Louisiana news briefs
Actor, director Quentin Tarantino to lead Orpheus
NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Actor, director Quentin Tarantino will reign as the Krewe of Orpheus’ 2014 Celebrity Monarch.
Tarantino will lead the 27 float procession, themed “The Enchanted World,” on Lundi Gras — Monday, March 3 — on the eve of Mardi Gras.
Following the parade, the krewe’s more than 1,300 members, will host its black-tie party Orpheuscapade inside the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center that will also feature Cheap Trick, Big Bad Voodoo Daddy, The Party Crashers, Karma and Elizabeth Lyons.
Orpheus, one of the city’s super krewes, was founded in 1993 by Captain Sonny Borey and Harry Connick Jr.
Last year, actors Gary Sinise and Mariska Hargitay joined New Orleans musicians Troy “Trombone Shorty” Andrews and Connick as riders in the parade.
Film being shot in Lafayette looking for extras
LAFAYETTE (AP) — The film “A Sort of Homecoming” is holding an open call for extras on Monday.
Lafayette residents 18 and older are invited to attend the casting at the Staybridge Hotel (128 E. Kaliste Saloom Road) from 4 to 8 p.m.
“A Sort of Homecoming” will be filming in Lafayette throughout February at multiple locations around town. The film features several well-known young actors, including Laura Marano of the Disney Channel’s “Austin & Ally,” Katherine McNamara from “Kickin It” and Shayne Topp from “So Random.”
The screenplay, written by Lafayette native Lynn Reed, takes a look at the world of high school speech and debate.
Most of the independent drama’s filming will begin Feb. 11.
La. man pleads guilty
in plot to import steroids
LAKE CHARLES (AP) — A Jennings man has pleaded guilty to plotting to illegally import and distribute anabolic steroids.
Federal prosecutors say 33-year-old Christopher Paul Benoit faces a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison and a $500,000 fine following his guilty plea Thursday to a conspiracy charge. His sentencing by U.S. District Judge Patricia Minaldi is set for May 8.
Prosecutors say Benoit plotted with others to order steroids online and import them by mail between January 2007 and June 2012. His indictment listed five such orders delivered from China to Jennings.
A cousin — 26-year-old Regan Chase Benoit, of Jennings — pleaded guilty to related charges and is scheduled to be sentenced on March 27.
resumes in trial of ex-mayor
NEW ORLEANS (AP) — The lead witness in the corruption trial of former Mayor Ray Nagin faces cross-examination from the defense when the trial resumes.
City contractor Rodney Williams was the first to testify in Nagin’s trial on charges including bribery and money laundering. He takes the stand again when the trial resumes at 9 a.m. Friday.
Nagin’s 21-count indictment accuses him of accepting more than $160,000 in bribes and truckloads of free granite for his family business in exchange for promoting the interests of businessman Frank Fradella. Nagin also was charged with accepting at least $60,000 in payoffs from Willliams for his help in securing city contracts.
Nagin, a Democrat who was mayor when Hurricane Katrina stuck in 2005, served two terms before leaving office in 2010.
attracts $10.25 million bid
BATON ROUGE (AP) — A company set up by the Baton Rouge Area Foundation was the high bidder for the State Office Building, pledging $10.25 million for the property.
The group, known as 150 Third Street LLC, was one of two companies that bid on the downtown property.
The bidding was supposed to close last week, but the severe winter storm that shut down state offices and froze streets across Baton Rouge led to a delay.
Ex-mayor’s legal bills confront Port Allen council
PORT ALLEN (AP) — The Port Allen City Council is trying to decide what to do about more than $50,000 in legal fees that former Mayor Demetric “Deedy” Slaughter incurred prior to her recall.
Several councilmen said this week they feel the city should force the ousted mayor to pay for outstanding legal bills the city has been slapped with since Slaughter vacated office.
The city received a bill of more than $48,000 in November from Baton Rouge law firm Phelps and Dunbar, which represented Slaughter in early court proceedings in a wrongful termination lawsuit filed in February by Chief Financial Officer Audrey McCain.
Since Slaughter was successfully recalled from office on Nov. 16, the city also has received another bill from Phelps and Dunbar totaling approximately $3,500, McCain said.
New Orleans mayor’s race: Murder down, woes remain
NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Gunfire one Mardi Gras weekend on boozy Bourbon Street, a mass shooting at a jazz music parade that wounded 19 and the gunshot deaths of three children in 2013 nearly overshadowed a promising statistic New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu touts as he seeks re-election Saturday: the city’s murder rate dropped last year.
And it’s down nearly 20 percent.
The 155 homicides notched in 2013 are down from 193 the prior year and the lowest since 152 in 1985, a span in which the murder toll sometimes exceeded 400 killings a year in this tourist destination on the Mississippi River.
Still, the violence stubbornly continues — there were at least seven killings in January — and Landrieu is left trying to strike a balance in public statements between lauding the progress of his four years in office while acknowledging many in this Southern city still don’t feel safe.
Crime aside, experts say he’s the heavy favorite Saturday against two fellow Democrats.
Landrieu repeatedly laments a “culture of violence” that, while it rarely affects visitors to the tourist-dependent city and its famed French Quarter, is destructive to many of its people.
Political experts say Landrieu appears in good shape to win Saturday’s election over two fellow Democrats, both African-Americans: local NAACP leader Dannatus King and recently retired civil court Judge Michael Bagneris. A runoff, if needed, would be March 15.
Bagneris has strongly attacked the notion that the city is getting safer. He notes in television ads and public forums that New Orleans’ police force, more than 1,500 strong when Landrieu took office, is now down to about 1,200.
Landrieu blames budget constraints. But he said his administration has done much to improve the quality of life and crime fighting. He touts his NOLA for Life initiative, a catchall for social and volunteer efforts including midnight basketball, spruced-up playgrounds, even distribution of smoke detectors in poor neighborhoods. And he praises joint efforts with federal prosecutors to curb gang activity.
Bagneris insists that if he’s elected, he will be able to add 400 officers, in part by reducing the number of deputy mayors and others on Landrieu’s City Hall payroll.
Fewer officers patrolling the streets, in addition to being campaign fodder for Bagneris, is cause for concern to Rafael Goyeneche, president of the Metropolitan Crime Commission, an independent city watchdog group.
Goyeneche said in an interview that he’s sympathetic with the budget problems Landrieu inherited four years ago — including an $80 million deficit — but that attrition must be quickly addressed.
Landrieu’s police chief, Ronal Serpas, ticks off several reasons why he thinks the dropping murder rate is meaningful and sustainable. Among them are the department’s acquisition of sophisticated computer software that improves policing deployment strategies and the Multi Agency Gang Task Force, which involves assistance from federal authorities.
He credits the group with 74-gang-related indictments in 2013.
“Those types of investigations have chilled people’s minds. We’ve gotten the attention of people who use crime and murder as an enterprise,” Serpas said in an interview.
Goyeneche agrees with much that Serpas is doing, but said the lower number of officers means less manpower for proven measures that criminologists say prevent crime — promising strategies often known as “community policing” or “problem solving policing.”
“You want community policing to be department-wide but it’s very labor-intensive so we’re just not able to do that and we need to be honest about it,” Serpas said. But he said each police district has a “community policing sergeant” trained in spotting problems and getting them addressed properly.
Those, and other steps, Landrieu argues, are working.
“If the murder rate was at a 30-year high, as opposed to a 30-year low, people would be screaming and yelling and blaming us for it,” Landrieu said.
He calls it a sign of progress that can be sustained. “It’s meaningful,” he added. “And it’s measurable and it’s right there on paper.”