Lee Zurik Investigation: Lobbyist claims ignorance about Noe’s ‘Dirty Deeds’

Ty Bromell has been a fixture behind the scenes in Baton Rouge for 15 years. You probably don't know him -- but your lawmaker does. And apparently, Bromell has some power and influence inside the walls of the State Capitol.

When the House Judiciary Committee rejected a resolution that would look into questionably obtained oil leases from the 1930's, West Bank resident and independent researcher Keith Cressionnie called the meeting a set-up.

"I'm suggesting that it was politics back then, it's politics now," Cressionnie told the panel last Thursday, May 17.

Turns out, the politicians of today voted down the resolution after hearing privately from Ty Bromell, a Baton Rouge lobbyist who urged lawmakers to vote no.

"Who had you lobby on behalf of the House resolution from last week?" we asked Bromell at the Capitol.

"Some friends," Bromell replied.

"Did they pay you?" we asked.

"They did not," he told us. And when we asked who the friends are, he simply said, "Just friends."

We asked Rep. John Bel Edwards of Amite, a Judiciary Committee member, whether Bromell talked to him about the resolution.  Edwards told us, "Yes. As a lobbyist, he indicated to me that he was familiar with some of the chronology of events, and that he thought there probably would not be any purpose in moving the resolution forward."

Edwards cast a no vote after speaking with the lobbyist.  Bromell convinced Edwards that multiple lawsuits and attorneys general have reviewed leases awarded by Governors James Noe and O.K. Allen – those governors then received royalties off those leases, along with the Win or Lose Corporation. And descendants of Noe, Allen and Huey Long still make money to this day.

Representative Edwards says the information presented at the meeting showed the state had investigated and found no wrongdoing. In the committee's mind, their vote was meaningless.

"The attorney general's office has been asked by the Mineral Board to look into this," Rep. Edwards told us. "So another action by the Judiciary Committee really wouldn't have served any additional purpose."

Committee members say the basis of their vote came from testimony from resolution sponsor Pat Connick, a state representative from Marrero, and information provided by the lobbyist. The lobbyist won.

"From my perspective, all I had was what was presented at the table," Rep. Ray Garofalo of Chalmette told us. "I've gone back and looked at your stories, and actually, it sounds like there may be some reason to look into this further. Is it up to us to say that? All we had, all that was presented to us by Representative Connick, was a House concurrent resolution, which really has no power at all."

At that committee meeting, members repeatedly referenced a document given to them by Bromell, the lobbyist.

"Based on the handout, it's showing that it was investigated five times, and that there were four lawsuits," said Opelousas Rep. Ledricka Thierry at the May 17 committee meeting.

Former lawmaker and newspaperman Bob Barton wrote some stories on the Win or Lose Corporation in the 1990's. We showed him the document distributed by the lobbyist.

"They are the legally hired lobbyists for the Win or Lose Corporation," Barton told us. "And it comes as no surprise that they would say there's no reason to investigate it."

He says the lobbyist's information is not factually correct. Barton says many of the lawsuits referenced in the document never looked into the money going to descendants of the three former governors.

"I don't know of anyone else who actually looked into it in an official capacity, in a public capacity," Barton said.

Barton says he only knows of one legal opinion issued by someone with the state attorney general, the one we showed him where Edward Gay concluded in 1941 that the lease "was obtained through a conspiracy to defraud the state of Louisiana."

"At the end of the day, it's a $300 million paycheck to the heirs, to the heirs, to the heirs [sic] of the Huey Long dynasty," Barton insisted. "That's a lot of money. $300 million would balance the state budget this year. That's what we're talking about in terms of closing colleges and hospitals."

State Senator Gary Smith from St. Charles Parish has been busy in Baton Rouge, trying to balance the budget. But sources say he found time to urge his colleagues on the House Judiciary Committee to vote down the House resolution related to the oil leases.

Sen. Smith happens to be married to Huey Long's great granddaughter -- that would make her former Senator Russell Long's granddaughter. Remember, while alive, Russell Long made more than $600,000 a year off Win or Lose oil and gas royalties.

So Sen. Gary Smith's extended family benefits from this deal to this day. And last week, state Representative Randal Gaines confirmed to us by phone that Smith spoke to him about the upcoming vote.

That brings us back to the lobbyist, Ty Bromell, who also helped convince lawmakers to vote down the resolution.

You see, Bromell distributed a fact sheet, telling lawmakers why they should vote no. But when we caught up with him, he seemed unclear about all of the facts of State Lease 340, in which Gov. James Noe awarded a lease to businessman W.T. Burton, who days later awarded a royalty interest in the lease back to Noe and the Win or Lose Corporation.

"Do you think it was okay back then for a governor to profit off of a deal?" we asked Bromell.

"I don't think a governor profited off the deal," Bromell said.

"You don't think James Noe made money off that deal?"

"I don't know anything about James Noe," Bromell responded.

"So you don't know anything about the deal, but you were lobbying on its behalf?"

"I wasn't lobbying" Bromell told us. "I was asking people to look into it before they made decisions with dollars being expended."

"You don't know how the deal was started in 1936?" we asked.

"I don't need to know how it was done," Bromell said. "I mean, someone asked to help with something, I did. That's it."

"And you won't tell us who helped you?"

"I don't need to tell you who helped me," Bromell replied, laughing. "I mean, I'm not hiding anything. A friend of mine asked me to assist."

State laws require a lobbyist to report clients, but only if the lobbyist is being paid or if the lobbyist is spending money – for example, when buying a lawmaker lunch on the client's behalf.

If a lobbyist works for free and spends no money, we have no way to tell for whom that lobbyist works.