Lee Zurik Investigation: While fishermen suffered... - FOX 8 WVUE New Orleans News, Weather, Sports

Lee Zurik Investigation: While fishermen suffered, Jiff Hingle's friends got work

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The FBI is investigating a former agent who ran the public corruption unit right here in New Orleans. That's according to the Times-Picayune.

FOX 8 News has detailed questionable business dealings between that former agent and a now former powerful elected official.

"We ain't working... we ain't working, we ain't going to be working."

Nearly two years after fishermen in Plaquemines Parish voiced their concerns at a heated community meeting on the BP oil spill, many of them tell FOX 8 News that the disaster almost bankrupted them.

While locals weren't working, they said, outsiders were.

The frustration that night focused on Plaquemines Parish President Billy Nungesser and the Vessels of Opportunity program. But the frustration could have been extended to the Plaquemines sheriff at the time, Jiff Hingle, if residents had known about his relationship with a well-paid parish contractor.

We've already reported the owner of DRC Emergency Services, Robert Isakson, loaned Hingle and his driver, Brandon Mouriz, $100,000 after the oil spill to start an equipment rental company. Isakson got them a boat, too, and then rented equipment from Hingle and his driver, paying them half a million dollars.

"If that was intended to influence the sheriff to continue to give him business, to facilitate future contracts to that vendor, I think you might be approaching the criminal line with that," says Metropolitan Crime Commission president Rafael Goyeneche.

At the same time Isakson paid Hingle, the sheriff rented portable jails from Isakson's company, DRC, and months later Hingle awarded DRC two lucrative contracts.

But there's more -- new information FOX 8 has uncovered.

After the oil spill, Hingle leased a 38-foot Fountain boat for the Sheriff's Office.

Here's where this story takes some strange turns.

According to the Sheriff's Office, Hingle rented one of the boats from a company named Archimedes Consulting. The representative for that company is a woman by the name of Joanne Mantis.

Mantis is an attorney at a New Orleans law firm, King, Krebs and Jurgens. Hingle's office paid Mantis' company $280,000 to rent that Fountain boat.

But we dug deeper and found more records that show the boat didn't belong to Mantis or Archidemeds -- it belonged to Robert Isakson and DRC.

Documents we uncovered in our research show the Plaquemines Parish sheriff paying for parts and labor on the boat, with Isakson clearly listed as the boat's owner – they even show the Lakeview address of Isakson's DRC office.

So, while fishermen in Plaquemines were suffering, Hingle paid a company, owned by attorney Joanne Mantis, to lease a boat, and then Mantis turned around and got the boat from Isakson.

FOX 8 legal analyst Joe Raspanti says this latest finding -- combined with the loan, the BP money from Isakson to Hingle and the lucrative contracts -- could mean trouble for Isakson and even Hingle. Raspanti says the government could have a provable case of quid pro quo.

Raspanti points to one recent high court ruling that shows, to prove quid pro quo, all the government has to do is "present evidence that shows a course of conduct of favors and gifts flowing to a public official in exchange for a pattern of official actions favorable to the donor."

"They don't have to have had a handshake or a written document saying, ‘hey I'm gonna' do this for you,'" says Raspanti. "But it can be implied by their actions, or lack of actions."

So: Isakson loans and gives money to Hingle; Hingle leases portable jails and a boat from Isakson; Hingle awards Isakson's company, DRC, two lucrative contracts.

Raspanti says, even if Isakson and Hingle didn't have a handshake deal, the money flowing back and forth presents a problem for both men.

"A reasonable person would realize that the actions were going in both directions for a reason, it's implied that that was the case," says Raspanti. "So it gives the government another chance to prove something without having a piece of paper, saying ‘this is our deal that we're going to do.'"

According to Fountain Powerboats, Isakson's vessel retailed for about $300,000. Hingle paid $280,000 to lease that boat -- money the sheriff could have used to buy his own boat, or money he could have used to hire a local instead of Isakson, who's from Alabama.

$280,000 -- a lot of money that could have gone a long way for broke fishermen after the oil spill.

DRC and Robert Isakson have refused to do an interview on our stories. Hingle's attorney, Frank DeSalvo, did not answer our calls.

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