NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - Despite advice not to hire supporters, Entergy went ahead and did so anyway. That's more information included in the public records FOX 8 requested from City Hall. Those documents concern accusations that Entergy paid actors to support its proposed power plant in New Orleans East.
Entergy signed a contract with the Hawthorn Group in October 2017. But even before they signed, there were email conversations about getting fake supporters to the City Council meetings.
Entergy said the company official who signed the contract was a procurement specialist and had no role in public outreach or public relations with the New Orleans East project. However, Hawthorn is a self-described public affairs company. And in its contract, the company states that it may employ contractors and subcontractors to complete the work for Entergy.
It appears some of that work included paying people to voice support for the plant at council meetings.
In an email discussing turnout at the Oct. 16 meeting, Hawthorn's president, Suzanne Hammelman, discourages Entergy.
She wrote that her company "generally does not recommend this type of stand-alone effort." Entergy's communications manager and main point of contact with Hawthorn, Yolanda Pollard, said they would go ahead with the plan, anyway.
Pollard wrote, "Other tactics will be placed and running in the background," including newspaper ads announcing the meeting.
In an Oct. 3 email, Hammelman confirmed the supporters and speakers would be there. She attached the costs for hiring 75 supporters, including 10 speakers, and T-shirts for all of them. Hammelman specified it would not be Hawthorn coordinating, but rather, "a local grassroots organization" to "recruit and manage" speakers and attendees.
Thirteen days later at the Oct. 16 meeting, Entergy paid $16,000 to Hawthorn to pay the "ground team upfront."
How much the actors were paid was noted in a phone conversation. In early May, when word of paying actors leaked out, Entergy spoke by phone with the Adam Swart, the CEO of a company called Crowds on Demand.
Hawthorn admitted to hiring that company to coordinate the actors at the meetings. According to the conversation notes, Swart said the actors signed non-disclosure agreements, were mainly recruited through social media, and were paid in either gift cards or cash between $100 and $200.
Hammelman, the president of Hawthorn Group, said over the phone there was a misunderstanding with Entergy and they deeply regret it.
FOX 8 reached out to several council members. They said they did not want to comment until the investigation is complete.