Lafayette native pitches winning idea at startup weekend
By Erin Z. Bass

TURK_comeaux
                                                                                   Photo by Robin May

Project manager and community organizer with Lafayette’s FiberCorps, Crawford Comeaux took first place during Baton Rouge’s Startup Weekend Nov. 11-13. Happening around the world, Startup Weekend is a 54-hour event where developers, designers, marketers and product managers work together and share ideas to launch a startup business. Comeaux has attended events in New Orleans and Dallas before, and it was in Dallas that his idea for an audience participation application started to come together.

“I didn’t place out there, but because I had done a lot of the business analysis, my goal this time was to go in and focus purely on building a better prototype,” he says. Comeaux had to first pitch the idea for his app, called AudienceAmp, and when it was voted on as one of the five projects that would be worked on that weekend, he and team members John Colvin and Brian Guidry got to work. Throughout the course of the weekend, they worked on developing the app, which is essentially a mobile platform for real-time audience participation, interaction, engagement and feedback during any type of event. (A similar system was used by some networks during the 2008 presidential debates to show how members of different parties felt.)

On the evening of Nov. 13, he presented his (somewhat complete) project to a panel of judges and beat out apps to alert motorists when their car is parked illegally and another that would put stylists in touch with consumers. As the winner, Comeaux then had 24 hours to create a 90-second video that pitches AudienceAmp to voters in the Global Startup Battle. Voting was open at globalstartupbattle.com through Nov. 28, and the winner was scheduled to be announced Dec. 30 (a week after ABiz went to press).

If he wins, Comeaux would get table space at the Launch Conference in March in San Francisco and the opportunity to meet top investors in Silicon Valley. But even if he doesn’t win, he’s moving forward to complete AudienceAmp and get it on the market. Lafayette Economic Development Authority’s Opportunity Machine, which assists local entrepreneurs in creating, communicating and commercializing their ideas, has offered him shared workspace. “We felt he had a great shot at winning,” says Opportunity Machine Executive Director Bob Miller, “and we are proud to play a role in Crawford’s success.”

Ultimately, Comeaux just wants to see his app in use. “I would love to see it used for anything live like a TV or radio show,” he says. “But any time that you have a group of people looking or listening to something, that’s a context it can define to. Museums, art openings, concerts–you name it. The app would make it easy for organizer of an event to collect all the feedback they want.”

NUMBER CRUNCH

$352 million

Approximate amount of sales tax losses to the state in 2011 due to online shopping. Congressional legislation aimed at sales tax collections for online shopping has prompted lengthy discussions recently over just how much states are losing to online retailers. According to The Daily Iberian, a 2009 study authored by University of Tennessee professor and economist Donald Bruce shows that of the nearly $1.38 billion that should be collected in sales tax revenue, more than 25 percent will not enter the state coffers as a result of online retailers that don’t charge sales tax. Bruce also points out that the state’s “self-reporting” sales tax law asking consumers to track their own online purchases generated only $1.3 million in collections during the last fiscal year.

Straight to Jail

Indicted on multiple counts in the alleged $8 million Bowman Investment scam and later arrested on charges of distributing synthetic marijuana, Lafayette businessman Richard Buswell is being held until his October securities fraud trial. By Leslie Turk

On Dec. 15 U.S. Magistrate Judge Patrick J. Hanna found that 43-year-old Richard J. Buswell of Lafayette, a former owner of Bowman Investment Group, had violated the conditions of his pre-trial release and ordered that Buswell be held pending trial.

Buswell’s case was in front of Hanna for an evidentiary hearing following his August indictment by a federal grand jury. Unsealed Oct. 14, the 28-count indictment charges Buswell with one count of conspiracy, one count of securities fraud, one count of investment advisor fraud, eight counts of wire fraud and 15 counts of mail fraud. According to the indictment, beginning in 2007 and continuing through 2009, Buswell, along with his co-defendant, Herbert S. Fouke, earned commissions and wages by making false representations and promises to obtain investors’ funds. Prosecutors say Buswell and Fouke caused more than 100 clients in Lafayette and surrounding parishes to lose more than $8 million; the government is seeking forfeiture of more than $1.7 million in commissions made from the improper trades.

Buswell was originally arraigned Oct. 14 and conditionally released pending trial under a $100,000 unsecured bond. He was ordered not to violate any federal, state or local law while on release and told to avoid contact, directly or indirectly, with any person who may be a victim or potential witness in the case.

TURKsynthetic-marijuana1However, following an investigation by Lafayette Metro Narcotics, Buswell was arrested Dec. 8 and charged with distribution of a controlled dangerous substance, synthetic marijuana (aka Mr. Miyagi, Timeout, Potpourri), in violation of state law. Buswell and nine others were arrested after local law enforcement agencies raided smoking shops operating under the name Curious Goods. Officials seized nearly $1.7 million of goods containing synthetic marijuana, made illegal by recent Louisiana laws banning the substances used to make it. Buswell, one of the owners of the shops, located in Lafayette, Vermilion and Iberia parishes, also had $33,000 in cash seized from his home at 412 Old Settlement Road, The Advocate reported.

As a result of his arrest, U.S. Probation alleged Dec. 9 that Buswell had violated certain conditions of release. During the mid-December hearings, the prosecution presented evidence related to the state drug charges and also revealed evidence concerning a criminal complaint and civil suit for damages recently filed by Buswell against potential prosecution witnesses in the pending federal fraud case.

Hanna found that Buswell violated two state laws — the distribution and manufacture of a controlled dangerous substance and filing a false public record — and said there is convincing evidence he violated conditions of his prior release because the civil lawsuit contains false allegations against two victims and material witnesses for the prosecution. The court found that Buswell, who did not rebut that he violated the conditions of his release, may pose a danger to the safety of the community and ordered that his pre-trial release be revoked. He was detained and remanded to the custody of the U.S. Marshal until his Oct. 22 trial.

The conspiracy charge carries a maximum penalty of five years in prison and a $250,000 fine. The securities fraud charge carries a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison and a $5,000,000 fine. The investment advisor fraud charge carries a maximum penalty of five years and a fine of $10,000. Each count of wire fraud and mail fraud carries a maximum penalty of 20 years and a fine of $250,000.

The case is being investigated by Special Agent Greg Harbourt of the FBI and is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Kelly P. Uebinger.

WORTH NOTING:

“[Allen Stanford] has difficulties with remembering both new and past events. He has difficulty with his judgment.”

— Dr. Ralph Lilly, a neurologist hired by Stanford’s defense team, testifying that the financier accused of stealing $7 billion from investors in a massive Ponzi scheme is not fit for trial. Why? Stanford claims he has suffered complete loss of memory since being injured in a prison fight in 2009. Prosecutors, however, are calling bull.

Big Shoes to Fill at LCVC
After three decades as the top tourism official in the parish, Gerald Breaux is stepping down. By Leslie Turk

TURKgerald.breaux
                                        Photo by Robin May

The news came as a surprise to us and apparently everyone in the Lafayette Convention and Visitors Commission board meeting the afternoon of Dec. 14: LCVC Executive Director Gerald Breaux announced his retirement. Breaux will step down at the end of June after nearly 31 years on the job.

The only other person aware the announcement was coming was Breaux’s wife Helen, a retired school teacher. The decision, 61-year-old Breaux says, was anything but spur of the moment. “Helen and I have talked about it for many months,” he says. “Now we can do the things we want to do.” Though he was not specific about those “things,” saying he’s not quite sure how he’ll spend his retirement (“check back with me at the end of May, and then I’ll tell you”), travel is definitely on the agenda. Breaux’s developed a love for traveling over his decades on the road promoting Lafayette Parish. Only now it’ll be all pleasure.

Among his reasons for stepping down, Breaux also says it’s time for new leadership at LCVC: “It’s maybe someone else’s turn to come in and move the place forward again.”

Breaux’s recommendation to the nine-member LCVC board and incoming board President Jimmy Thackston of the Hilton was to form a four-member committee that would determine how the search will be conducted. Breaux, however, stresses that all decisions are the board’s call. Breaux’s salary is $142,000, but he has no idea what the job will pay his successor. “It’s totally up to the search committee,” he says.

Under Breaux LCVC has successfully promoted Lafayette across the country and internationally, and this summer was instrumental in Lafayette earning the honor of Best Small Town for Food in Rand McNally and USA Today’s Best of the Road competition, an accolade that included a feature in USA Today Travel. It was a high point in Breaux’s career, but he says those high points came more often than not. “I’m proud every day that we have such a great city and such a great product to promote,” he says. “Our brand is our culture, our food and our music. It’s been a great, great opportunity.”

A Lafayette native, Northside High and 1972 UL grad, Breaux worked in sales at The Daily Advertiser right out of college for about a year and then moved to Washington, D.C., for an administrative job with the FBI. He returned to Lafayette in the mid-1970s to work for the late Mayor Kenny Bowen as his administrative assistant. In 1981 he was hired for the LCVC job — and never had a reason to update his resume.

NUMBER CRUNCH

45

Percent Louisiana’s exports have increased through the third quarter 2011 over the same period last year, marking the highest percentage growth in the nation. The growth is attributable to increases in several categories, including big jumps in petroleum and coal exports and minerals and ores. Louisiana’s $39.8 billion in export revenues ($27.4 billion through the third quarter last year) rank it seventh in the country for overall exports.
Source: World Trade Center of New Orleans

AT&T, T-Mobile merger deadTURKcell.phone

AT&T’s nine-month battle to acquire T-Mobile ended Dec. 19 when the company said that after a thorough review of its options, it had called off the merger.
It was clear from the beginning that the proposed mega merger would have major regulatory hurdles to clear.

As expected, competitor Sprint immediately voiced opposition to the whopping $39 billion deal, what Bloomberg in March called the biggest acquisition worldwide in more than a year. Sprint claimed it could seriously disrupt wireless competition in the country, and most industry experts agreed close scrutiny was needed to protect consumers from potential price hikes and less choices if the market became overly concentrated.

The proposal would have combined the nation’s second largest mobile phone carrier, AT&T, with the fourth largest.

While the proposed deal won support from a number of diverse groups, in the end, the actions by the Federal Communications Commission and the Department of Justice to block the transaction effectively killed it. In a statement, AT&T said that opposition does not change the realities of the U.S. wireless industry — that it is one of the most fiercely competitive industries in the world, with a mounting need for more spectrum that has not diminished. AT&T urged that these issues be addressed immediately, saying the proposed combination would have offered an interim solution to the spectrum shortage. In the absence of such steps, AT&T noted, customers will be harmed and needed investment will be stifled.

“AT&T will continue to be aggressive in leading the mobile Internet revolution,” said Randall Stephenson, AT&T chairman and CEO. “Over the past four years we have invested more in our networks than any other U.S. company. As a result, today we deliver best-in-class mobile broadband speeds ­— connecting smartphones, tablets and emerging devices at a record pace — and we are well under way with our nationwide 4G LTE deployment.”

Stephenson said in the near term policymakers should allow the free markets to work so that additional spectrum is available to meet the immediate needs of the U.S. wireless industry, including expeditiously approving AT&T’s acquisition of unused Qualcomm spectrum currently pending before the FCC. He said policymakers should also enact legislation to meet the nation’s longer-term spectrum needs: “The mobile Internet is a dynamic industry that can be a critical driver in restoring American economic growth and job creation, but only if companies are allowed to react quickly to customer needs and market forces.”

To reflect the break-up considerations due T-Mobile’s German parent company, Deutsche Telekom, AT&T will recognize a pretax accounting charge of $4 billion in the 4th quarter of 2011. Additionally, AT&T will enter a mutually beneficial roaming agreement with Deutsche Telekom. — By Leslie Turk

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