New Orleans Inspector General Ed Quatrevaux issued a report today blasting a cozy wife-hire arrangement between Orleans Parish Sheriff Marlin Gusman and family friend Administrative Judge Paul Sens. The hires, first reported earlier this year by The Lens and our reporting partners at WVUE-Fox 8, reeked of “impropriety” but were not criminal, the report concluded.

I.G. Quatrevaux

As disclosed in our earlier coverage, Paul Sens hired Renee Gusman to counsel  marijuana offenders in his court.  Around the same time, Sheriff Marlin Gusman hired Ann Sens, a real estate broker, to conduct appraisals for his weekly sheriff’s sale of foreclosed and other properties. Renee Gusman was paid about $30,000 in public no-bid money for her services; Ann Sens earned about $90,000 in a year of doing appraisals paid for by parties to the sheriff’s sales.

Quatrevaux said he opened the inquiry after seeing the stories about the wives.

Sheriff Gusman
Judge Sens

“The Investigations Division of the Office of Inspector General opened this inquiry after media reports stated that the Administrative Judge of the New Orleans Municipal Court retained the wife of the Orleans Parish Sheriff as a consultant,” the Inspector General’s report reads, “and that the Orleans Parish Sheriff had hired the wife of the Administrative Judge as a consultant shortly before. “

Renee Gusman

“That’s kind of the old New Orleans,” Quatrevaux said in a follow-up interview with The Lens and Fox 8.

“The manner in which the sheriff’s wife was selected was almost cavalier,” he added.

Still, Quatrevaux found no criminal wrongdoing and was unable to draw a clear quid pro quo connection between the hirings.

Ann Sens

“The OIG was unable to substantiate whether or not these transactions were related,” the report’s introduction reads. “The inquiry found no evidence of criminal behavior; both officials had legal authority for the actions they took.  But these actions took place barely a month apart, and created an appearance of impropriety that leads citizens to believe that the criminal justice system is corrupt and diminishes confidence in government in general. Legality is an essential baseline but an insufficient standard for elected officials.”

Quatrevaux said he focused his inquiry mostly on the Renee Gusman no-bid hire, since it used public money to pay her for counseling juvenile marijuana smokers.

“A transparent procurement process engenders trust that public servants are working to get the most value for taxpayers’ dollars,” he wrote, “and strengthens the public’s faith in government.”

Ann Sens was paid by the bank or plaintiff in the foreclosure sales, and earned about $90,000 in appraisal fees over a year – at $150 a pop. Her job was not posted and other appraisers were not considered, despite the fact that she herself is not a licensed appraiser. A public hiring process, complete with job postings, “would be ideal,” said Quatrevaux. “But it’s not required by law.”

According to the Inspector General’s report, Gusman said Ann Sens was not suited for working in the jail, but he knew she was a real estate agent.

He told Quatrevaux that if the Chief Deputy who hired Sens, Peter Rizzo, had not hired her, “the matter would have ended there.”

Paul Sens already had a brother, John Sens, working for the sheriff’s criminal division when Gusman hired Ann Sens to work in the civil division. John Sens name has come up in an ongoing Federal investigation over contracts and questionable purchases at the FEMA-funded temporary jail that Gusman runs. According to published reports, Gusman hired John Sens in 2005 as his director of purchasing, soon after he was elected sheriff. Gusman reassigned him after news of the federal investigation broke.

But when it comes to the wives, Gusman said there was no agreement between him and Paul Sens to hire each other’s spouses. He told Quatrevaux that the idea was “ridiculous.”

“There is no basis in the law or fact to support the presumptions and inferences expressed,” Gusman said later in a statement released through his publicist, Malcolm Ehrhardt.

Quatrevaux’s report, however, was not so quick to dismiss questions about the close-knit hires:

“The Judge and the Sheriff are elected officials in a city in which there is substantial and warranted mistrust of government. The appearance of impropriety leads citizens to believe that the criminal justice system is corrupt and exemplifies questionable government practices. The officials’ actions were poorly documented and provided little information.”

Tom Gogola

Tom Gogola covered criminal justice for The Lens from February 2012 to May 2013. He is a veteran journalist and editor who has written on a range of subjects for many publications, including Newsday, New...