"We do not believe the state has a legal basis to file suit," Assistant Attorney General Ryan Seidemann told the State Mineral Board Wednesday, summarizing 17 month of research on whether the state can get out of oil leases that date back to the Huey Long days.
Our stories showed those leases were handed out in the 1930's by Governors James Noe and OK Allen. Then a portion of those leases were redirected back to the governors' company, the Win or Lose Corporation, formed by former governor Huey P. Long. Descendants of Long, Noe and Allen still benefit from those leases today. Factoring in inflation, they've earned more than $1 billion.
The mineral board has been waiting for the report from the attorney general's office since May 2012.
"We cannot retroactively apply the laws of today," Seidemann noted. "Certainly, I believe, there's little doubt that the governor could not today grant himself a lease or grant a mineral lease to a company he holds a substantial interest in. That would be Illegal under today's ethics laws, I have no doubt about that. But in the 1930's, today's ethics laws did not exist."
The attorney general's office says, applying the law of that time he found no case of fraud, malfeasance in office, breach of fiduciary duty or any type of corruption.
Seidemann told the board, "Between 1934 and 1936, there were no laws that restricted the governor from granting leases to a friend, a business partner or to himself. And so there is no legal basis to say that the Win or Lose leases were illegally let, simply based on who they went to."
The attorney general's office presented the 150-page report and thousands of pages of source documents. The leases from the 1930's have no end date. And with this recommendation Wednesday, heirs will keep collecting millions of dollars of royalties every year.
"There is no viable legal theory in our opinion to attack these leases," said Seidemann.
"Naturally, a blow to the citizens of Louisiana," concluded researcher Keith Cressionnie, who has been looking into these leases for three decades. He hasn't reviewed the AG's findings, but still questions the conclusion.
Attorney General Buddy Caldwell didn't attend the meeting. Cressionnie says he could never get a meeting with him, but wonders if some of the heirs did - records show some have given Caldwell campaign contributions.
"My opinion meant nothing to him," said Cressionnie. "But if you give him $35,000 in campaign contributions, from seven different companies, then you're going to open that door for that man. And that's just exactly what happened."
We were not able to find any descendants giving as much as $35,000, but some did give Caldwell money.
Just because the AG recommended the state not go after these oil leases doesn't mean the fight is necessarily over. The AG's office says the state has no legal basis to attack these leases - but a private citizen may.
Seidemann acknowledged, "Yes, a private party can bring such an action. The courts have said that is acceptable and viable. What we have done does not preclude that."
It's unclear what Cressionnie will do next. But one thing is certain: his fight is not over.