Louisiana news briefs
Heroin found in fire extinguishers on bus
BATON ROUGE (AP) — East Baton Rouge Parish sheriff’s deputies searching a commercial passenger bus with a K-9 unit uncovered nearly 16 pounds of heroin — all of it hidden in two fire extinguishers.
Casey Rayborn Hicks, a Sheriff’s Office spokeswoman, says deputies pulled the bus over Tuesday morning for a traffic violation on Interstate 12 and searched the luggage compartment for drugs with a dog named Jumma.
When Jumma alerted the deputies to a narcotic odor, Hicks says the deputies found the two fire extinguishers that held nearly 16 pounds of heroin in plastic bags.
Deputies arrested 26-year-old Juan Vasquez, of McAllen, Texas, on a count of possession with intent to distribute heroin.
2 bodies found in Lake Pontchartrain
NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Authorities worked to determine whether two bodies found in Lake Pontchartrain on Wednesday were those of the men aboard a small plane that is believed to have disappeared into the water a week earlier.
Lt. Col. Jerry Sneed, deputy mayor of public safety, said search and rescue workers found the bodies of the two unidentified men.
One body was found about 7:15 a.m. The other was found just before noon.
The single-engine plane that sparked a search of the lake went missing Nov. 12.
The Cessna 172 was believed to be carrying instructor Burt Lattimore Jr., 50, of Chalmette, and student Aftab Rab, 46, of Mandeville.
Air traffic controllers at New Orleans’ international airport notified the Coast Guard around 8:30 p.m. that the single-engine aircraft was missing with two people aboard. Coast Guard officials later said the aircraft was last seen on radar one mile northeast of Lakefront Airport, a small airport used mostly by private and corporate aircraft.
State, school boards to get pension relief
BATON ROUGE (AP) — State agencies and local school boards won’t have to pay as much next fiscal year to cover pension costs for active employees.
The Public Retirement Systems’ Actuarial Committee approved a $120 million reduction on Wednesday.
The committee must sign off on financial evaluations of the four statewide retirement systems, which among other things, sets the benchmark for investment earnings as well as required employer contribution rates.
State agency contributions to the Louisiana State Employees Retirement System are projected to decline by $62.8 million in the next fiscal year.
Meanwhile, school boards’ contributions to the Teachers Retirement System of Louisiana are anticipated to drop by $46 million and to the Louisiana School Employees Retirement System by $13 million.
The Louisiana State Police Retirement System remains flat.
Deputy suspended, demoted over ticket incident
ST. FRANCISVILLE (AP) — The West Feliciana Sheriff’s Office demoted and suspended without pay a high-ranking captain after he tried to interfere with a deputy issuing a speeding ticket.
Chief Deputy Randy Metz said during a traffic stop on Oct. 29 around 1:30 a.m., Capt. Michael Taylor urged the deputy to not write a ticket.
Metz said that landed Taylor a two weeks suspension without pay and demotion from the position.
Metz says Taylor had previously been suspended for misusing a fuel card that was issued to the sheriff’s office.
Bank takes over financially troubled cemetery
GONZALES (AP) — United Community Bank has moved to take possession of 29 acres of the financially troubled Oak Lane Memorial Park cemetery in Prairieville.
The bank is looking to resell the property after it posted the sole and winning bid Wednesday for the property at a sheriff’s sale.
The bank, which holds $3.3 million in loans that were defaulted on by the cemetery, bid $2.4 million for the property, more than twice the appraised price. Sheriff’s officials say the bank does not pay that figure since it holds the debts owed.
The sheriff’s sale comes as the bank loans were foreclosed on and the Louisiana Cemetery Board is investigating how Oak Lane officials handled money for the graveyard that lies along La. 73 in Ascension Parish.
Judge reduces former St. Gabriel mayor’s sentence
BATON ROUGE (AP) — The judge who sent former St. Gabriel Mayor George Grace Sr. to federal prison for 22 years in 2012 has cut two years from that sentence.
Visiting U.S. District Judge S. Maurice Hicks Jr., of Shreveport, resentenced Grace Tuesday after a federal appeals court in May ordered Hicks to recalculate $6 million-plus in projected monetary losses to the federal government and private investors that the judge used in imposing Grace’s initial sentence.
The same 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals panel that ordered Grace resentenced also affirmed his 2012 convictions on racketeering, bribery and fraud charges stemming from an FBI sting operation — dubbed Operation Blighted Officials — involving a fictitious garbage-can-cleaning service called Cifer 5000.
Grand jury indicts 14 for alleged meth ring
LAFAYETTE (AP) — A federal grand jury has indicted 14 people in what prosecutors allege was a major methamphetamine ring that funneled drugs from Texas to south Louisiana.
The 20-count indictment, unsealed Wednesday, is the result of a more than yearlong investigation involving multiple law enforcement agencies in Acadiana.
“I think this case should majorly disrupt the flow of methamphetamine in this part of the state,” First Assistant U.S. Attorney Alec Van Hook said.
Prosecutors allege methamphetamine was purchased in large quantities in Texas and then distributed throughout southwest Louisiana, mainly Lafayette and New Iberia, over several months in 2014.
Agents also seized $5,400 in suspected drug proceeds, a pickup and several firearms, according to information from the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
Drug Enforcement Administration Agent Joseph Shepherd said the case highlights a shift in recent years in the production and distribution of methamphetamine, which has moved from small-scale local operations to highly organized interstate networks.
The case also is further evidence that methamphetamine is now firmly established in the drug culture of south Louisiana, said Iberia Parish Sheriff Louis Ackal, whose agency helped in the investigation.
"At one time, the meth problem was really up in the mountain states," Ackal said.
Now, Ackal said, his deputies are routinely dealing with the drug.
Indicted on various drug-related charges in the case are:
Gary Hunt, 58, of Spendora, Texas; Elliot Jolet, 34, of New Iberia; Anita Desormeaux, 42, of New Iberia; Ko Chanhkongshinh, 37, of Youngsville; Jenee Lynn Hargrave, 29, of Scott; David Lowery, 32, of New Iberia; Everette Dupuis, 39, of New Iberia; Michael Guidry, 44, of Erath; Tyrone Howard, 42, of Youngsville; Kevin Jefferson, 31, of New Iberia; Nared Souphannavong, 29, of New Iberia; Brandi Boullion, 27, of New Iberia; Dewey Migues, 35, of New Iberia; and Corey Freyou, 37, of New Iberia.
Twelve of the 14 people charged have been arrested. Authorities were still searching for Dupuis and Hargrave.