By Robert Mann
There is an old saying, “If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.” To that, I would add another saying, “When in doubt, Google it.”
A simple Google search might have saved Lt. Gov. Billy Nungesser and Louisiana Republican Party Chairman Roger Villere a load of trouble and embarrassment.
As The Advocate reported on Sunday, Nungesser, with Villere’s help, cooked up “an ambitious, potentially transformative arrangement that on paper proposes reviving Louisiana’s once dominant shipbuilding industry, creating more than 30,000 new jobs and investing nearly $1 billion into charitable endeavors involving education, health care and housing initiatives.”
As the Advocate further reported,
Despite initiating a global correspondence and telling his letter’s recipients — who included U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and the Iraqi prime minister — that he was working at Edwards’ behest, Nungesser actually kept the newly elected Democratic governor in the dark, both men say.
Instead, Nungesser worked in conjunction with state GOP Chairman Roger Villere on the arrangement. It involves a Lake Charles refinery, a Delaware corporation called Alexandros Inc. and the government of Iraq, according to emails and documents The Advocate obtained in a public records request.
To be sure, it’s unclear what — if anything — the state stands to lose if the arrangement never materializes. Both Nungesser and Villere said they still believe it to be a “real deal” and one that could be of tremendous benefit to Louisiana’s sinking economy. That’s been disputed by the leader of Iraq’s oil export agency, who told a Baghdad-based reporter from The Washington Post that the arrangement was “100 percent not real.”
Edwards’ office has completely distanced itself from the deal and reiterated that the Louisiana Economic Development agency — not the lieutenant governor — is responsible for recruiting new business to the state.
“The Governor’s Office and Louisiana Economic Development have absolutely no knowledge of or involvement in this agreement with Alexandros Inc.,” said Richard Carbo, a spokesman for Edwards, in an email. “While Gov. Edwards will work in a collaborative nature with the lieutenant governor, he has given no such directive for the lieutenant governor to engage in these negotiations.”
In an interview Thursday, Nungesser said he has apologized to the governor for keeping him out of the loop, but he added his biggest mistake was having signed letters that he had not read.
Rather, Nungesser said he believed he was simply signaling his support for new business expanding in Louisiana at the request of Villere, a longtime friend and political ally.
If Nungesser doesn’t get impeached for this unethical escapable it will be because legislators conclude that his crime was more about simple stupidity, not villainy.
It turns out a simple Google search of “Alexandros Inc.” might have raised various questions and red flags about the company. In particular, a quick visit to the website Ripoff Report might have been enough to deter Nungesser.
A May 2013 complaint filed on the Ripoff Report site regarding Alexandros Inc. details what its author alleges was a 2013 scam directed at former Baton Rouge Metro Councilman Darrell Glasper by Alexandros CEO Markos Fuson.
On The Ripoff Report, a Baton Rouge businessman, identified as Terry L. Easley, wrote,
On February 28, 2013, 5:43:20 PM CST Markos Fuson of California, CEO of Alexandros, Inc. A Delaware Corp.[email address] sent, via email, an attachment titled: 0228.pdf (3MB) to a Mr. Darrell Glasper of Baton Rouge, LA [email address] with a subject line of Fwd: SOMO Letter of Attestation. Mr. Glasper forwarded me this same email with the same attachment Thursday, April 25, 2013 8:23 PM.
This three page legal size document (Letter of Attestation) purported to be from the Iraqi State Oil Marketing Organization and was signed by a Mr. Sarmad H. Abd, General Manager of Contracts, SOMO (State Oil Marketing Organization) with a CC: to Alexandros, Inc.and Governor John Percy de Jongh, Jr. (who happens to be the current governor of the U.S. Virgin Islands).
The document was dated 02/28/2013 (the same date it was sent to Mr. Glasper) with an ID number of 11378087 and addressed to Hess Corporation, 1185 Avenue of the Americas, 40th floor, New York, New York 10036, USA. RE: SOMO (State Oil Marketing Organization) Attention: John B. Hess, Chairman of the Board and Chief Executive Officer (CEO).
After presenting that information, Easley commented on what he regarded as the obvious scam that Alexandros was proposing:
FRAUD ON ITS FACE
Having seen official SOMO documents I could tell on its face this document was potentially fraudulent. The SOMO logo was not correct, there was no contact information whatsoever, there was a marked absence of any Arabic lettering and the logo of the State Oil Ministry was missing. The letter referred to SOMO as the “State Oil Marketing Organization” when it is officially the State Organization for Marketing Oil. The content was unlike anything I’d ever seen, you could tell it was put together by an amateur fraudster. It purported to attest to Alexandros, Inc. and its CEO Markos Fuson’s special relationships with the Republic of Iraq and Iraqi Kurdistan and in gushing terms described the company and its “dream team” executives and how honest and connected they were. I had previously been on a conference call with this Markos Fuson and told Mr. Glasper, who arranged the call, he sounded like a name dropping, fast talking con man to me.
Unlike Nungesser and Villere, Easley wrote that he did his due diligence:
Since I am aware that SOMO does not do business this way, through third parties, I sent the suspect “Letter of Attestation” directly to the Iraqi Ministry of Oil for verification on Thursday, April 25, 2013 10:35 PM to: email@example.com Verification Officer State Organization for Marketing of Oil (SOMO) AL- Hay AL-Mou’tasim – District 724 – Street 17 AL-Muthana Street, Adjacent to AL-Resafa fun fai P.O.Box 5118 Subject: Discrete Inquiry: Attempt to Validate a Document Ref: Discrete Inquiry/Attempt to verify purported SOMO document. DATE: 0212812013, ID: 11378087, “Letter of Attestation” by “Sarmad H. Abd, General Manager of Contracts”
QUICK OFFICAL RESPONSE—FRAUD
My letter was sent late at night on the 25th, dated the 26th and responded to on the 29th.
From: somo [mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org]
Sent: Monday, April 29, 2013 8:02 AM
Attachment 61/jpeg (591 KB)
This time the document was on the correct letterhead, with the correct logos, addresses and contact information in both English and Arabic. Dated 29 /4 /2013 with Ref number: M1/7661 (same as in Subject line in email address above). I have substantially reproduced it here:
TO: Mr. Terry L. Easley
Reference to you letter dated 26th April 2013.
Please note the following:
1-The Document attached to your above letter is fraud and has never been issued by SOMO.
2-SOMO has no business relationship whatsoever neither with a company named “Alexandros, Inc” nor with a person called “Sarmad H. Abd”.
3-Our policy is to deal directly and exclusively with End Users (refining system owners) and not through traders or middlemen.
Dr. Falah J. Alamri
Oil Marketing Organization (SOMO) Fax: + 964 1 7726 574 / + 964 1 7742 979
PO Box 5118 Email: email@example.com
Baghdad – Iraq Web: www.somooil.gov.iq
Anyone wishing to see the actual document may email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and request a copy.
REPORTED TO LAW ENFORCEMENT
The alleged fraud was reported to the Baton Rouge/New Orleans FBI office on Friday, May 03, 2013 5:50 PM
The rest of the post is fascinating, including an ugly exchange between Easley and Glasper that apparently ensues after Easley blew the whistle on the alleged scheme. Be sure to read the comments below the original post.
The whole Nungesser-Villere episode is mind boggling on many levels and there is clearly more to this story that has not been reported.
It’s not just that Nungesser and Villere should have known that the Alexandros scheme was probably not legitimate. It’s that the evidence for it was right at their fingertips via Google.