Louisiana news briefs: Audit -- Unreliable data used for tuition hikes

Audit: Unreliable data used for tuition hikes

BATON ROUGE — Nearly 79 percent of community and technical colleges using a program that lets them raise student tuition didn’t provide reliable data to gain that permission, according to a new audit released Monday.

The review by Legislative Auditor Daryl Purpera’s office echoed findings from a year earlier, which found flaws in data submitted by the Louisiana Community and Technical College System.

The data is used to determine if the schools are meeting performance improvements needed to increase tuition, benchmarks required under a 2010 law authorizing tuition increases of up to 10 percent a year. It’s called the GRAD Act.

Purpera’s office said 11 of 14 community and technical colleges used unreliable fall 2012 student data to get permission to raise tuition from the Board of Regents, which oversees higher education in the state. Regents reviews the data annually to help determine if the campuses have met their benchmarks and can again raise tuition for the next year.

Man killed at salt plant

BREAUX BRIDGE — An employee was killed over the weekend at a Cargill salt processing plant in Breaux Bridge.

Cargill spokesman Mark Klein said Plant Superintendent Steven Rodrigue’s body was found Saturday evening at the facility.

The preliminary report by the St. Martin Parish Coroner states electrocution as the cause of death.

Maj. Ginny Higgins says Rodrigue was seen talking with employees at approximately 5 p.m. and was found at 6:30 p.m.

Klein says the accident is under investigation by Cargill and OSHA.

Rodrigue had worked for the company for more than 20 years.

Body is missing teacher; cause of death: drowning

NEW ORLEANS — The body found in a car pulled from a New Orleans bayou over the weekend was identified Monday as a missing teacher and her death was ruled a drowning, the Orleans Parish Coroner’s Office said

Dental records were used to identify Terrilynn Monette, who was 26 when she disappeared in early March, said coroner’s investigator John Gagliano.

There were no signs of trauma to the body, so her death was ruled a drowning, city police said in a news release. Routine toxicology tests were pending.

The car holding the badly decomposed body was found and removed Saturday from Bayou St. John in New Orleans.

Brees sues ex-teammate over bogus tax credits

NEW ORLEANS — New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees sued a former teammate Monday for allegedly advising him to invest $160,000 in tax credits that turned out to be bogus.

The suit filed on Brees’ behalf in federal court claims former Saints long snapper Kevin Houser, a licensed securities broker, mishandled the star quarterback’s money and failed to disclose his own financial interests in the investments he was promoting.

Several other teammates and coaches sued Houser for allegedly advising them to invest a total of roughly $2 million to buy nonexistent tax credits from a defunct movie studio. Brees’ lawyer, Daniel Becnel Jr., said his client had held off on joining them in suing to see if their dispute could be resolved out of court.

Meanwhile, former New Orleans Saints tight end Jeremy Shockey and former Saints defensive coordinator Gary Gibbs reached separate settlements Monday with Houser over the same investment deal. Terms were confidential.

Houma fire injures 5;

suspect booked with arson

HOUMA — Police say a 45-year-old homeless man faces five counts of attempted murder and one count of aggravated arson for his involvement in a fire at a Houma apartment complex that left four people injured.

Tran Van Man was arrested Saturday. He is in the Terrebonne Parish jail on a $1 million bond.

Fire officials are investigating the apartment fire that caused significant damage and displaced an unspecified number of residents.

The blaze broke out in a second-story apartment building around 11 p.m. Friday.

Priest, on leave pending investigation, found dead

ALEXANDRIA — A body found last week at an Alexandria motel has been identified as a 48-year-old priest with the Roman Catholic Diocese of Alexandria.

Alexandria police said there was no sign of foul play in the death of Jamie Medina-Cruz. The body was found at the Value Place Motel on Friday. Autopsy results were pending.

On its website Monday, the diocese said Medina-Cruz was on administrative leave from St. Mary’s Assumption Catholic Church in Cottonport. He was placed on administrative leave at St. Mary’s on March 12, pending an investigation of alleged misconduct with a minor. No charges had been filed.

The diocese said Medina-Cruz had also had assignments in Natchitoches, Marksville, Ferriday and Alexandria.

Federal lawsuit claims inmates endure extreme heat

BATON ROUGE — A New Orleans-based advocacy group filed a federal lawsuit Monday alleging that hot temperatures create inhumane conditions for death row inmates at the Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola.

Filed on behalf of three inmates, the lawsuit says the prisoners are forced to live in poorly-ventilated cells that lack air conditioning, and average temperatures exceed 95 degrees during the summer. The suit says that because of Louisiana’s humidity, the heat index — a measure that factors in temperature and humidity — can be dangerous.

La. company, employees indicted in explosives case

Six executives of a Louisiana company that recycles explosives were indicted Monday in an investigation into the improper storage of millions of pounds of military propellant, a discovery that led a small town to evacuate after an explosion.

Explo Systems and six of its owners and managers face 10 felony charges each in a sealed indictment handed down by a grand jury, Webster Parish District Attorney Schuyler Marvin said. The employees have not been identified because the indictment is still sealed. The company has disputed in court documents the material was stored improperly.

Explo Systems had a multimillion-dollar military contract to dismantle propelling charges used to fire artillery rounds.

The company operated on space leased at Camp Minden, a Louisiana National Guard installation in northwest Louisiana. An explosion last October led authorities to look more closely at Explo and its facility.

An investigator discovered millions of pounds of an improperly stored propellant called M6, leading to the evacuation of nearby Doyline, the town known as the backdrop for the TV series “True Blood.”

Louisiana State Police officials stripped Explo Systems of its explosives license on May 20, but the company won it back in state court Friday when state district court Judge Kay Bates signed a restraining order against the state police.

“The allegedly improperly stored materials are not explosive, nor are they within the jurisdiction of the” state police, the company wrote in its lawsuit against the state.

A hearing is set for June 17.

The indictment consists of five charges apiece relating to explosives storage, and five conspiracy charges.

Marvin said he had sent letters to the employees, including two who live outside Louisiana, asking that they turn themselves in. He said he didn’t consider the people to be flight risks.

Authorities said the M6 should have been stored in certified magazines — sometimes called bunkers — but some of it was found in boxes stacked in buildings, packed into long corridors that connect the buildings or “hidden” among trees outside. Some of the containers were spilling open, authorities said.

Authorities feared any ignition — like a brush fire or lightning — could set off a massive chain reaction that would race through the corridors and blow up multiple buildings, threatening Doyline. Its 800 residents were put under a voluntary evacuation order for several days in December.

State police monitored the movement of the material, which took months as some of it was sold to other companies and the Guard provided additional space at the installation.

More 10 million pounds of the material was eventually stored properly and Explo relinquished its keys to the magazines at the installation. Also, state police said, about 100,000 pounds of flammable solid material and 130,000 pounds of Tritonal were moved to proper storage locations.

The company said state police took its license and the keys to storage magazines May 20 without giving the company a proper chance to contest the state’s action. Explo’s lawsuit also said State Police Captain Taylor Moss had told the company it could restart operations once all the M6 was properly stored and that there were “no problems with Explo’s license.”

In its lawsuit, the company said the state police then refused Explo’s request to sell some of its materials to meet existing contracts, effectively taking its property and putting it in danger of going out of business. Explo alleged the state’s actions were unconstitutional and it was due some sort of hearing and the state laws cited by the police were “unconstitutionally vague” because they don’t clearly define why licenses can be taken.

Lawyers representing Explo did not immediately return a call seeking comment. It’s not clear if they will also represent the company in the criminal action. State police spokesman Doug Cain said the state will answer Explo’s claims in court at the hearing.

The Army gave Explo a $2.9 million annual contract in March 2010 to dismantle up to 450,000 propelling charges a year.

At some point, the company ran out of storage room and in early 2012 asked to lease more space at the installation, the Guard said. The company was turned down because it was about $400,000 behind on rent.

Documents obtained by The Associated Press under a public records request suggested Explo overstated its storage capacity when applying for the Army contract. The plan was for the company to sell the material, not store it, but the M6 appears to have quickly piled up when demand went down because of declines in the coal mining industry.

The evacuation last year wasn’t the first time the company had come under scrutiny.

A series of about 10 explosions at the facility caused an evacuation of Doyline in 2006. In 2007, Explo Systems was cited for violations in West Virginia for its use of an old military explosive for coal mining in 2007.

From The Associated Press.

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