|Documents released indicate state money was steered to non-profits with ties to Rep. Jefferson|
03:47 PM CST on Wednesday, November 29, 2006
Melinda Deslatte / Associated Press - WWLTV.com
BATON ROUGE, La.-- At least $2.5 million in state money was steered by New Orleans lawmakers over a 10-year period to two nonprofit agencies with family ties to U.S. Rep. William Jefferson, according to documents released by the governor's office.
WWL-TV / File Photo
Congressman William Jefferson.
The documents from the defunct Governor's Office of Urban Affairs show at least $1 million was given to Care Unlimited Inc. and another $1.5 million to Orleans Metropolitan Housing and Community Development Inc. The documents were subpoenaed by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and provided to The Associated Press this week by the governor's office in response to a public records request.
The FBI has declined to say what information it is seeking in the documents. But Jefferson -- a New Orleans Democrat embroiled in a campaign for re-election to a ninth term -- is the subject of a federal bribery probe. Jefferson has not been charged with a crime and has denied wrongdoing, but a businessman and a former Jefferson aide have pleaded guilty in the case.
The FBI documents covering allocations from January 1996 to the present, involving five nonprofit agencies, four of which had documented ties to the Jefferson family. Marie Centanni, Blanco's press secretary, said only Care Unlimited and Orleans Metropolitan Housing received funding through the Office of Urban Affairs.
The earmarks for Care Unlimited and Orleans Metropolitan Housing were added by lawmakers connected to Jefferson: his daughter, Rep. Jalila Jefferson-Bullock, and former Rep. Renee Gill Pratt, a former legislative aide to the congressman and former New Orleans City councilwoman who was hired by Care Unlimited when she lost her re-election bid. Also listed as sponsor of the add-ons in some instances was Sen. Diana Bajoie, D-New Orleans.
The nonprofit agencies themselves were tied to the congressman. One of Jefferson's brothers is chairman of the board of directors for Orleans Metropolitan Housing, and Care Unlimited was founded by another Jefferson brother.
The Office of Urban Affairs supervised grants to nonprofits in black lawmakers' districts before it was disbanded this year by Blanco. A similar office for rural nonprofit agencies also was disbanded. Both were criticized as slush funds used by the governor's office to steer dollars to lawmakers' pet projects in response to favorable votes.
Care Unlimited and Orleans Metropolitan Housing are among hundreds of pet causes added into spending bills over the years by legislators through the regular budget construction process.
But the documents given to the FBI show state funding appeared to be the only sources of income in some years for Care Unlimited and Orleans Metropolitan Housing.
The money paid for salaries and benefits, accounting services, insurance, telephone service, utilities and supplies. In the 2003-04 budget year, Orleans Metropolitan Housing paid for the company picnic with state cash, and a year earlier, state money paid for building renovations.
Care Unlimited sponsored several programs that received money through the state budget process, according to the financial documents.
The programs were described as education initiatives for pregnant teens, tutoring, career workshops for high schoolers, assistance with scholarship services and a pilot project to focus on the "broad problems of black males" to coordinate family, health, education and counseling services through local churches, schools and community agencies.
Orleans Metropolitan Housing and Community Development was described in documents as a nonprofit that helped rehabilitate and improve housing for low- and moderate-income residents, conducting carbon monoxide testing and energy conservation education.
The phone number listed in the New Orleans phone book and on financial documents for Orleans Metropolitan Housing was disconnected. Phone numbers listed for Care Unlimited also were disconnected. Calls to the legislative district offices of Bajoie and Jefferson-Bullock weren't immediately returned Wednesday.
In July, Blanco eliminated $450,000 in the state budget that would have gone to the two nonprofits in the current 2006-07 fiscal year.
(Copyright 2006 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.