proof, you continue as well to publicly proclaim your conclusions.”
Stutes’ office took up the criminal complaint in February, after the administration unsuccessfully (and inappropriately) tried to involve state police. The Guillory administration has repeatedly accused Huval of orchestrating a multi-million-dollar scheme to circumvent a state law that regulates LUS Fiber’s business model, claiming he overbilled and created unnecessary services to “sell” to LUS and other LCG departments to boost Fiber’s cash flow and balance sheet. Beginning with the Robideaux administration as a politically tinged fact-finding mission, the affair escalated to criminal allegations when Guillory claimed in a radio interview that a “raid” conducted by his predecessor pointed to evidence of a coverup.
The DA received and reviewed thousands of pages of documents handed over by the administration, often belatedly, and could not reach the Guillory’s administration’s predetermined conclusions of criminality. He reiterated in his letters what he and state police told Logan in February — that the issue of possible overpayments to LUS Fiber was likely not a criminal matter, but an administrative or civil matter subject to the exclusive jurisdiction of the PSC. “You, however, have persisted in your request for a criminal investigation,” he writes.
Despite checks and balances and others’ involvement, Guillory and his attorneys kept the target on Huval’s back. Echoing the implications of a forensic audit produced in August, Stutes notes that the supposed criminal scheme was approved or at least ignored by a legion of LCG accountants, lawyers and officials since the questionable power outage monitoring system at the heart of the dispute was authorized and approved a decade ago.
“The charges were paid not as directed by any one person but by the collective administrative and legislative discretion of the Mayor-President and Council,” Stutes adds. “There certainly might be some suggestion of inadvertence or negligence on the part of many.”
Contradicting the Guillory administration’s certainty, Stutes points to emails Guillory once claimed to be destroyed for evidence of “reasonable doubt” that Huval acted in bad faith or with criminal intent. Under intense questioning by City Councilman Glenn Lazard, Logan admitted for the first time in July — five months after calling for a criminal probe — that the emails were never missing, and that he’d known that since February.
“As previously stated, despite numerous requests, there has not been presented any factual evidence that any documents have been destroyed. Rather, in what has been produced are a number of documents, emails, etc. which have a critical bearing on the further review of your complaint,” Stutes writes.
Even if malfeasance beyond a reasonable doubt could be argued, the filing of the criminal charge would be prescribed, Stutes concludes. Because the alleged crimes would have occurred in 2011, the charges would have to have been filed by 2015.
Stutes first relayed his views in early August. He submitted a lengthy review of LCG’s evidence to date on Aug. 10, finding it was insufficient to pursue charges. A few days later, Logan sent the results of a forensic audit of LUS to Stutes and indicated an intent to file a civil action against Huval and Doug Dawson, a consultant and municipal broadband advocate who guided Fiber’s launch and laid out much of the financial playbook for its business model. Bewildered, Stutes notes that what he thought was a “confidential” message conveying the forensic report had already been shared with a radio station. KPEL host Bernadette Lee reached out for comment from Stutes before he had a chance to review the material Logan provided. Logan sent another package of evidence to Stutes on Sept. 2, including the emails purported to be missing. Stutes responded with the Sept. 8 letter, reiterating his opinion that LCG had failed to support its accusations. At Logan’s suggestion, Stutes interviewed accountant Burton Kolder, scoured the latest volumes of evidence and walked away steadfast in his view that LCG’s investigation had not yielded evidence sufficient to prosecute Huval.
“I am now even more convinced that your ‘complaint’ continues to be driven by opinions and conclusions only that crimes have been committed and those you accuse are ‘guilty.’ The ‘evidence’ received and reviewed, however, suggests to the contrary,” the district attorney writes. — Additional reporting by Christiaan Mader
Thanks to the Current for your investigation and report. I sat thru the "forensic audit" report a few weeks ago at the City Council meeting. I was relieved afterwards when a friend asked "Didn't that sound like just a witch hunt?" I had been thinking the same thing. I often disagreed with Terry Huval on technical issues. However, this attack seems inappropriate at best, and at worst an abuse of power by the current administration. I note that at no point was it claimed that Mr Huval's actions were for self enrichment.