The panel that oversees travel trailer sales in Louisiana acted within its authority when it suspended certain rules that ultimately allowed a politically connected River Ridge company to receive $100 million in federal contracts after Hurricane Katrina, the state’s inspector general says.
The Associated Press reported that the Louisiana Recreational and Used Motor Vehicle Commission also acted properly in its investigation of the company, Bourget’s of the South, according to the report.
The inspector general looked into accusations that the 13-member commission, appointed by the governor, improperly allowed sales of new trailers and mishandled a formal complaint about the company, which is owned by the father and an uncle of state Rep. Gary Smith, D-Norco. In the aftermath of Katrina, Bourget’s, which sells motorcyles and is licensed to sell used trailers, received more than $100 million in federal contracts to provide new trailers for Katrina evacuees.
Shortly after the Aug. 29 storm, commission executive director Jack Torrance suspended a long-standing practice of limiting RV dealers to sales of new trailers for which they have a franchise agreement with a manufacturer or distributor, according to the report. Many dealers benefited from that suspension of the practice, which the commission approved for Sept. 20 through Dec. 31.
But the commission ruled that Bourget’s contracted for the sales before obtaining a license that allowed it to sell new as well as used trailers.
In clearing Torrance and the commission, Inspector General Sharon Robinson said attempting to protect “dealer territories” by only licensing those RV dealers who submit franchise agreements may be illegal. The report suggested the commission seek a formal opinion from the state Attorney General’s Office.
Also, the inspector general said the commission didn’t mishandle a formal complaint lodged by RV dealers against Bourget’s. The commission fined Bourget’s $46,000 for selling 211 trailers to FEMA without first obtaining the correct license to sell new trailers.
Lawyers for Bourget’s argued against any punishment, saying the company didn’t need the upgraded license because Gov. Kathleen Blanco had waived certain licensing deadlines in the aftermath of the storm.
Bourget’s has appealed the commission’s ruling in state District Court and hasn’t paid the fine.