Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Antie's Ethical Antics: Corruption revisited

Un-freaking-believable. The swagger of Ed Antie defies imagination; from the lead paragraphs in the Advocate story:
The insider who some say was most responsible for canceling an $80.6 million federal grant to build high-speed Internet capabilities in rural Louisiana has asked the Ethics Board for clearance to rejoin the Board of Regents. 
“Ed Antie is the guy that killed high-speed Internet for 400,000 poor people in Louisiana. The Board of Regents wanted it. He did more to damage that than any one person in Louisiana,” said Foster Campbell, of Bossier Parish and one of five elected members on the state Public Service Commission.
First, as the article makes crystal clear there is no possibility that the Jindal administration will touch Antie with a 10 foot pole anymore—no matter how much money he and his pals amass for their side in the political arena. So this is all about Antie insisting he should feel pride when others clearly understand that shame would be the appropriate emotion.

Some Background
Lafayette Pro Fiber covered this back in '11 when the story originally broke;  that report tells more of the sordid tale.

To recall the outline: The Louisiana Board of Regents had applied for, and won, a grant to supply the state's poorest parishes in the delta region of northeast Louisiana with a backbone fiber-optic network. That area is radically underserved, and what connectivity does exist is in the hands of a few men who, lacking the resources, or perhaps simply the will, to expand the fragmented networks usefully are milking lines laid down during the dot com boom for monopoly-level profits but not reinvesting in substantial expansion in the impoverished region.

It is critical to understand two things that this new network would have done. First, it made portions of the insider leases that formed LONI, the state's academic network connecting the state's universities through the area, redundant. But—even worse— the new capacity would have been open to lease and extension by anyone since it was paid for by public money that mandated open networks. That meant actual competition could emerge throughout a region for the services monopolized by a few players who used their ownership of the decaying physical network to remain virtually sole providers in their small areas. Under the new setup any entrepreneur who thought he or she could do a better job than the old boy networks could connect to the shiny new network and compete at rates somewhat nearer the national norm.

At the behest of Antie and his friends in the telecomm business the Jindal administration intervened in the project and simply changed the deal unilaterally. Their new idea (surprise) entailed cutting out all that nonsense about a new, single, pervasive, open network in favor of  a version that took the money but spent it leasing the old fragments and creating a network that would explicitly not be open. A closed network obviously violated the letter of the law. In addition, the grant rewrite violated the spirit: the stimulus grant was intended to build new capacity and create immediate construction jobs. The astonished Feds had no choice but to cancel the grant.

Mission accomplished: "400,000 poor people in Louisiana" would not get access to a modern high-speed network. But the old boy network would continue undisturbed.

Antie's Role
Antie's sin was being blindingly obvious. The man from Carencro turned into an embarrassment. He was among the six Board of Regents' members who, it was revealed, had paid into the Jindal campaign immediately after receiving their appointment. The usual order for this specie of corruption is for the applicant for a public position to have paid into the campaign before getting the job and, preferably, before their candidate has won the position. Post-paid is, well, unseemly. It looks disturbingly like you paid for a seat.

The way the Regents work is that you get appointed and start the job but you then have to be approved by the Senate. That's usually a rubber stamp deal. Senators don't argue with the Governor over his appointees. At least not in Louisiana. At least not usually. But this time was different. Antie had spent his early days as an appointee politicking the board and the administration by phone and (most traceably) by email demanding that the state do something about the no good, terrible, very bad federal grant to bring broadband to impoverished Louisiana. It wasn't the idea that taking money from those communities was ok if it would hurt in any way someone's private profits—as the subsequent history of the grant proved. It was being so damnably blatant about pandering to his self-interest that led Antie to the woodshed.

Antie's Board of Regent's Photo
The senators came prepared to Antie's hearing. They knew about the internal emails and they knew about his ownership interest in leases to the state's LONI network. They grilled him. An observer of the Louisiana scene at that time would have to have understood that Jindal et al. had already cut Antie loose. The senators had surely secured at least tacit agreement from Jindal to cut this man down to size. But then he lied to the senators. That sealed his fate. Louisiana Voice reproduced his testimony (follow the link and search "Things got ugly early.") What you'll find is testimony that was certainly intentionally misleading and one which the senators obviously took as simply a lie.  First he denied that he had any contracts with the Regents. Then, when asked, he admitted that he did have an ownership interest in Sun America (understating that interest) and claimed he didn't know anything about their contract with the state, claiming the holding company he owned that owned part of it was "dormant." The heart of the exchange:
“First you said you had no contractual relationship with the state and now we find that your company has a $531,000 contract with the Board of Regents,” Murray said. “You said you didn’t know, but you said you approached Gray Sexton for advice on your apparent conflict.
“In terms of ethics, you may be breaking the law,” Murray said.
Sen. Lynda Jackson (D-Shreveport) observed that Antie claimed that Central Telephone was dormant. “Yet, when you check corporate records with the Secretary of State’s web page, it shows that Central Telephone is in good standing, which means it has filed annual reports,” she said. “Its last report was November of 2010 and it shows that you are the registered agent.”
It is simply incredible that Antie still doesn't appear to understand that what he did was wrong. Even in Louisiana open self-dealing is considered bad form. It's actually technically illegal! And there are still those among us who think it is actually wrong—shamefully wrong.

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