The business dealings involving a large oilfield-services company run by the Old Metairie businessman Shane Guidry and a food-brokerage consultancy owned by Jefferson Parish Sheriff Newell Normand and his chief deputy have attracted the attention of federal investigators.
As it happens, Normand and JPSO Chief Deputy Craig Taffaro — who have both said they’re not targets of the federal probe — aren't the only public officials doing business with Guidry’s firm, Harvey Gulf International Marine.
Harvey Gulf has also become one of the first clients of a nascent offshore supply business started in late 2014 by state Rep. Cameron Henry, R-Metairie, who chairs the House Appropriations Committee and was very nearly elected House speaker this year.
There’s no evidence that the feds are scrutinizing Henry’s dealings with Harvey Gulf, which the legislator describes as minimal thus far, amounting to roughly $9,000 in sales.
Henry described his business, called Henry Industrial Supply LLC and based in his Metairie residence, as one that’s just getting off the ground.
He said Harvey Gulf is one of about four customers to date to purchase "consumables" — disposable items like gloves, goggles and rags — from his company, which serves as a middleman between offshore firms like Harvey Gulf and wholesale suppliers. All told, the company has sold about $33,000 worth of goods, Henry said.
Henry described the business like this: Offshore firms that need certain products ask companies like Henry Industrial for a quote. Then, Henry Industrial calls a supplier, asking whether it has the items in stock, what the price would be and when they could be delivered.
Then Henry Industrial calls back to the offshore company. If the terms are acceptable, Henry Industrial calls the supplier back and has the items shipped to the buyer. Henry Industrial never touches the materials.
Decisions about where Harvey Gulf should purchase such items likely fall well below Guidry’s pay grade, Henry said. “It’s not like I’m calling Shane, or Shane’s calling me,” he said.
Guidry said by email that if Henry wasn’t providing good prices, he wouldn’t get any work.
“We allow any qualified company to bid to provide services to my companies,” he said. “If they are not the best price for apples to apples, no matter who you are, you will not receive the business. If you are constantly too high in your bids, you can be taken off the bid list by my management, as it costs money to manage vendors.”
Henry Industrial Supply is a partnership between Henry and Ron Patron Jr., whom Henry described as a friend from college. Though Henry is the listed contact for the firm and it’s based out of his home, he said Patron is actually the major owner of Henry Industrial.
Henry said he has no prior experience in the offshore supply business, whereas Patron does — in fact, he actually runs his own offshore supply company, SEC Wholesale Distributors, in Opelousas. The idea to start Henry Industrial was Patron’s, Henry said.
“He saw the need for it — saw that everyone was charging exorbitant margins,” Henry said. “We figured if we could keep our overhead low, we could make some money selling these products.”
Patron did not return calls seeking comment.
So far, Henry hasn’t reported on his annual financial disclosure forms that he’s made any money from Henry Industrial.
Henry’s primary job is as a project manager for a consulting firm that he and his wife own called Think Nola, which according to Henry’s financial disclosure works to market the Federal City project in Algiers.
Henry said sales for the young firm haven’t been as robust as he had hoped, something he attributed to a variety of factors. Among them is that he has been tied up with nearly constant legislative sessions and thus unable to devote much time to the business. More important, perhaps, the oil industry has been in a deep decline, slowing spending across the sector.
“We hit it at a bad time,” Henry said. “We went in when oil was at a much better place. Sales aren’t where we’d like them to be.”
Guidry has been a player in Jefferson Parish and state politics for nearly two decades. In 1999, he ran for Parish Council with the support of then-Jefferson Parish Sheriff Harry Lee against incumbent Butch Ward in what was then the most expensive such race in parish history, with Guidry pouring more than $1 million of his own money into a losing effort.
Guidry has long served as a reserve deputy at the JPSO, a volunteer role.
More recently, Guidry has expanded his political portfolio as a key financial backer for newly elected state Attorney General Jeff Landry. Guidry served as co-chairman, with Normand, of Landry’s transition team. Guidry now is on staff as a member of Landry’s cabinet, serving as special adviser to the attorney general in a part-time role while remaining CEO of Harvey Gulf.
Through an attorney, Guidry said he plays no role in a new “Super PAC” that promotes Landry and that shares a listed business address with Harvey Gulf. The lawyer, Michael Thomas, said the address was also used by an independent accountant who did work for the PAC, called Louisiana Citizens for Job Creators. The PAC has since switched accountants, but officials forgot to change the PAC's address, Thomas said.
Records show Guidry and Harvey Gulf have donated $125,000 to the pro-Landry PAC, about a quarter of the money the organization has raised to date.
In his role as the chief budget architect for the House, Henry turned some heads this year when he mounted an unprecedented and ultimately unsuccessful campaign to get the new attorney general a budget free from gubernatorial oversight. Few legislators were briefed about the plan ahead of time.
Henry said he saw no conflict in doing business with the AG’s right-hand man while stumping for more autonomy for that office.
“First of all, Shane’s a constituent,” he said of Guidry. “And No. 2, I advocate for everybody’s budget, not just the attorney general’s.”
The House passed the separate budget for Landry that Henry wanted, but Gov. John Bel Edwards, a frequent sparring partner of Landry’s, called the proposal unconstitutional and promised a veto if it passed. Ultimately, the Senate would not go along. and Landry’s budget again fell under the executive branch, as it always has.
Henry noted that in the final budget, Landry’s office wound up taking a bigger cut than most state agencies. But other legislators said the cut was directly attributable to the effort to segregate the office’s budget.
Henry also said – echoing previous statements – that the concept of distinct budgets for every statewide elected official originated not with Landry but with Secretary of State Tom Schedler, R-Mandeville. But Schedler asked not to be included when the House pursued the idea.
Henry said his gambit was “misperceived” by many as an attempt to do a favor for Landry. Even if the autonomy was something Landry wanted, Henry said, “it’s insulting to think that I would do that just to sell him $8,000 worth of stuff.”
Landry said in a statement to The Advocate that he had been unaware that Henry had business dealings with Guidry’s firm. But the relationship didn’t trouble him. He noted that Harvey Gulf does business with thousands of employees, contractors and vendors.
State Rep. Walt Leger — a rival of Henry’s this year for the position of House speaker, a contest neither of them won — said the best way for politicians to avoid questions about potential conflicts is to voluntarily make them public.
“The safest thing to do is to disclose,” said Leger, a Democrat from New Orleans. “If you disclose a potential conflict you may still be able to participate in debate and vote. When you don't disclose, you run the risk of it popping up later, and people say, 'what's this about?' My take has always been: if it's a close call or even could appear to be, you should disclose it."