By: Chris Nakamoto | WBRZ | June 11, 2020
BATON ROUGE – A contract awarded to a company while no-bid provisions were in effect due to the coronavirus, has raised questions about whether one of the people employed by the company that received the contract crossed the line.
The contracts were awarded by the Governor’s Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness (GOHSEP) and went toward setting up a field hospital at the Ernst N. Morial Convention Center in New Orleans. One of the companies that was awarded a $45 million contract employed recent retiree, General Glenn Curtis as the Director of Operations.
Corruption experts tell WBRZ, the spirit of state ethics laws are in place to prohibit agency heads from enriching themselves off the state government following their departures.
“No former agency head or elected official, shall, for a period of two years following the termination of his public service, assist another person, for compensation, in a transaction or in an appearance in connection with a transaction involving his former agency,” LSA-R.S. 42:1101 says.
In March, the New Orleans Convention Center was opened to alleviate the strain on area hospitals. Dynamic Construction LLC was awarded the contract to set up 1,000 beds there for a total of $45 million dollars. The Dynamic contract states that Glenn Curtis will serve as the Director of Operations.
“I think it would be naive to say that that didn’t play a role in GOHSEP deciding to issue the contract to that firm,” said Rafael Goyeneche, President of the Metropolitan Crime Commission.
The contract signed with Dynamic Construction Group LLC dated March 27 was signed by six people including GOHSEP Director James Waskom. The contract has Curtis’ biography and states he was appointed by Governor Jindal and Edwards to serve as the Adjutant General of the Louisiana National Guard. The contract included setting up 1,000 beds, a generator and toilets for the Convention Center.
“The contractor shall furnish all labor and materials and perform all of the work required to build, construct and complete in a thorough workmanlike manner,” the contract reads.
But, the WBRZ Investigative Unit found, the army released a press release saying that the LA National Guard helped set up 770 beds there, despite what the contract states. A spokesman for GOHSEP said the money paid to Dynamic did not include any reimbursements to the Guard for their work.
“The fact that they hired the head of the National Guard was a selling point, a marketing point in the awarding of that contract,” Goyeneche said. “Whether it was or wasn’t, there’s that appearance. GOHSEP deals with the National Guard in a lot of their projects. The National Guard works with GOHSEP. GOHSEP awarded this contract. The National Guard played a role setting up that facility.”
Despite 1,000 beds being set up, demand never materialized. By the middle of May, fewer than 200 people had been treated there. Emails obtained by the WBRZ Investigative Unit paint a relationship between Waskom and Curtis.
Both served together on the Louisiana Cyber Security Commission. Emails indicate the pair were in correspondence in February talking about new FEMA guidelines Less than 10 days before the contract was inked, the state was sending Curtis and other high-ranking leaders information pertaining to the budget and COVID-19.
The WBRZ Investigative Unit found, six days after the ink was barely dry on the contract with Dynamic, Governor John Bel Edwards suspended the state’s ethics provision on April 2, 2020 regarding employees sitting out two years following their departure from state government. The law was in place at the time the contract was signed, and although Goyeneche doesn’t believe this was a technical violation of the law, a clever workaround was figured out.
“Impropriety doesn’t necessarily mean a criminal offense,” Goyeneche said. “It may mean the good ole boy network, a wink and a nod. That’s the image that Louisiana is trying to move away from.
The WBRZ Investigative Unit reached out to GOHSEP and asked for an interview with Director James Waskom. They declined.
Instead, an attorney issued for GOHSEP issued a statement.
“There is no conflict as it relates to GOHSEP entering into a contract with Dynamic,” Veronica Sizer, Executive Counsel for GOHSEP said. “If a conflict exists for any individual within Dynamic, that would be a determination by the State Ethics Board.”
As of May 27, 2020, Dynamic Construction LLC was paid a total of $41,489,952.55 from the contract signed on March, 27, 2020.
The WBRZ Investigative Unit also asked General Glenn Curtis for an interview. He released a lengthy statement along with Dynamic Construction LLC regarding the contract that was awarded. You can read that here.