When embattled Jefferson Parish president Aaron Broussard abruptly announced his intention to resign Friday, Jan. 8, the announcement caught people off guard at the highest level of Jefferson Parish politics. Councilman Chris Roberts said he'd received a call from Broussard shortly before the news leaked, while Councilwoman Cynthia Lee-Sheng said she heard the news from her staff, who heard it from the media.
Just a day earlier, Broussard had announced that the parish's public works director, Jose Gonzalez, would fill out the remaining term of parish CAO Tim Whitmer, who resigned Jan. 4. The announcement also means Gonzalez will now serve as temporary parish president until the council can meet this week to appoint an interim president.
Whitmer owned an insurance company, Lagniappe Industries, that had a contract with St. John the Baptist Parish to provide dental insurance to parish employees. Broussard has admitted that he was paid $5,000 by Lagniappe for legal services, and that he had referred potential customers to Whitmer's company.
Former St. John the Baptist President Bill Hubbard, now a convicted felon on another charge, had persuaded his Parish Council to sign with Lagniappe just as Jefferson Parish was adding $4.8 million to contracts it had penned with Hubbard's company, Hubbard Enterprises. As CAO, Whitmer supervised all of the parish departments, including streets, drainage and environmental affairs offices with which Hubbard Enterprises was contracted.
While Broussard's resignation turns politics in Jefferson Parish upside down, sources close to the situation tell Gambit the entire scandal behind Broussard's surprise resignation stems from the initial Hubbard case in St. John the Baptist Parish.
Whitmer's company, which he co-owns with his wife Dawn, also partnered in a deal with another insurance company, B&A Insurance of Metairie, on the sale of voluntary employee insurance at the publicly owned West Jefferson Medical Center. In early November, the Metropolitan Crime Commission (MCC) reported to The Times-Picayune that B&A's agent, Wally Pontiff, was listed on the contract, but he was giving part of the commission to Lagniappe, who lists Tim Coulon, former Jefferson Parish president and Whitmer's former boss, as one of its agents. The West Jefferson contract contained a clause barring the splitting of commissions.
In the three months following the West Jefferson revelation, it was revealed that Whitmer had insurance contracts with three local government agencies and six Jefferson Parish contractors, as well as doing bookkeeping for Lagniappe through his parish email account and soliciting parish employees to purchase insurance from his company.
Two days after Whitmer stepped down, the MCC's Rafael Goyeneche sent a letter to the state's Ethics Administration, informing them that a confidential source had told him Broussard was renting a lodge he owned in Nova Scotia to parish contractors. On Friday, as various members of Broussard's staff were set to testify before a federal grand jury regarding the Whitmer criminal investigation, Broussard stepped down.
Broussard's political career began in 1974, when he was elected to the Jefferson Parish School Board. He was elected mayor of Kenner in 1982 and went on to serve several terms on the Parish Council beginning in 1995.
Sources have also told Gambit that the next move in this topsy-turvy story may come directly from the U.S. Attorney's office. — Staff reports