By Ann C. Logue
Politicians like to sputter “but what about Chicago?” whenever there’s an outbreak of gun violence or political corruption in their community. The city looms large for its shootings (outsized because of our population) and its sleazy politicians, not for its art museums or Nobel Prize winners. But here’s the thing: The Art Institute of Chicago is an amazing museum. Any town can have corrupt politicians.
Which brings us to Sterlington, Louisiana. I’ve never been there, but I suspect that it’s the kind of place where the populace thinks Chicago is a hell-hole even though Sterlington has a higher crime rate (58.5 per 1000 residents, compared to 34.6 per 1000 for Chicago). And you know what? No Chicago mayor has been nabbed for securities fraud, either.
This week, the SEC charged the town of Sterlington, Louisiana; its former mayor, Vern A. Breland; the town’s unregistered municipal advisor, Twin Spires Financial LLC; and Twin Spires owner, Aaron B. Fletcher, with misleading investors. In 2017 and 2018, the town of Sterlington held municipal bond offerings for the sewer system that raised $5.8 million. The SEC alleges that the offerings misstated the costs of the project and the ability of the town to repay the bonds, and that money was misdirected to a sports center.
Breland was elected mayor in 2006 and resigned in 2018. While he was in office, the town added $20 million in debt and misspent at least $3 million. Breland has also been charged by the state with malfeasance in office. The town agreed to a cease-and desist order against future violations. Twin Spires and Aaron B. Fletcher have agreed to pay undetermined fines and civil penalties. Breland is contesting the SEC’s allegations.
By the way, if you’re looking for something great to watch this weekend, check out All the Queen’s Horses on Amazon Prime. It’s the story of the largest municipal fraud in the US, in the town of Dixon, IL. Again, not Chicago! In fact, corruption can be a bigger problem in smaller communities where people trust each other and don’t want to call out their friends, and where there are not competing media outlets looking for a big scoop.