Lee Zurik Investigation: Plaquemines Parish woman demands federal probe

Published: Apr. 2, 2014 at 8:38 PM CDT
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Robert Isakson (inset) and Jiff Hingle
Robert Isakson (inset) and Jiff Hingle

A woman who's been helpful in government cases in Plaquemines Parish is asking the U.S. attorney to put resources into the parish.

"The people in Plaquemines are growing tired," Michelle Wilcox tells us.

Wilcox is not your typical Plaquemines Parish resident - how many others have a huge piece of paper sprawled across the floor of her home, documenting the connections of the parish's elected officials and some vendors?

Those connections include the one between former parish Sheriff Jiff Hingle and former FBI agent-turned-businessman Robert Isakson. Wilcox says people are growing tired because of cases like this.

Our investigation into Isakson and his relationship with Hingle began two years ago. Wilcox says the FBI and the U.S. attorney began a probe, so far with no outcome. They have not prosecuted and Wilcox says they haven't closed the case.

"Two years is too long," Wilcox says. "He's a former FBI agent."

Our stories showed that the former FBI agent owned a Mobile-based disaster recovery firm called the DRC Group, and through that company he loaned Hingle and his driver, Brandon Mouriz, $100,000 after the BP oil spill to start their own equipment rental company. Isakson also got them a boat 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 or to facilitate future contracts to that vendor, I think you may be approaching the criminal line with that," says Rafael Goyeneche, who heads the Metropolitan Crime Commission.

At the same time Isakson was paying Hingle and Mouriz money, Sheriff's Office records show Hingle's office leased portable jails and a boat from Isakson, and awarded DRC with two lucrative contracts.

FOX 8 legal analyst Joe Raspanti told us two years ago that the money flowing back and forth presented a problem for both.

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

Right now, it's unclear where the FBI investigation stands. That leaves Wilcox feeling frustrated.

"The fact that everybody surrounding Sheriff Hingle had a contract or some type of involvement with Isakson... it's frustrating," she says.

Wilcox sent a letter to U.S. Attorney Kenneth Polite, asking him to investigate Plaquemines Parish and questionable relationships like the one between Hingle and Isakson.

According to Wilcox, the FBI has been in Plaquemines for a while. Wilcox was subpoenaed in 2011 and told the FBI about alleged corruption in the parish regarding boats after the BP oil spill.

"They got boats from Grand Isle, they got boats from everywhere over here but Venice boats," one resident told us that year, "people who live here, who know the waters."

After the oil spill, we showed how Plaquemines fishermen were frustrated that they were out of work and couldn't get their boats on for post-spill clean-up.

Our stories revealed a boat list of who was selected for clean-up work. That list showed that many people connected to elected officials with boats, including deputies in the sheriff's office, were the ones getting the work.

Wilcox hopes her letter gets the U.S. attorney's attention. "We need somebody to take us seriously, from outside the parish, to come in and effectively look at the things that we have concerns about," she tells us.

She hopes, if any of the allegations are criminal, the U.S. attorney will move forward to help clean up a parish hit hard by recent disasters.

"I just want the fair shot for Plaquemines Parish, to have somebody come in, an outside agency," she says, "and look at the corruption that we have proof of and take action."

Isakson no longer owns the DRC Group, having sold it recently to another party.