River Birch landfill and its owners, including Fred Heebe, apparently are tired of taking a beating in the press. Sources at the company tell Gambit that the firm, which operates one of the largest and most successful landfills in the region, has hired a Texas PR outfit to help tell River Birch's side of the story in response to an ongoing federal criminal investigation and claims by some in Jefferson Parish government that the firm's contract with Jefferson was not a good deal for the parish. That contract, which never took effect, remains on hold.
River Birch's efforts appear to be paying off. Last week, The Times-Picayune ran a front-page story tracking the company's claim that an initial draft of a parish-sponsored audit of the controversial contract actually showed that the contract was a good deal for the parish. The final, official audit reached the opposite conclusion — after a December 2010 meeting between the auditors and some parish officials led to "finessing the numbers" by altering the audit's underlying assumptions.
A preliminary draft of the audit report, which was presented at the December meeting, concluded that the parish would save roughly $1.6 million over the contract's 25-year term. The final report, which was released in January by the Baton Rouge accounting firm of Postlethwaite & Netterville, said the parish would save at least $9 million if it continued to use its own dump and not River Birch's.
Parish attorney Deborah Foshee told the T-P that the meeting was not about the numbers at all, but rather an attempt to make sure the assumptions were accurate and valid.
The contract appears to play a key role in what many suspect is a wide-ranging federal investigation into Jefferson Parish politics.
Meanwhile, a source at River Birch tells Gambit one of Heebe's other companies, Shadow Lake Management, had former state Wildlife and Fisheries Commissioner Henry Mouton on retainer for years before he joined the commission in 2003. Mouton was indicted on bribery and other charges Feb. 25.
The indictment alleges Mouton was bribed while on the commission to lobby against competing landfills after Hurricane Katrina, which struck in August 2005. The indictment doesn't mention Heebe or any of his other companies by name, but the clear implication is that Heebe is "co-conspirator A."
Whether part of a PR offensive or not, the notion that Mouton was routinely on retainer to one of Heebe's companies long before his appointment to the commission goes to the heart of what will surely be Heebe's defense if the feds go after the business owner. — Clancy DuBos