Forensic Linguistics

Jack Hitt:

The story begins with a prominent New Orleanian named Fred Heebe. And naturally, this being the Big Easy, Heebe has a long relationship with his antagonist in the case, a lawyer named Jim Letten. Both were candidates for the U.S. Attorney appointment for the Eastern District of Louisiana in the earliest months of the Bush Administration. Letten got the job, and had been serving in that post until last Tuesday.

So, in 2001, Heebe went off to make his own fortune. After Hurricane Katrina, Heebe and his company, River Birch Landfill, began to win numerous contracts to handle garbage—suddenly a very lucrative enterprise. One contract in particular seemed to attract the office of the U.S. Attorney, Heebe’s old nemesis Jim Letten. In 2009, River Birch won an exclusive contract with Jefferson Parish for the next twenty-five years. The deal involved a hundred and sixty million dollars, and even a pledge that the Parish would close their own public landfill for the duration of the deal, making River Birch the exclusive provider for the next quarter century.
But soon River Birch’s deals began to look rotten. A state official pled guilty to conspiracy for accepting bribes from an unidentified landfill owner, suspected to be a River Birch executive. More federal indictments came in, including charges of mail fraud and money laundering against Dominick Fazzio, River Birch’s C.F.O. (Fazzio pled not guilty; he will go on trial in April.) Though no charges have been filed against Heebe, and he maintains his innocence, Letten’s investigation into River Birch has continued.