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Donations Held Hostage

Over $100,000 worth of goods sent for Waveland area relief sit locked in a warehouse in Bay St. Louis that are supposed to be distributed to those in need. The problem? The owner of the warehouse won’t release them to either the 501(c)(3) or the legal owner of the goods.

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  GCN Special Report

Waveland Controversy
Waveland Mayor Tries to Distance Himself from Story on Donation Investigation
Says Sun Herald Story on Donation Incorrect, Denies Sending Employees

by Keith Burton and Mark Proulx - GulfCoastNews.com    Filed 1/19/07  Updated

A story published January 17 in the Sun Herald newspaper has all of Waveland talking. The city's mayor is backtracking on his comments of an investigation over the handling of donations the city has received, as well as Waveland city employees being used in an improper effort to obtain records.

The controversy hangs the Waveland Police Department out as being involved in an improper action, which may not be warranted as the story runs deeper than the facts suggest. The incident was also clearly not an official police action.

The Sun Herald story by Ryan LaFontaine titled, "Donation investigation: Waveland cops try to seize relief files in Bay" details an alarming account of how Waveland police officers, January 2, had gone into nearby Bay St. Louis to the office of Kathleen Johnson, an Illinois native, who has been coordinating volunteer efforts here since September 2005. Johnson has been working with the Waveland Citizens Fund since early August, but had work as an independent Katrina volunteer before coming under the umbrella of the Waveland Citizens Fund.

Quoting the Sun Herald Story:

"Waveland Mayor Tommy Longo said the city's police recently "ran across some evidence" of surreptitious bookkeeping among donation coordinators and that the department is conducting its own investigation of a volunteer believed to be skimming from misdirected donations and inflated grants.

Longo said police wanted to sift through files and records in the warehouse to see where and how donations have been collected and distributed.

"We're not supposed to talk much about it yet, because there's been implications of a federal and state investigation," the mayor said. "We're watching over the citizens' well-being, and nothing pisses me off more than someone coming in here and taking advantage of our people."

But this is only part of the story. GCN has been able to independently confirm many of the facts in the Sun Herald story, but there is more, much more. And now it appears that Longo is trying to back away from his statements. We know this from an exclusive interview with Tommy Longo, which GCN recorded.

The Sun Herald story does not indicate who the Waveland officers were, except to identify them as "Waveland cops."

GCN has been able to determine from Bay St. Louis police and other sources that there were only two Waveland officials that were at Johnson's office, Director of Public Works Ron Calcagno, and officer John Saulterelli. There was a third individual present, but he was not a city employee. Officer Saulterelli was not in uniform according to all accounts.

GCN contacted Calcagno about the incident and asked who had sent him to Johnson's office.

 "I am not going to comment," Calcagno said. "You will have to talk to the mayor."

The Waveland "seizure" was blocked after a call was made to Bay St. Louis police. The incident then defused when it was determined by Bay St. Louis authorities that there were no warrants, or any other documents that would allow the records to be "seized."

The Sun Herald story was sourced by interviews with Mayor Longo, and with Kathleen Johnson and others. GCN has contacted LaFontaine, who stands by his story and the quotes from Longo and others.

In the interview with GCN, Mayor Longo denied sending anyone to Johnson's office. He also denied that any city employees were involved. He also said the Sun Herald story was made by an "over-zealous" reporter and had factual errors.

"There are some people trying to use the media for their own issues..."Longo said early in the interview. Later, Longo was asked specifically about the incident.

GCN: What did you need the records for?

Longo: I didn't send the officers down there.

GCN: The City doesn't need those records?

Longo: No, It doesn't have anything to do with that. I didn't send any officers down there.

Longo goes on to question how long Johnson had worked as a volunteer in Waveland saying that he did not even know her until about three months ago. "Who is Kathleen Johnson?" Longo asked.

Longo should know. According to Johnson, Longo awarded her for volunteerism in a city proclamation in August and there is evidence of her work online on the Waveland Citizens Fund website last summer. Longo also said that Johnson had never worked at any of the city trailers in the City Hall complex. Johnson said the office she worked at until last month was near the mayor's office at the city trailer park and that she attended numerous meetings with Longo.

As to the investigation cited by Longo and Johnson, GCN could not confirm any ongoing investigation by Waveland, or with federal or state officials contacted by GCN. That does not necessarily mean that there isn't an investigation as law enforcement officials routinely deny investigations whether they are underway or not.

But when asked directly about any such investigation, Longo said at first, "No." But then said that he called a federal agency over some concerns.

GCN's complete, unedited audio file is available below. The file is 3003kb, and runs approximately 15 minutes. On most computers with high-speed connections, the file should start almost immediately.

To hear GCN's exclusive interview with Waveland Mayor Tommy Longo - Recorded 1/17/07 following the city's Board of Aldermen meeting. CLICK HERE

Update 1/24/07: Mayor Tommy Longo continues to backtrack on his statements. In a Sun Herald article "Longo Waging War Over Records" published Jan. 24, Longo says he still has questions regarding Johnson and the records and says he sent the city employees. The article also quotes Joan Coleman, the president of the Waveland Citizen's Fund as being fully supportive of Johnson. Coleman says she helped Johnson move records out of the city's building on the advice of the fund's attorney.

Update 1/26/07: Waveland Mayor Tommy Longo continues to make misleading statements, and perhaps outright lies over his conflict involving donation records with Waveland Katrina volunteer Kathleen Johnson. In a story published in the Sun Herald Jan. 26, Longo still insists he didn't know Johnson until three months ago, when public records clearly show that he had awarded her for her work with the city last August. Longo has made false statements to the news media over the incident, saying one thing to a reporter with the Sun Herald and another to GCN. At the center of the dispute are some 800 files that are the property of Johnson that Johnson compiled while working out of trailer at the City Hall complex. The files contain personal information on residents that asked for help as well as information on donated materials received and disbursed during the period Johnson was working at her office, next to Longo's, that he had provided for her.

Additional Information

Sun Herald Article - Donation investigation: Waveland cops try to seize relief files in Bay - 1/17/07    http://www.sunherald.com/mld/sunherald/news/16477287.htm

Sun Herald Article - Waveland: Request for audit by state loses steam - 1/18/07 http://www.sunherald.com/mld/sunherald/news/local/16486038.htm

Sea Coast Echo Article - Longo Grilled About Charity - 1/19/07

Sun Herald Article - Longo Waging War Over Records - 1/24/07

Sea Coast Echo Article - Waveland Donations Stuck in Warehouse - 1/23/07

Sun Herald Article - File feud of Longo, Johnson escalates: Whose files are these, anyway? - 1/26/07

Sun Herald Article - Care Taker, or Just Taker? - 1/31/07

Sea Coast Echo Article - Volunteer Served Time for Fraud - 1/31/07

Waveland Citizens Fund Website - http://www.wavelandcitizensfund.org/

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