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A politically connected motorcycle shop didn’t have a license to sell travel trailers when it started providing $108 million worth of post-hurricane housing to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), according to The Advocate, Baton Rouge.
The Louisiana Recreational and Used Motor Vehicle Commission on Tuesday (Nov. 15) found that Bourget’s of the South violated state law when it sold trailers to FEMA without proper credentials. Bourget’s is owned by the father and uncle of state Rep. Gary Smith, D-Norco.
The commission decided against an offer by the uncle, Glen Smith, to plead no contest and pay a $10,000 fine for selling the trailers without the proper license. The commission voted 8-1 to reject the offer and hold a full hearing, possibly next month.
Bourget’s, in River Ridge, got a $2.4 million contract to provide FEMA with 105 travel trailers 12 days after Hurricane Katrina hit southeast Louisiana. The contract has swelled since then to $108 million to provide 6,416 trailers.
“It’s the magnitude of it that disturbs me personally,” said commission member Henry Smith.
Commission investigators found that Bourget’s bought 211 travel trailers from dealers throughout the United States, then sold them to FEMA – all without a license to sell new recreational vehicles.
The company bought trailers from dealers in Metairie, Mississippi, Missouri, Indiana, Kentucky, Georgia, Arkansas, Florida and as far away as Ontario, Canada.
The initial FEMA contract was awarded Sept. 8. Bourget’s didn’t get a license that allowed the firm to sell the trailers until Oct. 18, according to commission documents.
The investigation followed a complaint by Steve Bordelon, a St. Bernard Parish RV company owner who alleged Bourget’s got an “inside deal” because of political connections.
The legislature is considering a proposed law to require elected and some appointed officials to reveal when they or their close relatives benefit from federal hurricane-recovery contracts.
Glen Smith, who is also chairman of the Louisiana Airport Authority, said the contract came about because of his family’s long-standing relationships with FEMA through another company that does dredging, debris removal and other work.