A company owned by state Rep. Girod Jackson filed for bankruptcy this week on the same day that Jackson was supposed to appear in court to explain why his firm hasn't paid a $65,000 judgment to a Kenner family.
The controversy surrounding Jackson’s private business dealings comes during a federal investigation triggered by Eyewitness News in May. WWL-TV analyzed the hours Jackson billed for work on the state's Small Rental Repair Program in 2012, while he was also voting in the legislative session, andEyewitness Investigates found that taxpayers were billed a full eight hours of his time, even on days when he spent a dozen hours or more at the House of Representatives.
When we confronted Jackson about a day in which he would have had to work 24 hours straight for the hours he billed to be accurate, he said: “Give me credit for the herculean effort then.”
But Theresa Moss of Kenner says Jackson was no Hercules when she hired his one-man company, Diversified Ventures, to build her Kenner home.
Moss said she couldn’t get Jackson to address problems with the work by subcontractors on the job, and he would say he was busy in Baton Rouge.
“So if he couldn't do 24 hours over here and do a herculean effort for me, he wasn't doing it over there either,” Moss said.
She said she started getting suspicious the work was shoddy, and she hired two engineering firms to review it. They found more than 50 items that were not up to code or needed repairs.
“Once he did the frame up, and the subfloor went down is when the problems started,” Moss said. “That was the first time I had questioned anything he had done because the floor felt flimsy. Not only did he use quarter-inch plywood, he didn't even have it nailed down properly.”
Moss sued Jackson and Diversified Ventures, and in 2103, she won a $65,000 judgment against the company. But it's never been paid.
Tuesday, the same day Jackson was scheduled to appear in Jefferson Parish court to explain why he hadn't paid, Diversified Ventures filed for bankruptcy in federal court in New Orleans.
Jackson told the bankruptcy court that his company owes $165,000 in back taxes -- a huge debt for a firm that claimed to have only made $25,000 each of the last two years. At the same time, he said the firm has just $50 in assets in the bank, even though he also claimed it had suddenly made $99,000 in the last six months.
In the bankruptcy case, Jackson acknowledged owing Moss a debt, which was awarded in arbitration and confirmed by the 24th Civil District Court. But the amount he acknowledges owing is $55,000, not $65,000 plus the interest that’s accrued since last November.
We showed the filing to Moss.
“It's wrong,” Moss said. “That's wrong. He is off about $10,000, and we’re not talking about interest steady accruing on this here and legal fees. That's not right.”
Contacted by phone Thursday, Jackson said the bankruptcy and the lingering debt with Moss and her husband were private matters. But after we pressed him about the details, he accused Moss and her lawyer, Regel Bisso, of trying to take advantage of him because he is a public official.
“There is a case being filed against Ms. Moss and her attorney for defamation and particularly against Regel Bisso for unethical (conduct), so if you want to be added to the defamation keep trying to make it out of public office when it's not. Beause you're trying to attack my character for a private business matter and it has nothing to do with my political office.”
After fighting for years to get her judgment against Diversified Ventures, and thinking that this week’s hearing would bring the case to an end, Moss was visibly frustrated.
“(I) hung in there for (my) money. (I) knew (I) was right. (I) won,” she said, choking back tears. “And (Jackson’s) going to run and file a bankruptcy? What does that say about his character? Because we’re talking about character and we’re talking about ethics here,” Moss said.
Jackson’s private business dealings have been the subject of multiple government audits, but he’s never been charged with any crimes or ethics violations. The state legislative auditor twice questioned work Diversified Ventures did before Jackson became a legislator, both times with deals that involved then-Jefferson Parish Councilman Byron Lee.
One cited more than $100,000 his company got from the Jefferson Sports and Scholastic Foundation for services that foundation employees reported were not delivered and could not be substantiated.
And another report raised concerns about Diversified Ventures’ billing to the parish for staffing at Jefferson Community Health Care Centers.
In both cases, the auditors found Lee’s relatives benefited from the nonprofits’ dealings.
Diversified Ventures’ listed address on Lafayette Street in Gretna is a small office occupied by Le Nouveau Construction, owned by Byron Lee’s brother-in-law, Eric Thompson.