Government & Politics

Will strange bedfellows come back to haunt Billy Nungesser?

Nungesser works the room at the recent Republican Leadership Conference in New Orleans. Photo by Gage Skidmore

Outspoken Plaquemines Parish President Billy Nungesser is picking up endorsements from prominent Republicans as he runs for Lieutenant Governor against incumbent  Jay Dardenne, who is himself a Republican.

The first nod was from U.S. Sen. David Vitter, who called Nungesser a “conservative reformer.” Nungesser responded jubilantly: “Like Senator Vitter, I am a true conservative.”

Clearly Nungesser sees a path to victory on Dardenne’s right and aims to highlight his conservative credentials on various issues, even if they have nothing to do with the Office of Lieutenant Governor (read: Dept. of Tourism). For example, one of Nungesser’s campaign ads borrows from Vitter’s playbook and attacks Dardenne for being an “illegal lovin’ ” liberal who delights in seeing border-crossers “steal” American jobs. How is that smear directly relevant?

Another ad touting Nungesser’s fiscal conservatism features a man vomiting into a toilet. (Maybe the gross-out imagery is a harbinger of the esthetic Lt. Gov. Nungesser would use in TV and print campaigns to market Louisiana? )

The Advocate of Baton Rouge asked Dardenne about Vitter’s endorsement of his opponent, as well as Nungesser’s attacks. He responded:

I wonder if Billy failed to tell [Vitter] that his records of parish president have been subpoenaed as part of an ongoing federal investigation; that he contributed to several national Democratic figures, including Barbara Boxer, one of the most liberal (U.S.) senators; and that his marina benefited from BP through the oil spill.

LSU professor and blogger Jeff Sadow complains about Dardenne’s feisty responses to these endorsements and reminds everyone that conservatives question Dardenne’s “character” and his adherence to “conservative principles.”

So we’re being told that Nungesser is the principled politician and Dardenne is the Republican with character problems?

Good gracious.

Sometimes I wrongly assume everyone remembers James Gill’s Jan. 12, 2003,  column in The Times-Picayune, but it appears only a few do. Here’s a refresher: Gill was describing the end of the Canal Street brothel case when he disclosed an intriguing little nugget (my emphasis):

The cathouse caper is over, not with a bang but a whimper. When the feds threw in the towel, you’d almost have suspected they had something to hide….

At the hearing, attorneys on both sides said that the list of brothel customers provided by the madam includes Billy Nungesser Jr., son of the former state Republican Party chairman.

Had the case gone to trial, therefore, defense attorneys were evidently prepared to argue that acting U. S. Attorney Jim Letten, if he wanted to be confirmed in his job, had an apparent incentive to go easy on the johns, since the elder Nungesser is an old hand at doling out federal patronage.

The elder Nungesser, however, stepped down as party chairman 10 years ago, and may no longer be quite the force he was in the old days when time came to appoint a new judge, say, or U.S. attorney. Neither Nungesser Sr. or Jr. could be reached for comment. Whether the threat of a recusal motion would have been enough to induce fear and trembling at the U.S. Attorney’s Office is hard to say.

Now, some may remember the time Vitter appeared on Jeff Crouere’s WGSO radio show and famously denied extra-marital relations with prostitutes. Later, after Vitter’s phone number implicated him in the D.C. Madam scandal, Jeanette Maier– New Orleans’ own Canal Street Madam — told the press that Vitter was also one of her clients. Jim Letten made the unusual move of telling the press that Vitter’s name “never surfaced” on Maier’s list (which doesn’t preclude the possibility that Vitter was a client before she began compiling a list to protect herself). Vitter never came back on Crouere’s conservative talk after the scandal broke.

There’s an interesting parallel here because Nungesser, like Vitter, was confronted about prostitutes on Crouere’s radio show, denied any association, and never again appeared on the program. Talk radio enthusiast David C. Bellinger heard the exchange, and recounted it last year in his characteristically restrained manner:

Astonishingly, on the Jeff Crouere program, on AM 990 WGSO on 3/18/2008, Billy Nungesser claimed that he never heard of the Canal Street brothel! And Nungesser has been a stranger from the Jeff Crouere talk program ever since -– quite a feat considering I know of no “bigger” publicity hound than Nungesser!

Furthermore, Nungesser has not accepted a challenge to undergo a lie detector examination when challenged to such by the Canal Street Madam – Jeanette Maier – and if the James Gill column is in any way or manner whatsoever a “slanderous” falsehood” — then why has Billy Nungesser not filed a libel suit against James Gill, The Times Picayune, and Jeanette Maier, hummmmm!!!!!!!

Bellinger then refers to another radio show where the Nungesser topic was broached, and a caller named “Shirley from Kenner” asked, “Where did Jeanette Maier ever find a woman willing to have sex with a ‘whale’?”

Ouch. As parting shots go, that one must be judged offensive on several levels. First, it’s juvenile to make fun of a fat man’s weight. Second, it’s sexist to assume that all prostitutes are women.

Maier has told me and others, in more than one conversation, that Billy Nungesser Jr. was on her list because he was a client of hers. In fact, she said this on Crouere’s show, which prompted him to call Nungesser, to get his reaction. Nungesser said that he’d never been to the Canal Street brothel (which might be true, since Maier occasionally took her act on the road to events like fishing rodeos).

But don’t take my word for it. She told WWL the same thing in a story that no longer appears in the archives (my emphasis in bold):

Canal street madam says Billy Nungesser Jr. was a client
Posted: Tuesday, 18 March 2008 3:10PM
Jay Vice Reporting

Jeanette Maier, the so-called “canal street madam,” says that her brothel serviced Billy Nungesser Jr., president of Plaquemines Parish, before he was a political figure.

Maier claimed today in an interview with WWL that Nungesser visited her establishment in the 1980s, and that his father, a long-time political figure, had to pay Nungesser’s $10,000 tab at the brothel.

Maier says the recent revelations about NY Governor Spitzer was one reason she’s making these allegations about Nungesser.

“I’m tired of the girls (prostitutes) going to jail,” said Maier. “I’m so sick and tired of the men walking away.

In a written statement, Nungesser said:

I have never been to that establishment. These allegations came up before and are old news; they started years ago when the political enemies of my father tried to attack him. During my campaign, my political enemies tried to revive those same allegations. I say then as I say now, I have never been to that establishment.

I’ve been told by two different associates that Dardenne’s camp was “trying to find” this information on Nungesser. Wow, what a crack team of researchers he must have! I wonder how much they’re getting paid? Let’s see, the state’s largest paper wrote about it in 2003, then Nungesser’s denial was broadcast throughout the metro area in 2008, then WWL reported on it, and the rest of it was preserved on the internet through the magic of bloggers.

The dirt’s out there, if you’re looking for it. But few apparently are. And the major media haven’t touched the topic this time around. All the while Nungesser is receiving endorsements from conservative pols and, also on his website, touting an endorsement from a conservative blog that once advised Louisianans not to re-elect Vitter because of his whoring. (We all saw how that advice panned out.) Worse, political analysts like Sadow raise question marks about Dardenne’s character while not considering the amply available evidence against Nungesser.

It used to be that Louisianans looked past questionable character in politicians as long as they were “one of us” or could crack a joke or play the political game like a round of Texas hold ’em. But now it seems like conservative Louisiana voters will forgive all sins as long as pols present themselves as consistently hard-right ideologues. Or worse: “character” itself is being redefined — collapsed, really — into an all-too-narrow, hard-right political box.

Dardenne might become the victim of this unfortunate phenomenon, unless he decides to get dirty (perhaps at Friday’s debate), or unless larger media outlets decide to resurrect the prostitute stories. The stakes are high, because neither of these men see their political future ending in the lieutenant governor’s office. Ultimately, they’re vying to succeed Jindal.

Nonetheless, Dardenne shouldn’t act surprised when Nungesser gets an endorsement from the likes of Vitter. As we’ve seen, Vitter and Nungesser aren’t such strange bedfellows. Not at all.

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About Mark Moseley

Mark Moseley blogs at Your Right Hand Thief. Until mid 2014, Mark Moseley was The Lens' opinion writer, engagement specialist and coordinator for the Charter Schools Reporting Corps. After Katrina and the Federal Flood he helped create the Rising Tide conference, which grew into an annual social media event dedicated to the future of New Orleans.

  • Who is this “James Gill” person? I don’t see him anywhere in my Facebook “timeline”.

    Also since we are talking about a candidate to run the Dept of Culture, Recreation, and Tourism, it may be possible to argue that Nungesser brings a rich depth of experience to this position.

  • – “Bellinger then refers to another radio show where the Nungesser topic was broached, and a caller named “Shirley from Kenner” asked, “Where did Jeanette Maier ever find a woman willing to have sex with a ‘whale’?””

    She didn’t find a woman, she found young, black males according to Jeanette. That’s from Jeanette’s mouth to my ears. She could have been exaggerating but she stated it nonetheless.

  • Mark Moseley

    Thanks for the comments!

    I hadn’t considered Jeffrey’s point about brothels providing useful experience to those in charge of Tourism bureaus.

    And to Dambala: I may or may not have heard the same thing. But either way I think the paragraph under the one you quoted clearly states that prostitution is not a gender-specific profession.

  • Kevin

    Is Nungesser married? Does he have any brothers?

  • sobieski

    Here’s what I find really interesting about that 1/12/03 Gill column:

    So in that hearing Gill references reporters obviously heard the details of at least some of the names in the black book but the ONLY one to report on it back then, even at the TP, was Gill? It was up to the op-ed guy to do the reporting? And then it never got mentioned in the TP again? Isn’t that a tad bit unusual?

    Also this, from your comments in your YRHT blog: “
    Other very prominent members of the local media visited Canal St. back in the day, though.”

    In light of what has been revealed at WWL-AM the conflicts in local media require further exploration, don’ you think? Talk about compromised.

    Also hats off to Slabbed (again) for giving citizens a medium where such reports do not forever get lost in the vapors of the disappeared ether.

    By the way the 9/27/10 and 10/17/10 TP’s did report attacks from the Democratic Party and Nungesser “opponents” about Nunny & the brothel.

    Nunny replied, “I didn’t go to the brothel ; I didn’t know it was there,” he said. – 9.27.10 TP. – So you can add that to your list.

    As a further note, you need to go back and look at the two mentioned in that Gill article: Ralph Wadleigh and Michael Reine.

    Especially Wadleigh. He was a campaign contributor and property owner in St Tammany, was also into horse racing (for instance he was in at least one business with Bryan Krantz of Fair Grounds, Aaron Broussard Nova Scotia real estate investments & Endymion fame (12.2.95 BR Advocate). What you may have there is Gill providing one degree of separation. Look up his companies, such as Wadleigh Energy, Harley Oil & Gas, etc, and then think about where Nungesser and his pop made their money (oil, gas, marina & offshore services) and wonder, just ask, if maybe they knew each other. Or ask who else he knew. I *don’t know (just a hunch), but heck if you’re interested given the sliver of info that Gill and no one else dribbled out that might be the place to start. Point being, this started in business & corporate circles, not political ones.

  • sobieski

    Again, from Gill:

    “Ralph Wadleigh and Michael Reine now await sentencing for a “petty offense,” which is misdemeanor lite.

    The feds, meanwhile, invoked the White Slavery Trafficking Act to indict a corporation owned by Reine . The corporation thus became a convicted felon and must pay an $80,000 fine because it is legal owner of a boat on which Wadleigh and Reine were alleged to have entertained their clients with hookers on a trip from Louisiana to Mississippi.”

    Then Gill transitions into the part about the Nungessers.

    It didn’t all happen *at* the brothel itself.

    Shades of St Pierre, no?

    My guess is that Gill slipped this by the editors who were probably clamping down on everything like hawks. Or sharks. Or wolves. Well, you get the idea.

    Shades of Meffert & St Pierre, no?

    So who would be on an oil & gas company pleasure cruise, eh?

  • Mark Moseley

    Sobieski writes: “It was up to the op-ed guy to do the reporting? And then it never got mentioned in the TP again? Isn’t that a tad bit unusual?”

    Yes I find that unusual. I don’t mind breaking news in an opinion piece, though– in fact, I think it’s pretty cool, but this instance was odd because it was almost like an aside in Gill’s piece, and seemed to go un-mentioned in the straight stories for years afterwards.

    “By the way the 9/27/10 and 10/17/10 TP’s did report attacks from the Democratic Party and Nungesser ‘opponents’ about Nunny & the brothel.”

    That’s true. After publishing my post I did see stories about this issue flaring up last year which escaped my notice at the time. So, while it undercuts my position a little bit, it does seem strange that there’s been relative silence on the issue since Nungesser is running for state-wide office.

    In addition to the T-P stories you mention was this CNN profile from around the same time, which I’ll excerpt:

    “As for accusations concerning the Canal Street brothel, Nungesser, who brought it up, shakes his head. He denies ever visiting it, adding, with a Billy-esque grace note, ‘I was single and didn’t know it was there. If I knew at the time that it was, I probably would’ve went.’

    “Married once briefly (nine months), he’s been engaged through all the crises of the last five years. He promises that when he gets through this one, and ‘if we don’t have another hurricane or anything else destroyed,’ then he’ll start ‘planning’ a wedding again.”

    Sobieski writes: “Wadleigh and Reine were alleged to have entertained their clients with hookers on a trip from Louisiana to Mississippi.”

    Bingo! Notice how Nungesser’s denials are unfailingly location-dependent– “I didn’t know [the brothel] was there.”

    So, while Maier’s word shouldn’t be treated as gospel, one struggles to understand why she would randomly malign Billy jr by plucking his name out of the air (over a decade ago) if they had no dealings.

    As for the “further exploration” suggestion. I feel like I’ve put enough clues out there at the ole YRHT blog, for now. Obviously, I’m much harder on hypocritical public officials who make policy rather than… um… others. I appreciate the friendly push, though, even if it’s in the tender of the back.

  • sobieski

    Hey man, no problem, thanks for the reply. I did not mean to suggest you should explore the issue further necessarily, just a reminder generally how reporters aka journalists have more conflicts than readers are aware of. Personally I’m saying it should be explored when considering reporting or lack thereof on any given issue.

    The reporters, gotta love `em: what they don’t report could fill….well an internet:

    “The FBI determined that the brothel got business from some of the city’s fancy restaurants and about 50 hotels, according to court documents.” – 1.10.03 TP

    “Lawyers for Wadleigh and Reine said they would not release a list of customers, thought to include prominent athletes, restaurateurs and lawyers.” – 1.10.03 BR advocate

    “He [Letten] said Wadleigh and Reine were exceptions because of their role in hiring prostitutes to participate in a party on a yacht traveling from St. Tammany Parish to a **casino** on the Mississippi Gulf Coast.” – 1.10.03 TP

    “The FBI determined that the brothel got business from some of the city’s fancy restaurants and about 50 hotels, according to court documents.” – 1.10.03 Biloxi Sun Herald

    “FBI wiretaps determined the brothel got business from some of the city’s fancy restaurants and about 50 hotels, according to court documents. The brothel received calls from *****the Fairmont, the Ritz Carlton, LePavillon, the Wyndham, the Hilton and the Hampton Inn on Convention Center Boulevard, according to the government’s wiretap application and FBI summaries of taped conversations. It is not clear whether the calls came directly from hotel guests or hotel employees acting on guests’ behalf. Eleven calls were made between the brothel and Windsor Court, FBI documents say. Wiretap reports written by agents suggest Windsor Court employees were lining up guests with prostitutes, and at least two calls involve a contact referred to as “Dave from Windsor Court.” One entry dated Sept. 13, 2001, says that Maier told Taylor: “Girl needs to be at the Windsor Court at around midnight, Room 1117. Don’t send her until David gets back. The customers are tugboat owners who have a lot of dough. Jeanette says $300 an hour.” – 12.5.02 TP

    “As expected, the last defendant in the case that took down a Canal Street brothel and uncovered a loosely knit but high-end national prostitution network, pleaded guilty to a reduced charge and finally put an end to the much-talked about case. What wasn’t expected was that former Windsor Court doorman David Candilora would plead guilty in ******Jefferson Parish to a state misdemeanor. Candilora, 40, pleaded guilty Thursday to soliciting prostitution for directing guests to the $300-per-hour Canal Street bordello. It is not clear on what grounds Jefferson Parish had the jurisdiction to handle Candilora’s prosecution, but Steve Wimberly, first assistant district attorney in Jefferson, said he was asked by the U.S. attorney’s office to take the matter off its hands. … “He was the doorman at the Windsor Court, and from time to time, people he knew as regular guests would say, “Where can a guy go to have a good time?” Fanning said. “He didn’t get any money for it. He wasn’t on the payroll at the brothel. He didn’t get paid by the johns.” ” – 1.11.03 TP — I only mention this because: (1) well it turns out that there was at least one local/state prosecution after all; (2) why this guy?; (3) why in ***JP when the hotel was in Orleans and so was the brothel? A DA can’t just pick up any ol’ charge he likes, there has to be some connection between the crime and the parish he represents.; (4) and how the heck did this supposed ‘just a doorman’ get ****Pat Fanning as an attorney?

    One last theory about how politicians (Spitzer, Vitter) etc seem to get into this call girl / prostitute mess so often when they have so much to lose and so many options: This kind of service is a very easy way for campaign contributors and those seeking influence to gain bonus points with a politician. It’s out of sight, no one knows, it’s a “gift” as no cash is involved, and not only are the pols probably thankful for the good time they had (which probably involves a whole lot of other partying) it also probably makes them more inclined to answer calls and hear special request because even though it need not be said fact is they probably cannot help but remember that those on the other end of the line are very likely to never forget the facts of those given evenings. My guess is that is really what’s going on here; gratis “girls at the door” or at the party who in theend can end up being more powerful or influential than any $5,000 donation or max contribution could ever be. And once hooked there’s no getting away from it.

  • sobieski

    Sorry, one more:

    Have you ever seen the ACTUAL address of the brothel reported?

    I have always seen it reported as the “4300 block of Canal Street” or something similar.

  • sobieski

    Ok, one more:

    The address was 4332 Canal Street.

    In an odd twist WDSU is usually the source for this address, but it has since been by the looks of it edited from their site’s reports on the brothel.

    Now, try to find that address in the Orleans Parish assessor’s site or in the TP archives’ real estate transactions or any other reference in the TP to it.

    Ok, so who owns – or owned in around 2001 – 4332 Canal Street?

  • Mark Moseley
  • sobieski

    Of course. Thanks.

    Speaking of which, as an oh by the way, I am surprised this hasn’t hit Library, Slabbed or anywhere else yet:

    Thanks again for the replies, great writing and information, have a great weekend.

  • Mark Moseley

    Thanks for the comments! Glad you were inspired to sink your teeth into this one.

    As for the story you linked to, there was some snark about it at the (now substantively dormant) YRHT blog

    And Hurricane Radio did something with it here

    Have a great weekend, too.

  • sobieski

    Well here I am again because this is so damned interesting.

    Turns out Hugh Aynesworth is the source for that report.

    I don’t know if you know who Aynesworth is but he just so happens to have been one of the leading reporters, maybe the first nationally, who blew the lid off Orleans DA Jim Garrison’s faux-JFK-investigation-travesty for Newsweek.

    Time magazine also later did a piece basically detailing the influence of Carlos Marcello on New Orleans and Louisiana politics, including of course the notorious DA but also folks like Gov. John McKeithen.

    Aynesworth’s knowledge of such things goes way back.

  • Billy has 2 sisters:
    Heidi Ann Nungesser Landry
    Nancy Ann Nungesser who was with the U.S. Attorney’s office in 1998.
    One brother Hugh, & I found this info on him…
    Nungesser Industries
    36290 Rheusaw Crawford Rd
    Pearl River, LA 70452

    1 review of the business…

    Hugh Nungesser pulled his company(Nungesser Industries) truck out right in front of us causing a wreck.. a police report was filed. He assured us his insurance would handle our damage. His company Insurance was cancelled 4 months prior to accident!!!! We had over 4000.00 in damage… He then gave his word to pay us 1500.00 and two weeks later pay another 1500.00. He did pay the first 1500.00, over a year later we are still waiting.. Hard to talk to someone when they stop taking your calls…Nothing but headaches… How can a company not have insurance??????

    He is currently engaged to Cher Taffaro
    His wedding has been put on hold by several disasters, beginning with hurricanes, Nungesser said. A reporter recently asked him if God was trying to tell him something about the engagement.
    “Maybe,” Nungesser said.
    The day Nungesser’s fiancee saw the article, there was a bowl of dog food with a fork in it waiting for him on the dinner table.
    “I told him he was in the doghouse,” said Cher Taffaro, though she says it was all in fun.
    “That’s the thing about him, he makes everybody laugh,” Taffaro said. “He wakes up in the morning happy, singing in the bathroom.”

    Her Dad is Craig,Sr…Chief deputy for JP
    sheriff’s Office & her brother is Craig Jr….The feet washin’ politician in St. Bernard Parish….

  • sobieski

    About Nancy Nungesser, I think it was she who received one of those Tulane scholarships back in the day?

    By the way about Vincent Marcello and shades of John Georges: check out whose signs are hanging on his decrepit properties:





    In November 2002, government and defense lawyers met in Judge Lemelle’s chambers and squared off over the secret customer list. Defense lawyers, convinced the government was treating their female clients unfairly, threatened to go public with the men’s names. According to one of the lawyers in the judge’s chambers,

    the one name that kept popping up during the tense meeting was that of the son of the former head of the Louisiana Republican Party.

    The pressure in the room was explosive. Suddenly, Assistant U.S. Attorney Gaynell Williams, one of the lead prosecutors, lurched to her feet.

    “I don’t feel very good,” she said. “I think I need some air.” She staggered toward the door and just barely made it into the hallway when she toppled over. As she fell, her face hit the wall. Her eyebrow spilt open and blood poured down her cheek. Lawyers rushed to her side. Someone fanned her. Someone else tried to stop the bleeding. Moments later, an ambulance arrived and medics carted off the government attorney.

    After the brothel case became the butt of late-night talk show jokes, the feds brought in a pair of ringers. Al Winters and Bill McSherry, a couple of seasoned federal prosecutors, stepped in and started negotiating a deal. The prosecutors who had indicted the case, Sal Perricone and Gaynell Williams, dropped out of sight.

  • Patricia

    Gotta wonder…..WHAT uspet Gaynell Williams SO MUCH? Whose name did she see?
    Hubby perhaps?
    He is Bobby Marzine Harges …lawyer with Adams & Reese

  • Patricia

    “The trial was scuttled at the last minute when defense attorneys prepared motions to force the publication of the customer list and, perhaps, force

    *****the U.S. attorney’s office to bow out of the case because of the connections of two of the johns.*****

    “After those revelations, two veteran prosecutors . . . took over and began crafting plea offers that defendants couldn’t refuse.

    The most creative plea bargain was given to the only two customers to be charged . . . Originally facing felony charges for hiring hookers for a party on [the yacht of one of the defendants] as it crossed state lines from Louisiana to Mississippi, the two men were allowed to plead guilty to an obscure maritime law characterized as a ‘petty offense.’ Under the unusual arrangement, the boat – a 41-foot Sea Ray named Crime Scene – pleaded guilty to a felony and the corporation that owns the boat was fined $80,000.” (There are additional reports in the Times-Picayune, including one in the issue of April 24, 2003.)

    It’s amazing what creativity even the Feds can come up with when they are too embarrassed to proceed to trial.

  • Patricia

    AND/OR…..Eddie Jordan or BOTH & Then some!?..
    It is apparent that the reason the contents of the “book” were sealed was because of a DIRECT CONNECTION”S” with Gaynell Williams.

  • Bro Keith “X” Hudson

    This dude has no morals or principles, and apparently
    that’s acceptable, because he got paid by BP, for using his marina, at the same time he was blasting BP
    about the mess they created. Yet, NOBODY, even the LENS didn’t pursue this, and I wonder WHY?

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