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No Saints In New Orleans

An investigation into Louisiana's senate election discovers alleged payoffs in unexpected places

By James Carney

TIME magazine

(TIME, July 7) -- Woody Jenkins wanted to expose the election fraud that he says robbed him of a U.S. Senate seat from Louisiana. He might have succeeded--if it weren't for a felon named Papa Bear, an alleged prostitute and three witnesses who say they were paid to lie on Jenkins' behalf.

Political skullduggeries are as much at home in Louisiana as crawfish or beignets. Few people in New Orleans believe the November contest in which Democrat Mary Landrieu defeated Jenkins by 5,788 votes was, in its execution, a model of civic propriety. But Jenkins' cause was dealt a serious blow last week when Democrats on the Senate Rules Committee walked away from the investigation he demanded after the election. They had learned that Jenkins hired a two-bit gumshoe named Thomas ("Papa Bear") Miller--a New Orleans operative with a long, sometimes violent criminal record. Papa Bear's job: to troll the New Orleans ghettos in search of "witnesses" to the fraud that supposedly delivered Landrieu her victory. Of the six such people interviewed by FBI agents, three said they were given money by Miller in exchange for pretending that they had cast multiple Landrieu ballots or driven vans of illegal voters around town. The others told such inconsistent tales--one said she spent Election Day so high on cocaine she could barely walk--that agents deemed them unreliable.

Miller denies he paid anyone to lie. Jenkins' lawyer, Mark Seifert, says the candidate was not aware of Miller's record--a manslaughter conviction, a guilty plea to attempted murder, and more--but "we don't really care" about it. Miller is valuable because "he's a guy familiar with how political corruption works in New Orleans," Seifert insists. "We never paid any witnesses, and we directed that no witnesses be paid." Reports that Miller paid a witness to have sex with him and gave another money for heroin are, Seifert is sure, "a lie."

Republican chairman John Warner--wary of offending Jenkins, who is backed by the Christian Coalition--pledged to continue the investigation, although without the Democrats he will have no power to issue subpoenas. Jenkins says the real issue is New Orleans' corrupt Democratic machine, which helped elect Landrieu, whose father was once mayor. The machine, he insists, "tainted the election." That may or may not be so, but Jenkins' "witnesses" tainted the probe. As a serene Mary Landrieu said in the Capitol last week, "You couldn't make this stuff up."