Louisiana Probes Home Elevation Program ~

After picking up steam this year, Louisiana’s program to elevate houses in flood-prone areas using state and Federal funds has come in for significant public criticism. Now, Louisiana TV station WAFB is reporting, the program is facing an official state investigation (“ New allegations of forgery, wrongdoing in elevation program,” by Kiran Chawla). The New Orleans Times-Picayune covers the story here (“State probes home-elevation effort,” by David Hammer). WAFB says two former state contract workers in the program have filed a lawsuit alleging forgery and other misbehavior by contractors and officials involved in the state program. “The two whistle- blowers, Christy Weiser and Greg Pierson, allege there were certain contractors submitting forged bid documents, including charging homeowners for moving gas lines when the particular residences had no gas service.” Pierson charged that one state official, who he did not name, accessed confidential homeowner information from the database of Louisiana’s “Road Home” program for Hurricane Katrina recovery and sold the information to private parties. And as a liaison between general contractor The Shaw Group (who managed parts of the program for the state) and independent contractors who elevate homes, Pierson said he was ordered to funnel work to just one contractor. Weiser and Pierson’s suit alleges that “state officials got gifts to funnel lucrative home elevation jobs to a specific contractor, sold confidential homeowner information for profit and ordered program workers to break the rules so preferred shoring companies would stay ‘happy and quiet,’” according to an August 11 report in the Times-Picayune (“ Elevation grant workers allege corruption in program,” by David Hammer). The state is analyzing some employee emails and has seized one employee’s computer, the Times-Picayune reports. But the paper says the state is also investigating whistle-blowers Weiser and Pierson: “The state has filed its own suit in federal court against Weiser and Greg Pierson for taking program files and sharing them with the media.” WAFB reports, “Federal Judge James Brady issued a temporary restraining order Wednesday preventing the whistle-blowers from giving any more information to WAFB or any other outlet. Brady has scheduled a hearing for Friday morning to determine whether he will force the workers to return the documents the state says they illegally obtained.”