Federal investigators obtained records from Louisiana Gov. Mike Foster in a probe of possible wrongdoing involving a group that qualifies pilots for high-paying jobs guiding foreign ships on the Mississippi River.
A federal grand jury has requested records from Foster's office because the governor commissions the pilots for the work, a spokesman told the Baton Rouge Advocate. One box of records has been submitted and the remainder will be shipped this week.
Operations of the New Orleans-Baton Rouge Steamship Pilots Association have been clouded by controversy due to allegations of political favoritism in the selection of pilots and the falsification of qualification documents.
The river pilots guide foreign ships passing along a busy section of the Mississippi River between Baton Rouge and New Orleans. The base salary for the jobs is $321,324 annually and the licenses are highly prized by mariners who work on the river.
Terry Ryder, Foster's special counsel and deputy chief of staff, told the Advocate he is confident there was no wrongdoing in the governor's office. He said there has been a power struggle ongoing within the pilots' association.
The subpoena sought records about river pilot pay negotiations, the apprentice selection process and river pilot disciplinary issues. The group's board of examiners is required to ask the governor for permission to investigate violations of its rules, neglect of duty allegations and cases of drunkenness.
Two of three members of the examiners board recently lost their jobs after deciding to support only eight pilots in 2001. Another association faction wanted 44 new pilots.
The Coast Guard opened the investigation last year after allegations that some pilot apprentices elected to membership fraudulently obtained Coast Guard licenses by falsifying information.