Results of bribery probe still secret

Jefferson Parish Councilman Mark Spears has finally received his explanation about allegations of bribery among Jefferson Parish code enforcement officers, but the general public will have to wait on the details.

Parish President John Young and several of his top officials presented Spears, along with council members Cynthia Lee-Sheng and Chris Roberts, an update into the investigation at the Governmental Ethics and Compliance Committee meeting on Wednesday. But, because that update was provided in executive session, none of the details were available to the public.

Spears requested the briefing earlier this month in a surprise resolution. He said he was disturbed that the committee had not been brought into the loop by Young’s administration about the investigation. The Jefferson Parish Sheriff’s Office and parish officials have been investigating the matter for months, and one inspector already was arrested in October after he was accused of accepting bribes to falsify reports. There were reports of several other resignations connected to the investigation, but that has not been confirmed.

The committee stayed in executive session for nearly an hour discussing the matter. After the meeting, Spears said he would defer all comment on the investigation to the Sheriff’s Office, but added that he felt the meeting accomplished his goal.

“I am satisfied,” Spears said.

Spears said that he was bothered by the fact that the committee, which is tasked with examining ethical concerns, had never been apprised of the ongoing investigation. It was only because of questions from residents and media reports that Spears learned about the allegations, he said.

Spears said he made it clear to Young that in the future the committee needs to be notified of investigations as early as possible. He said he understands that parish officials have concerns about violating personnel rules, but he said there are ways to keep the committee informed without identifying specific employees. As the committee moves forward, it has to be involved in the process or it will become superfluous, he said.

“We don’t want to be a committee without a purpose,” Spears said. “Just let us know the facts of what’s going on … Hopefully in the future we brought up some procedures that should take place.”

The Sheriff’s Office arrested plumbing inspector Alphonse Chauvin, 70, in October and accused him of accepting bribes to approve noncompliant plumbing at an elevated home. However, the Sheriff’s Office has refused to release any additional details on that investigation or any subsequent investigations into bribery complaints.

“We’re not going to be commenting on the investigation until it’s complete,” said Col. John Fortunato, a sheriff’s spokesman.

Several contractors also were arrested in the Chauvin investigation, but one of them has denied the allegations of bribery.