When Internal Revenue Service agents interviewed former Jefferson Parish Sheriff Newell Normand in June 2016, most of their questions centered on his side business with his chief deputy, Craig Taffaro.
Their investigation resulted in Taffaro's conviction last week on federal charges that he evaded tax liabilities by inflating his expenses in the partnership with Normand. Normand was not charged in the case.
Yet the agents’ interest extended beyond Normand’s business with Taffaro, a newly released government memo shows. Toward the end of an hour-long interview at Sheriff’s Office headquarters, the agents began questioning the sheriff about why he was paid $3,000 each month by a company controlled by a politically active businessman.
Normand told them that developer Joseph Georgusis' firm New Product Development LLC was paying him for his advice on real estate deals, according to the memo, which summarizes their conversation. The document adds that "Normand is not (a) realtor and he does not have a real estate company," and that he "only consults on the business side of the real estate deals."
Former Jefferson Parish Sheriff’s Office Chief Deputy Craig Taffaro is the man facing trial this week on a dozen tax evasion charges.
In addition to his $36,000 annual income from the consulting gig, Normand also acknowledged to the feds that Georgusis had contributed a total of $56,000 toward the education of Normand's daughter in 2014 and 2015. The money went into a bank account jointly controlled by Normand; his wife, Shawn Bridgewater; and his daughter. The memo describes the money as a gift.
It is not clear whether the payments from Georgusis' firm continued to flow after Normand abruptly retired in August. The former sheriff yet to file a disclosure form for last year.
Normand declined to discuss the consulting work or the gifts with The Advocate.
“I don’t have a comment. I’m not involved in anything illegal, nefarious or otherwise, as much as you try to make it seem that way," he said.
Georgusis did not return phone calls seeking comment.
The memo was part of the court record of the case against Taffaro, who will be sentenced April 4. Taffaro's attorney, Michael Magner, said Taffaro was not involved in Normand's business dealings with Georgusis.
Normand has said many times that the only place where prosecutors found criminal behavior was Taffaro’s taxes, but the case has shed light on Normand’s business dealings with influential political figures during his 10 years as Jefferson Parish sheriff.
The case centered on a partnership between Normand and Taffaro named CTNN. The firm operated as a broker between the grocery supplier Pelican Marine, which was once co-owned by Lt. Gov. Billy Nungesser, and Harvey Gulf, an offshore oil services company led by politically active businessman Shane Guidry. Nungesser is Taffaro's son-in-law.
An IRS agent described CTNN's deal as a “no work” contract, but over several hours of testimony Normand said that CTNN regularly mediated disputes between its business partners. He has said that he always disclosed the income on state ethics forms and paid taxes on it.
Normand, who earned about $180,000 a year as sheriff, according to his financial disclosure forms, also pulled in an average of $57,000 annually from CTNN between 2009 and 2014.
The red-faced diatribes have covered an array of topics, from the sanctity of "blue lives" to the reluctance of some Jefferson Parish resident…
Normand has been a talk show host on WWL-AM since his retirement as sheriff. He also serves as a paid spokesman for The New Orleans Advocate.
The IRS memo is the first revelation that Normand was doing consulting work with Georgusis, a prolific campaign donor to politicians across the state. While Normand acknowledged earning money for "business analytics" on annual disclosure forms, his filings did not name Georgusis or his firm.
Robert Travis Scott, president of the Public Affairs Research Council, a good-government group, said that state ethics laws require that income which officials receive from any business entities must be reported on page 11 of the disclosure form, titled "Schedule H: Income from Business."
"If it’s coming from a business or anything like that, it's supposed to be reported on Schedule H," Scott said. "The significance of that is that you then have to name the business that's paying you."
That's where Normand lists his income from CTNN, the business he co-owns with Taffaro. But he lists his "business analytics" income on the subsequent page, a catch-all for “other income.” That page does not require that the source of the money be named, only that the type of work be described.
On his forms for 2014, 2015 and 2016, Normand said he received between $25,000 and $100,000 doing “business analytics” for an "investment group."
State ethics laws don't require public officials to list an exact amount on the form. It's not clear if the payments Normand described included the money for his daughter's education. In general, the form does not require elected officials to disclose gifts coming from permissible sources, said Kathleen Allen, an attorney for the state Board of Ethics.
Allen said she always asks one question of politicians wondering if they can take a gift: "Would they be giving it to you if you weren't a public servant?"
Little is known about the work Normand performed with Georgusis, or how many hours a week he devoted to the consulting gig while he juggled his jobs as sheriff and partner in CTNN.
But the developer's support for the recently retired sheriff dates back decades. In fact, Georgusis was the first donor to Normand during his abortive run for sheriff in 1995, before Harry Lee withdrew from the governor’s race and sought re-election as sheriff, the memo says.
Since then, his support has continued: A review of campaign finance documents shows Georgusis and his companies have put $17,500 into the sheriff's election coffers since 2009.
Jefferson Parish Sheriff Newell Normand — the most powerful elected official in Louisiana's second-largest parish — is stepping down to take o…
Georgusis has developed shopping centers across the country, including a number in St. Bernard Parish, where he also built a neighborhood of fishing camps. He also mounted a failed bid to build a casino in Chalmette in the 1990s.
More recently, he developed a long-vacant stretch of land on Veterans Memorial Boulevard known as the "Tolmas tract." Though located in Jefferson Parish's commercial heart, the land was zoned for residential construction, and a dispute over what would be allowed there had raged for decades.
Parish Council member Cynthia Lee-Sheng, the daughter of the late sheriff and a political ally of Normand, in 2014 helped confect a compromise that mollified most of the neighbors and the tract's owners. Most of the portion of the property fronting on Veterans was rezoned for commercial use; it is now a strip mall featuring a bustling Trader Joe's store. The back part and one side of the property remain residential, and homes were built there.
The land also contains a restaurant called The Grille, which is operated by a company formed in 2016 in which Georgusis, Normand and restaurateur Hicham Khodr are members.
Lee-Sheng told The Advocate she knew nothing of Normand’s business with Georgusis and never talked with him about the contentious zoning debate over the Tolmas tract.
“Newell was not involved in that. That was a longstanding problem,” Lee-Sheng said.