NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - An FBI investigation of a case we uncovered four years ago is now in the hands of the state attorney general. Jeff Landry says his office is reviewing the case to determine how they'll proceed. It centers on the relationship between a disgraced sheriff and a former FBI agent-turned-businessman.
FOX 8 dug up emails that reveal a company pushing for a no-bid contract - emails in which a public official asks for a company to sponsor a dinner.
One government watchdog says it could be public corruption playing out right before your eyes, in black and white.
"Really it's more of a horror movie, from Louisiana's point of view," said Metropolitan Crime Commission chief Rafael Goyeneche said in a 2012 interview.
This isn't a movie but a real life story that started in June 2009, with a series of emails sent from Robert Isakson, the managing director of the DRC group, a Mobile, Alabama-based disaster recovery company that's made tens of millions of Louisiana tax dollars since Hurricane Katrina.
Isakson wrote about an upcoming trip to the National Sheriff's Association convention in Fort Lauderdale. He wrote that Plaquemines Parish "Sheriff Jiff Hingle and we are hosting a formal dinner for about 30 or so sheriffs on Monday night at the Nicest Steakhouse in Fort Lauderdale."
The invitation to the event shows Hingle cordially inviting people to "Grill 66," the event sponsored by DRC. By the end of July, 34 people sent RSVP saying they would attend Hingle's event, which paid for with DRC's money.
Two weeks later, DRC and Isakson hosted another dinner, this at the Louisiana Sheriff's Convention in Destin.
"If that was intended to influence the sheriff to continue to give him business, or to facilitate future contracts to that vendor, I think you may be approaching the criminal line with that," Goyeneche told us.
At the same time Isakson and DRC lined up those events, Isakson sent Hingle and his driver – Maj. Brandon Mouriz - a separate email, this one coming on August 1, about Jails On Demand, a type of portable holding cell that DRC wanted the sheriff to lease. The email says, if Hingle leased portable jails from DRC, then - according to Isakson's attorneys - Hingle would "have no obligation to follow the public bid law."
So in the same week Isakson hosted Hingle's dinner, he tried to convince Hingle to hire his company.
We found another email from in April 2010, just a couple of days after the BP well disaster, Isakson received an email from his Louisiana regional manager, Kristy Fuentes, who wrote that Brandon Mouriz – again, Hingle's driver - "called today to see if we would sponsor a dinner in Destin during the Louisiana sheriff's convention. Jiff is being inducted as president." An hour later the head of DRC, Robert Isakson, responded, "Absolutely, lets do this supper and anything else we can do to assist him in this honor."
We found a copy of the invitation to the dinner - again, sponsored by DRC - and a list of attendees. A total of 98 responded that they would come: sheriffs from all over Louisiana, a congressman, and employees of DRC.
Jump to June 2010, when Hingle and Mouriz formed an equipment rental company, BCA Offshore. We've already reported that Isakson and DRC loaned them $100,000 to start the company. But another email shows DRC even purchased a vessel and financed it for Hingle and Mouriz. And after helping the company start up, DRC paid Hingle and Mouriz $500,000 in oil spill work.
Essentially, DRC purchased a vessel for BCA Offshore and then rented it back from the company. As this played out, we learned, DRC began to make money from Hingle's office.
Remember the email about Jails On Demand, where Isakson told Hingle he had no obligation to follow the public bid law? Hingle didn't solicit any bids. Instead, in the summer of 2010, he hired a company, Fleet Intermodal, to supply portable jails. The owner of Fleet Intermodal, Darren Angelo, has ties to Hingle, too: Angelo and Hingle own Delta Marina together.
After Hingle hired Angelo, Angelo then contracted with DRC to supply those jails to Hingle's office. The DRC website even showed the portable jail in Plaquemines in a photo taken in June 2010.
So, at the same time DRC paid Hingle and Mouriz, DRC made money through the Plaquemines Parish Sheriff Office, supplying portable jails.
"It shows a long-standing relationship where there is money flowing back and forth between a private vendor and a public official," Goyeneche said.
Months later, Hingle awarded Isakson and DRC two additional contracts, totaling about $3 million.
As FOX 8 reported last week, Robert Isakson used to work for the FBI, leading the public corruption unit in the New Orleans office.
"You don't have to be a former FBI agent to know you cannot pay a public official for them to grant you contracts," Goyeneche said.
The emails we've uncovered lay out questionable relationships between a public servant and a private businessman.
"Depending on what could be proven, you could possibly see some indictments coming out," Goyeneche warned.
As Goyeneche told us, the time line is troubling:
Robert Isakson hosted a dinner for Jiff Hingle at the Nicest Steakhouse in Fort Lauderdale;
Isakson telling Hingle no public bid is needed to lease his portable jails;
Hingle's office asking Isakson to host a dinner in Destin;
Isakson saying yes and inviting 100 people;
Isakson loaning Hingle and his driver money, giving them a boat and half a million dollars in oil spill money
Hingle turning around and leasing those portable jails without putting it out to bid.
Hingle's office awarded Isakson two more contracts worth millions. But only the FBI can determine if Isakson, Hingle, Mouriz, and even Darren Angelo, committed any any criminal violation.
At the very least, Goyeneche says, the facts don't look good for Jiff Hingle and Robert Isakson.
"Logic would say that, if Jiff Hingle was just Mr. Jiff Hingle that Bob Isakson wouldn't be paying for dinners, flying him to parties out of state, wouldn't be loaning him money to start up new businesses," Goyeneche said. "He was given that, I think logic would indicate, because he was the sheriff of Plaquemines parish, in a position to assist… in getting contract work, either from the sheriff's office, the parish or other people in law enforcement."