Lee Zurik Investigation: Nungesser-BP deal examined

Billy Nungesser
Billy Nungesser

A parish president who recently lost the race for lieutenant governor may have broken state law.

This all dates back to right after the BP oil spill, but new information has surfaced that has one ethics attorney saying, the facts show Billy Nungesser likely broke the law.

"Whether it's ethical or not would have to be decided by someone else. Personally, I don't know if I would have done that," says Don Beshel.

Beshel, a former Plaquemines Parish councilman wondered 20 months ago if Parish President Billy Nungesser crossed ethical and legal lines.

Shortly after the oil spill, BP signed a one-year lease with Myrtle Grove Marina for $10,000 a month. Plaquemines District Attorney Charles Ballay and Nungesser own the marina -- right now, Nungesser's portion of the ownership is held in a trust.

Ten days before BP signed a lease for the marina, Plaquemines Parish signed an agreement with BP to pay the parish $1 million.

Those two deals put together could be against state law.

"Under the State Governmental Ethics Code, a government employee, public servant, cannot do business with a contractor with the governmental entity that they supervised," says Loyola law professor Dane Ciolino.

Nungesser's story shot back on our radar earlier this month, when the State Ethics Board charged Lafourche Parish President Charlotte Randolph for violating state ethics law.

Ciolino says the details of those charges almost mirror Nungesser's transactions.

Lafourche entered into a $1 million agreement with BP on May 11, the same day Nungesser and Plaquemines did.

On June 18, 2010, Randolph Publications, a company owned by the parish president and her husband, entered into a lease agreement, leasing their grand isle camp to BP. Nungesser's marina was leased to BP a few weeks earlier.

The State Ethics Board says Randolph violated state law for receiving something of economic value from a company the parish has an agreement with.

The only difference with Nungesser is that, technically, his trust owned 50% of the marina at the time, and not him. But Ciolino says the difference really doesn't matter when looking at the ethics code.

"The ethics code is specifically structured so as to prevent public employees and public servants from using entities like trusts, like LLC's, to essentially circumvent the prohibitions against individual financial relationships and contracts," says Ciolino.

When we raised questions about the marina lease in 2010, Nungesser sent us a statement:

Unbeknownst to me, BP worked out a deal with the marina because it's located close to the oil in Barataria Bay. To this day I have no knowledge of who made those arrangements with the marina and what they are paying. Keep in mind that by law any business interests I have were put into a blind trust when I ran for office and I have no knowledge about or input into their activities.

Wednesday, Nungesser said he has been cleared by the ethics board, saying, "After a thorough investigation by the ethics board the board decided to close the file on August 31, 2011."

The ethics board told us they could not confirm or deny any investigation into Nungesser.

Again, the ethics board has already charged the Lafourche Parish president, and an ethics lawyer says the only difference is that Nungesser's interest is in a trust – that's irrelevant, according to the ethics code.

By the way, financial disclosure records show Nungesser made money out of his trust in 2010, the same year BP leased that marina. That year, Nungesser checked the last box on the disclosure form for Pointe Celeste Trust, indicating he earned more than $200,000 in 2010 from the trust.

Ciolino says, if the ethics board do