Lee Zurik Investigation: 'Dirty Deeds' part 6 - FOX 8 WVUE New Orleans News, Weather, Sports

Lee Zurik Investigation: Mineral Board wants AG probe of 'Dirty Deeds'

Updated:

"Item number two is to hear public comment regarding a series of articles by an investigative reporting team from FOX 8 News, New Orleans," said Rick Heck, an attorney for the state's Department of Natural Resources, during a regularly scheduled meeting of the State Mineral and Energy Board in Baton Rouge.

Wednesday's public comment came from West Bank resident Keith Cressionnie and his friend, Norman Billiot.  The two men have spent 30 years researching questionable oil leases from the 1930's.

"I'm in pursuit of this justice," Cressionnie told the panel.

Cressionnie says he's taken his findings to state government before, but has been shown the door.

"I also met with an assistant attorney general several years ago," Cressionnie recalled for the board.  "I brought this all up to him about Win or Lose.  I said, ‘How can they get away with it, how can this keep happening?'...  I said, ‘Is it that political?' And his answer was, ‘Yeah.'  That was it.  Case closed."

FOX 8 News has detailed in a series of stories how former governors awarded oil leases in the 1930's.  The governors themselves profited off royalties from those leases, and their shares have been passed down to descendants.  Total earnings for all involved: hundreds of millions of dollars.

The biggest lease of them all is State Lease 340 in St. Mary Parish.  Here's what happened:

James Noe became governor in January of 1936.  He awarded State Lease 340 to W.T. Burton, who assigned some of the rights to that lease to the Texas Company.  Burton kept some of the rights and assigned the rest to the Win or Lose Corporation -- a company whose president was Governor Noe.  In fact, as governor, Noe had to (and did) approve the assignment from Burton to his company, Win or Lose.

"It's just unfair to the Louisiana citizens," said Cressionnie, asking the State Mineral and Energy Board -- the panel with oversight of Louisiana's oil, gas and mineral leases -- to act.

"What I'd like to ask you guys… what are y'all going to do about it?  Ya know?" Cressionnie asked the members.  "That's why I'm here, mainly, today."

The board heard from its attorney, Heck, who made them aware of state House Resolution 88, introduced Tuesday, that authorizes and requests La. Attorney General Buddy Caldwell to investigate whether the leases were valid, are currently valid, and if any money can be recovered by the state. 

Heck asked "that the Board action would mirror what the Legislature is asking for, and that is that the information be studied by the Attorney General's office, which is, by statutory law, the attorney for the Mineral Board."

Researcher Norman Billiot reiterated the request, asking, "Could you get the Attorney General to act upon this, so that the sins of the past can be shown, can be healed?"

Board member Tom Arnold made a motion to ask the Attorney General to open an investigation.

"Any discussion by the board concerning Mr. Arnold's motion?" asked Thomas Sanders, another Board member.

There was no discussion, and no opposition to the motion's passage. The board will give the Attorney General until the end of 2012 to present his findings.

Caldwell's staff tells FOX 8 News that the Attorney General's office will consider the request from the Mineral Board when it arrives, and that the AG will comply with House Resolution 88, if and when it passes.

Speaking of that resolution, it's been assigned to the House Judiciary Committee, whose chairman is Representative Jeff Arnold from Algiers.  Arnold says that committee's next meeting is Thursday, May 17, and that the author of the resolution, Rep. Pat Connick, has to make a request to place it on the agenda for that meeting.

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