Zurik: Land deal netted politician’s family nearly $500,000

Updated: May. 17, 2023 at 10:01 PM CDT
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NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - A land deal connected to two current politicians has one Jefferson Parish School Board member raising questions about the deal, which he says could only be pulled off with political connections.

“It’s worse than old-school politics. Old school politicians would never sell out the community and children for something like this,” Derrick Shepherd said. “And it’s just a shame.”

In 2017, Jefferson Rise Charter School had an interest in moving the school to a property in Marrero near the intersection of Acre Road and Garden Road in Harvey. The school wouldn’t tell FOX 8 why the deal fell through, but records show the school wanted to purchase the property for $100,000.

About a year later, a business called The Acres Group bought the same property for $30,000 less. Records from the $70,000 deal show the owner of The Acres Group is the only business Diane Borne has registered with the Secretary of State and lists her at a Baton Rouge address. According to the search engine Lexis Nexus, she’s 73 years old and has an employment history in home health.

Shepherd believes Borne bought the property because she is the sister of longtime Jefferson Parish politician Byron Lee.

Months after purchasing the property, The Acres Group submitted an application to make the property a subdivision. The nearly $5,000 application fee was paid for by The Maxima Group. The Maxima Group is owned by Byron Lee.

Shepherd believes Lee’s connections with another Jefferson Parish politician, Mark Spears, helped solidify the deal for the property.


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For 20 years, the Jefferson Parish District 3 council seat has been occupied by either Spears or Lee. Lee held the seat from 2004 to 2012. Spears then held the seat from 2013 to 2019, and Lee took the seat back in 2020. Shepherd says Lee is Spears’ political mentor.

“He is the one when Byron first left office, he endorsed Mark Spears for the seat who had no previous experience, brought him into the seat, ran his campaign, did everything for him,” Shepherd said.

Around the same time that the property was purchased and a subdivision application was submitted, Spears appointed a new member to the parish’s Planning and Zoning Board. The board initially decides on approval of zoning changes, like the ones needed to prepare the land to be a subdivision.

As a new member of the board, Dylan Bourg made a motion to allow the tract of land to become a subdivision. At a meeting on October 3, 2019, members of the community spoke about the project, but the board didn’t take a vote. However, at its next meeting on October 31, the board approved the rezoning without public comment.

Soon after the vote, Bourg left the advisory board after serving for only six months. FOX 8 reached Bourg by phone to ask him about his time on the board and why Spears appointed him. He told us he did not want to comment.

After the Planning and Advisory Board approved the measure, it went to the parish council. On November 6, 2019, Spears brought the motion forward, and the council unanimously approved it. That approval came at Spears’ last meeting. He left the council after winning an election for Justice of the Peace, and Lee went back to the District 3 seat.

After winning approval to build a subdivision on the property, The Acres Group didn’t develop it but sold it instead. Around the time the property was put back on the market, Byron Lee’s son also became an officer of The Acres Group. Months later, the property sold for $550,000, giving the sellers a $480,000 profit after buying it just two years earlier for $70,000.

Paperwork from the sale shows Byron Lee signed as a witness to the sale.

Lee declined FOX 8′s request for an interview but sent us a letter. He says his only role in the project was to loan his sister money for the application fee. He says since he wasn’t in office at the time, his decision shouldn’t be the subject of a news broadcast. He also added the profit does not include the costs of development, however, he didn’t specify how much those costs were or what work was done.

Lee says Shepherd is a former political opponent, who lost the council race to Lee in 2019.

Shepherd tells FOX 8 the fight isn’t political.

“It’s personal. Because it’s my community. it’s my neighborhood. I live up the street from this. There’s going to be over 200 more cars coming up and down this neighborhood. There’s going to be more traffic, more congestion. I mean, if you look at it, we need development in his neighborhood, but just basic infrastructure. We need streets we need drainage,” Shepherd said.

Shepherd says he cares because he lives near the development.

“I grew up down the street from there. I still live in the house I grew up in literally four blocks from there,” Shepherd said.

Spears also declined FOX 8′s request for an on-camera interview. In a statement, he called Shepherd unreliable. He says he appointed Bourg to the Planning Advisory Board because Bourg is a state building inspector who has experience and knowledge of property and buildings.

Both Spears and Lee said most people in the neighborhood support the development.

FOX 8 visited the neighborhood on several occasions and spoke to people who support the project, but also those who are leery of the deal, voicing concerns about traffic, drainage, and possible asbestos in the soil. Shepherd says the chain of events that led to the subdivision’s approval boils down to political favors that netted one family nearly half a million dollars.

“This is what I think: that they are destroying our community for personal gain. If you buy something for $70,000, you don’t do anything but get a permit and you turn around and sell it for $550,000, just in itself, reeks. It stinks,” Shepherd said.

Commercial real estate company Jack Stumpf and Associates was behind the sale of the property to The Acres Group. In the letter Lee sent to FOX 8, he included a letter from the company’s founder, in which Jack Stumpf said when the plans for Jefferson Rise Charter School fell through, “I had no other clients interested in the Acre Road site until I was approached by The Acres Group who purchased the property four months later for $70,000.” Stumpf went on to say, “The owners just wanted to get rid of the property because people kept dumping trash on it and the parish would require that they clean it up or be fined.”

Construction is underway and the neighborhood will eventually hold more than 100 homes.

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