[StBernard] Today's crooks pale in comparison: James Gill
westley at da-parish.com
Wed Apr 14 09:41:32 EDT 2010
Today's crooks pale in comparison: James Gill
By James Gill
April 14, 2010, 6:55AM
The ghosts of Judge Leander Perez and Doc Meraux must be consoling each
other somewhere over the decline of the acquisitive Louisiana politician.
As today's School Board members and parish councilmen traipse off to prison
for taking relatively modest payoffs, Perez and Meraux will be shaking their
hoary locks in remembrance of the golden age.
They didn't deal in modest amounts, but more or less grabbed a parish
apiece. And neither was so much as arrested. Theirs, even by Louisiana
standards, was an unholy alliance.
Whatever their posthumous sentiments may be, they were certainly in cahoots
when Meraux was sheriff of St. Bernard and Perez was DA there and in
The titles did not do justice to their autocratic powers. Meraux was boss of
St. Bernard, where, by the time he died in 1938, he owned practically every
inch of undeveloped land. How he managed that is unknown, but it was
probably not entirely due to prudent management of the salary he earned
enforcing the law and collecting taxes.
Meraux's fortune, and his wife's assets, passed to their son Joseph, who
died childless in 1992. Old Doc Meraux may not have any real heirs, but he
does have spiritual ones in the courthouse gang, who are pocketing the loot
out of a fund where it resides supposedly for the benefit of the St. Bernard
Doc Meraux would doubtless have approved. After all, if he wanted the people
to get the revenues from the land, he wouldn't have snaffled it in the first
In the neighboring principality, Perez was not so interested in accumulating
real estate. He was perfectly happy to leave land in public ownership, so
long as he could steal the oil revenues. His family continued to slurp it up
after he died in 1969, but Plaquemines Parish government finally tumbled,
filing suit in 1983. The suit was settled five years later when the heirs
paid back $13 million - a fraction of what the parish had claimed - and
turned in leases worth about $2 million a year.
The politicians of today cannot be expected to match those depredations
because the feds, the press and the public are much more vigilant than they
were when Perez and Meraux were lords of all they surveyed. But the board
administering the Meraux millions is proving quite adept at lining its own
When Joseph Meraux died in 1992 he left everything to Arlene Soper except
his name. A judge nevertheless decreed that she was his "putative" widow,
and she went henceforth by Arlene Meraux. Now possessed of property worth as
much as $250 million, she wrote a will leaving it to a foundation that would
operate for the public benefit in St. Bernard. The only board members she
appointed were niece Rita Gue and her husband.
Arlene Meraux was well past the spring chicken stage in 2002, when Rita Gue
sought to have her declared incapable of handling her affairs. The case was
allotted to the Hon. Wayne Cresap.
Nobody knew at the time that Cresap was a crook, although nobody should have
discounted the possibility either. He certainly didn't object to crooks
himself, entrusting the evaluation of Arlene Meraux's to Dr. Paul Verrette,
who had been convicted for issuing bogus prescriptions and remained on
Verrette, with another psychiatrist concurring, testified that Arlene Meraux
was gaga, clearing the way for Cresap to appoint a curator. His choice for
this eleemosynary mission was his old friend and supporter, attorney Sal
Gutierrez, who promptly tried to kick the Gues off the board, although he
abandoned the attempt shortly before Arlene Meraux died in 2003.
Gutierrez added Sheriff Jack Stephens to the board and prominent St. Bernard
attorney Sidney Torres III joined sooon thereafter. The board has since
dispensed about $3.5 million to worthy causes, but no cause is worthier to
the board members than their own wallets. Stephens could hardly have a more
blatant conflict of interest; he holds long-term commercial leases on
foundation properties. The other board members are paid $120,000 a year
each, while the foundation also provides moneymaking opportunities for
friends and relations.
The board is self-perpetuating and meets privately once a week. The work is
harder than the public realizes, according to Rita Gue, who finds it sad
that her "aunt's dream to set up this foundation to help the people of St.
Bernard gets criticized."
But her aunt's dream was surely not to shower money on the well-heeled
cronies of a corrupt judge. Cresap is prison-bound for taking bribes to fix
bonds, and the Meraux/Perez kleptocracy is not forgotten.
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