Two New Orleans Public Officials Hire Each Other's Wives

A local judge and a local sheriff hire each other's wives for jobs you probably won't see advertised.

In a follow-up to a joint investigation between FOX 8 and The Lens, the familiar names are cashing in, from drug counseling to home foreclosures.

Last month, FOX 8 and the Lens highlighted the process of drug counseling at New Orleans Municipal Court for first time marijuana offenders. The supervised court disposition process was launched a year ago after those cases were diverted there from Orleans Criminal Court.

Chief Judge Paul Sens told FOX 8 the only person he ever considered for the drug counseling job was Renee Gusman.

"She is licensed in the state of Louisiana, she has a masters degree, 25 years of experience. She's uniquely qualified and that's why she has the job," said Judge Sens in early February. "I don't know anybody as uniquely qualified as she was."

Renee Gusman is also the wife of Orleans Parish Sheriff Marlin Gusman and records show she formed a company called Bright Side in January 2011 to do the work, making almost $30,000 that year.

Loyola Law Professor Dane Ciolino said, "People probably should ask why could this contract not be put out to for public bid. Why is it just being parcelled out by Municipal Court in what may seem to some as kind of a brother in law arrangement."

That may have raised questions, but now FOX 8 and our investigative partners at The Lens have learned it's not the only employment arrangement tying the Gusmans and the Sens.

Around the same time Mrs. Gusman's job at Municipal Court was in the planning stages, Judge Sens' wife, Ann Garvey Sens, was applying for any position Sheriff Gusman had available.

In her cover letter, she cites her experience as a real estate agent and a sales consultant with her resume showing 20 years of experience in the health care industry.

By early 2011, Ann Sens was hired to perform appraisals for Sheriff's sales and we haven't found any record of a competitive hiring process.

Every Thursday at Civil District Court, dozens of properties that are either foreclosed or taken over by the city for unpaid code violations are sold to the highest bidder.

The Orleans Sheriff's Office appoints an appraiser if neither party in a foreclosure provides one and if the two sides can't agree on the value of the property, which happens often.

Case in point, a home at 2116 South Gayoso which went to Sheriff's Sale last month. The bank appraiser valued the property at $175,000. The homeowner's appraisal came in much higher at $225,000. The Sheriff's Office appraiser, called a referee appraiser, in this case came in with a value close to the middle at $195,000.

At $150 per appraiser, Orleans Sheriff's Office records show Ann Sens made almost $73,000 in 2011, both personally and through an LLC she formed months after starting work at the Sheriff's Office. The LLC is called NOLA Apraisals.

Sens isn't a licensed appraiser in the state of Louisiana, but in February of last year, after being hired by Gusman's office, she did complete an on line 15 hour appraisal course at Donaldson Real Estate School.

And it's apparently legal, even though there are about a hundred state licensed appraisers in New Orleans.

Louisiana law exempts sheriff's department appraisers from licensing requirements. In fact that law was expanded a few years ago to exempt appraisers for other public entities as well, which doesn't sit well with those in the industry.

Sarah Stephens, the president of the Appraisal Institute, the profession's largest trade group says, "The obvious advantage with licensed appraisers is that a state-licensed, certified appraiser is regulated."

A spokesperson for Sheriff Marlin Gusman says he has no response beyond the records already provided, in a case of two public officials hiring each other's wives.