'Tres' Bernhard sentenced to 27 months in prison
A U.S. district judge today sentenced former attorney James M. "Tres" Bernhard III to 27 months in federal prison for committing wire fraud and diverting nearly $500,000 in funds from his former law firm to his own personal use. Judge Brian Jackson issued the sentence after about 20 minutes of arguments in Baton Rouge today, mostly from Bernhard's attorney, Michael Villa, who argued the 36-year-old should receive a sentence of probation, community service and, possibly, home incarceration so that he could continue to receive intensive mental health treatments for a variety of mental and cognitive illnesses. "These are not diagnoses of convenience," Villa said, citing two physicians' reports detailing Bernhard's lifelong history of mental illness. "There is a long history of mental instability … that we are only now seeking treatment for … that should have been sought long ago." Bernhard, son of the Shaw Group founder Jim Bernhard, was present for the sentencing and apologized to his former law firm, his family and the community. "I sincerely regret the events that led me to be here today," said Bernhard, who pleaded guilty earlier this year to the wire fraud charge. The criminal charge was filed last fall, not long after Bernhard settled a civil law suit that had been filed by his former law firm, Crawford Lewis, and some of its clients. That suit alleged Bernhard sold invalid movie tax credits
to third parties then misappropriated the proceeds from the sale, using them for his personal gain. Last May, Bernhard was permanently disbarred. Bernhard must report to prison July 8. Jackson says he will recommend incarceration in a minimum security prison in Pensacola, Fla. —Stephanie Riegel Read the full story here.
B.R. hotels report strong bookings due to Bayou Country Superfest
Occupancy rates at local hotels over Memorial Day weekend have been skyrocketing over the past few years due to Bayou Country Superfest, which is set for Saturday and Sunday of the upcoming holiday weekend. Last year's Memorial weekend occupancy rate for Saturday jumped to 94% from 61% in 2009—the year before the country music festival began—according to a study by Smith Travel Research, which calculated rates using the entire Capital Region. Those healthy numbers are expected to continue with this year's festival, but a local tourism official says the upward trajectory should start to level off. "There's not a lot of room for growth," says Renee Areng, executive vice president of Visit Baton Rouge. "If we were to venture to do just the parish of Baton Rouge, I would speculate (occupancy) will be close to 100 percent." With country acts such as Luke Bryan, Lady Antebellum and Miranda Lambert, the annual event at Tiger Stadium is changing the way area fans of country music spend the weekend that traditionally kicks off the summer. Ralph Ney, vice president of the Baton Rouge Lodging Association and general manager of Embassy Suites on Constitution Avenue, says bookings for this weekend "might be a tad bit off" from last year. "But, hey, it's still really good business for everybody," Ney says, adding his hotel is nearly sold out for Saturday and about 90% booked for Sunday. "Compared to when we didn't have Bayou Country Superfest, where we're at is terrific. Memorial Day weekend and the weekend after used to be very, very slow." —April Castro and Steve Sanoski Read the full story here.
Baton Rouge unemployment rate at 5.9% in April
While Louisiana's unemployment rate rose to 6.2% in April, up from 6% in March and April a year ago, the East Baton Rouge Parish rate fell 0.1 percentage point on the year to 5.9% in April, according to U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics released today by the Louisiana Workforce Commission. The EBR rate in April, however, was up 0.1 percentage point from March. "Non-seasonally adjusted rates bounce around from month to month," notes LWC Executive Director Curt Eysink in a prepared statement. "The long-term trends for Louisiana have been strong for well over two years now and remain strong." Within the nine-parish Capital Region, the unemployment rates last month were: East Baton Rouge Parish, 5.9%; Ascension, 5.3%; Livingston, 5.4%; West Baton Rouge, 6%; East Feliciana, 6.8%; West Feliciana, 7.5%; Iberville, 7.7%; Pointe Coupee, 7%; and St. Helena, 9.7%. You can check out the complete report for unemployment levels in all of Louisiana's metro areas here
Grand jury to review cancelled Medicaid contract
The Louisiana attorney general's office says a special grand jury has been selected to look into possible criminal activity involving the award of a $200 million Medicaid contract by Gov. Bobby Jindal's administration. Assistant Attorney General Butch Wilson told a judge today the grand jury members were being selected as part of an ongoing investigation into the award of the now-canceled contract for Client Network Services Inc., or CNSI. The issue arose during a hearing on CNSI's public records lawsuit, tied to the contract termination. The Jindal administration canceled CNSI's contract in March after news surfaced about a federal investigation. Jindal health secretary Bruce Greenstein, a former CNSI vice president, resigned a week later. CNSI has sued the Jindal administration, alleging breach of contract and saying it did nothing wrong. A CNSI spokesman says the 19th Judicial District Judge Tim Kelley also ruled today that its lawsuit against the state may move forward, despite objections by the state.
CATS to decide on interim CEO interviews Friday
A search committee of Baton Rouge's public transit system, CATS, has set a special meeting at 11:30 a.m. Friday to discuss its process for finding an interim CEO and determine which of the 10 applicants should be interviewed for the job. The meeting, which is open to the public, will take place on the second floor of CATS headquarters, 2250 Florida Blvd. Former CEO Brian Marshall resigned in April after leading CATS since 2009. CATS Board President Isaiah Marshall, no relation to Brian Marshall, has said applicant interviews will also be open to the public and the full board will also be invited to ask questions. No additional candidates beyond the 10 the board already identified will be considered for the interim position, which Isaiah Marshall has also said will be filled on May 30.
B.R. charter boarding school reports big improvements on state tests during first year
Baton Rouge's first and only charter boarding school, THRIVE, says the percentage of its inaugural class of sixth grade students testing at a "basic" level improved in all four core subjects. In the English Language Arts test, the percentage went from 12% to 67%; in Math, 47% to 89%; in Science, 0% to 50%; and in Social Studies, 12% to 78%. At the same time, THRIVE reports the percent of its students testing at a "mastery and advanced" level jumped from 0% to 17%. At THRIVE, which had a sixth-grade class only during its inaugural year, students stay overnight at the school five nights a week and return home on the weekends. "The scores reflect the dedication of the students, faculty and staff," says EBR School Board member Craig Freeman in a prepared statement. "THRIVE is a unique and valued option for students in EBR. I have witnessed first-hand the dedication of everyone in the building. I am excited that their hard work paid off." The school has posted its complete testing results online here
NOAA predicts 'active or extremely active' hurricane season
It will be an above-average hurricane season this year, according to an outlook issued today by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. The forecast by NOAA is for "an active or extremely active season this year," with a 70% likelihood of 13 to 20 named storms, seven to 11 of which could become hurricanes—and three to six of them measuring at Category 3 or higher. The ranges are well above the seasonal average of 12 named storms, six hurricanes and three major hurricanes. The six-month hurricane season begins on June 1. NOAA has more details on its forecast here
Senate rejects move to stop Common Core standards
The Louisiana Senate has killed a resolution that sought to keep the state from using a set of uniform national standards for public school testing, called Common Core standards. The action today came a day after the Senate Education Committee advanced the proposal without taking action. Senators voted 27-8 to shelve the legislation and keep it from moving any further. The standards are a set of guidelines for student learning at each grade level that have been adopted by 45 states. They are being incorporated into the standardized tests given each spring to Louisiana's public school students. Opponents criticize use of the standards as states abdicating local control of their curriculum to the federal government.
La. education chief wants single diploma
The state's top education official says Louisiana should offer one high school diploma with two possible tracks, rather than the three types of diplomas schools currently offer. "Graduating from high school in Louisiana is too complicated for parents, counselors, teachers, and students," Superintendent John White says. "We should have one simple diploma that connects directly with the workforce and the four-year colleges." Currently, Louisiana students can earn one of three diplomas: Core Four, Basic or Career. Core Four is supposed to prepare students for college, but its requirements don't line up with TOPS, the Louisiana Department of Education says, and the Basic and Career diplomas don't prepare students for high-demand careers
. Instead, the state might offer one diploma with two tracks: technical career education and four-year college preparation. The technical path would include junior and senior year education within "high-growth, high-wage employment areas" needed in a student's region. Technical colleges, local industry, and high schools would provide courses. The department has scheduled public meetings about the ideas this summer, including one at 9 a.m., June 20, at Baton Rouge Community College, to gather input before crafting a formal proposal to bring to BESE in the fall. Changes would affect students who start high school in 2014, and regions would fully develop junior and senior coursework by 2016. A "Jump Start" option will be available for regions ready to move more quickly, the department says.
Sports roundup: Six named to LSU Athletic Hall of Fame … Former Tigers pitcher Gausman to make MLB debut tonight … LSU makes offer to Snoop Lion's son
Headed to the hall:
Five former LSU standout athletes and one former coach have been elected to the LSU Athletic Hall of Fame, the school announced today. The new inductees to are legendary men's basketball coach Dale Brown; first-team All-America and Olympic baseball pitcher Kurt Ainsworth; two-sport basketball and track standout Frank Brian; national champion diver Ashley Culpepper-Gluck; three-time All-American gymnast Amy McClosky-McGinley; and All-American volleyball setter Daniela "Dani" Reis. The six honorees will be formally inducted the Hall of Fame later this year on a date to be announced. LSU has more on the announcement and all six inductees here
.The big show:
Former LSU right-hander Kevin Gausman will make his Major League Baseball debut tonight in Toronto when he takes the mound as the Baltimore Orioles starting pitcher against the Blue Jays. "We're trying to win," manager Buck Showalter says of his decision to call up Gausman from the minor leagues after just eight starts. "And we think he can help us." Gausman is the fifth former LSU player coached by Paul Mainieri to reach the big leagues. The others are pitcher Louis Coleman, pitcher Charlie Furbush, pitcher Ryan Verdugo and infielder DJ LeMahieu. LSU has more details here
.Lions and Tigers:
LSU has extended an offer to Diamond Bar (Calif.) wide receiver Cordell Broadus, son of infamous hip-hop legend Snoop Lion (formally Snoop Dogg). The Times-Picayune
reports it is widely expected Broadus will visit Baton Rouge, a city his father knows well. In 1998, Master P purchased a house for then Snoop Dogg in Baton Rouge after the rapper signed with No Limit Records. Still, Broadus, has continued to make his own name following strong performances in the Army National Combine, as well as other national events. In addition to LSU, Broadus now holds offers from UCLA, California, Duke, Oregon State, Washington and Tennessee. The full story is here