WWL host got $250,000 from owners of River Birch
WWL talk radio host Garland Robinette received $250,000 from the owner of the River Birch Landfill in October 2007, after Robinette routinely used his show to criticize the reopening of the rival Old Gentilly Landfill to dispose of Hurricane Katrina debris, his attorney confirmed. Federal authorities investigating River Birch flagged the monetary transfer and interviewed Robinette several times late last year, said Robinette's attorney Dane Ciolino, who said the money was a loan.
Daniel Erath, The Times-Picayune archive
WWL talk radio host Garland Robinette
"They asked him a lot of questions, and he has cooperated fully," Ciolino said Friday. "He has been told that he is not a subject or target of the investigation."
Embattled River Birch owner Fred Heebe loaned Robinette the money through a company Heebe owns, Ciolino said.
"Fred Heebe is a personal friend of Garland's" he said, "and it was a personal loan."
Ciolino said the loan was to be repaid once Robinette and his wife sold a vacant lot they own in St. Tammany Parish. He said he believed Robinette, an avid painter, used the money to build an art studio.
Ciolino said he did not know whether Robinette has repaid the loan or whether he has been paying interest.
The disclosure involving one of New Orleans' most prominent media figures is the latest development in the 20-month investigation of River Birch, which allegedly paid $460,000 in bribes to a former state official to lobby for closing Old Gentilly.
The loan was made during the post-Katrina landfill wars as Heebe and his associates sought to shutter the Old Gentilly Landfill and the new Chef Menteur Landfill to increase River Birch's share of more than $175 million in disposal fees for at least 38 million cubic yards of hurricane debris.
From mid-2006 through mid-2007, Robinette frequently raised environmental concerns about disposing of debris at Old Gentilly and the new Chef Menteur Landfill in eastern New Orleans on his "Think Tank" talk show.
Asked whether the loan created a conflict of interest, Ciolino said Robinette "is certain that he never spoke about River Birch at any time after receiving the loan from Mr. Heebe."
He said Robinette informed Entercom Corp., WWL's Pennsylvania-based owner, about the loan last year.
An Entercom spokesman said the firm did not have sufficient time to respond to questions Friday afternoon because of preparations to cover Tropical Storm Lee.
Ciolino said Robinette was willing to meet with The Times-Picayune to discuss the loan but would not be available until Monday.
Heebe's attorney Billy Gibbens declined to comment Friday.
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