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Archive for the ‘Auditor’ Category

State Treasurer John Kennedy isn’t the only one who disputes the veracity—or the political motives—of administration claims of a $178.5 million budget surplus for the fiscal year that ended on June 30.

There are a couple of Kristy Nichols’ predecessors, former commissioners of administration and a former state budget officer who have been there, done that and got the T-shirts, who are genuinely perplexed and skeptical of the whimsical claims.

Bobby Jindal (R-Iowa, R-New Hampshire, R-Anywhere but Louisiana), aka Booby Jindini, through Commissioner of Administration Nichols, is claiming the implausible “discovery” of some $360 million, dating back to 2002 that pulls the state from the jaws of a $141 million deficit in favor of the surplus explained thus far only as Immaculate Discovery.

LouisianaVoice, meanwhile, has learned that the true “discovered” money is more like $500 and that it actually goes back as far as 1998, near the end of Gov. Mike “the Jindal Creator” Foster’s second term. But, says Kennedy, the money has already been spent, which would make the real deficit more like $200 million, instead of the mere $141 hole claimed by Kennedy.

But the devil, as they say, is in the details and the details have not been readily forthcoming from the administration. And members of the Joint Legislative Committee on the Budget (JLCB) sat mutely Friday morning as committee Chairman Rep. Jim Fannin (D/R-Jonesboro) proclaimed that the committee would not be discussing the matter until it received a report from the Legislative Auditor’s office, probably sometime in December.

What?!!!!!!!” legislators should have sputtered, shouted and otherwise protested.

Sorry, guys, you should have stood as one and protested that the time to discuss this little matter is now and the place is right here. Right here, right now. We want, no, demand an explanation, an accounting of where this money suddenly came from and how it is that the administration did not know of its existence for the past seven years.

And while we’re at it, why is it that Fannin sudden decided to exercise his power to disallow a request by Rep. James Armes (D-Leesville) that a non-member of the JLCB, Rep. Kenny Havard (R-Jackson), be allowed to sit in on the committee as his proxy. Legislative observers cannot recall a time when such a request was denied. Was Fannin afraid Havard might ask some embarrassing questions about the budgetary procedure?

Or was it that Havard was not among the members who had been called in a few at a time in advance of Friday’s meeting to be reminded by the administration that capital outlay projects in their respective districts could suddenly face a lack of funding for their implementation?

Regardless, it is quite obvious from our perspective that the fix is in.

Instead, committee members sat mutely as one as Fannin, desperate to hang onto his chairmanship and reportedly considering a run at the State Senate seat currently held by Sen. Bob Kostelka (R-Monroe), allowed that rather than demanding details and explanations from the administration, there was no urgency to the issue that could not wait until December.

Retired state budget officer Stephen Winham said that in his 21 years in that office, nothing of this magnitude ever occurred.

“The hidden piles of money is a myth,” he said. “There may have been hidden pockets of money before modern accounting and information technology, but it is impossible to hide money in the state treasury today.

“This has to be the most ridiculous thing I have ever seen happen with regard to the state’s financial condition and its reputation,” he said. “How can $500 million simply have been hiding in the state treasury? Do Ms. Nichols and others have any idea how her contention totally undermines the integrity of our financial system? It makes a mockery of our accounting system and our annual Comprehensive Financial Reports for the past 16 years, if not longer, and of our state itself. People already routinely suspected the numbers they were given. Now there is no reason to believe anything.

“I cannot overstate how horrible this is.”

Raymond Laborde and Stephanie Laborde agree.

Raymond Laborde (Stephanie Laborde’s uncle) served as commissioner of administration from 1992 to 1996 under former Gov. Edwin Edwards. Before that, he served five terms in the Louisiana House, serving as Speaker Pro Tem from 1982-1984 and also served as Chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee.

He was re-elected without opposition to a sixth term in 1991 but immediately resigned to become Commissioner of Administration during Edwards’ fourth and final term as governor. In 2003, Raymond Laborde was inducted into the Louisiana Political Museum and Hall of Fame in Winnfield.

“I haven’t seen any details yet and neither, apparently has John Kennedy,” he said.

“We had surpluses each year during my tenure, but they were legitimate surpluses. If the money was there, it should have been seen. If Kennedy’s approach is correct, there is a heck of a difference between what the administration says and what he says.”

Reminded that Kennedy has said any money found from prior years has already been spent, Raymond Laborde said, “It should have been spent.”

Stephanie Laborde served as commissioner of administration during Edwards’ third term (1984-1988) when she was Stephanie Alexander.

Her observations were supportive of Winham’s and were equally critical of the administration.

“If the surplus is real, where were those dollars when the budget was being developed 15 months or so ago?” she asked, perhaps not so rhetorically.

“That is not to say when there was not extra money,” she said. “There were times when there were more taxes collected than anticipated or when the price of oil was higher than expected but for this much in surplus funds to be lying around for years? That just didn’t happen.”

She also said the sources of such revenue would have been considered one-time money and not recurring revenue. “There is a difference of philosophy, a difference of opinion with the character of funds found in the past.

“But it still comes down to where was this money during the budget writing process, where was it, in fact, for all these years?

“If it was there, it speaks to the administration’s competence, its ability—or inability—to give us an accurate budget.

“If the money was not there as is being claimed, it speaks to something else entirely,” she said.

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            The scene is a cheesy carnival with a sleazy barker trying to coax indifferent passersby into a tent sideshow that is certain to be equal parts hype and fraudulence. You can almost hear his voice as he drones:

            “Step right up folks and see the Amazing Jindini perform his astounding, incredible, UNBELIEVABLE escapes from the perils of political reality! You won’t believe your eyes!

            “Watch and don’t dare blink as his lovely assistant, Kristy, the glib but treacherous attack lady, maneuvers Jindini into inescapable positions right here in Louisiana only to see him emerge, smiling and unruffled, somewhere in Iowa. Or will it be New Hampshire, or maybe on Fox News or even in a Washington Post op-ed?

            “And if this political life-threatening feat should somehow go wrong, if the magically transcendent budgetary numbers don’t add up, hold your breath because Kristy will find a way to blame the whole thing on Jindini’s evil nemesis John Kennedy.

            “It’s implausible, it’s dumbfounding, it’s far-fetched, but ladies and gentlemen, it’s everything you could ever imagine—and then some—in the fantasy world of the Great Jindini: deception, misdirection, transference of responsibility, denial, obfuscation. Political contributions become political favors right before your very eyes. Step right up, folks! You don’t want to miss the Amazing Jindini.”

Such is the descent into the cheap theatrics of political rhetoric and finger-pointing from the Jindal administration these days as Gov. Bobby Jindal (R-Iowa, R-New Hampshire, R-Anywhere but Louisiana), through Commissioner of Administration Kristy Nichols, attempts to deflect the blame for fiscal recklessness onto State Treasurer John Kennedy—or anyone else who dares get in the way.

The latest twist in what is the ongoing soap opera of the Jindal administration, Nichols has claimed that a $178.5 million year-end surplus has suddenly materialized, seemingly out of nothing more than the sheer will of Jindal to appear as a fiscal guru in his tragicomic pursuit of the White House.

LouisianaVoice, meanwhile, has learned that a national bond rating company isn’t buying into the rosy fiscal picture painted by the Division of Administration (D)A) and in fact, feels that by all previous measures, a budget deficit as claimed by Kennedy is the more likely scenario.

When Kennedy challenged the surplus figure, claiming instead that the state in reality had a $141 million deficit, Kristy’s vitriol was unleashed on the Treasurer in quick measure, claiming that Kennedy was responsible for “sweeping” agency funds that have not been appropriated or spent by the end of each fiscal year. She added that while the Treasury had used the money for cash flow, it never included it in the year-end report presented to the Joint Legislative Committee on the Budget (JLCB).

Nearly seven years into Jindal’s term, Nichols opined that it was “disappointing” that Kennedy never reported these balances to the public.

That, of course, should raise the obvious question of why no one in Jindal’s cadre of sycophants has raised the issue before now.

At the same time, Nichols denied Kennedy’s claim that the administration had changed the accounting system from accrual to cash. Bear in mind, however, it was this same Nichols who told the House Appropriations Committee on Sept. 25 (just before she ducked out to take her daughter to a boy band concert in New Orleans) that it was Buck Consultants who recommended a decrease in premiums for Office of Group Benefits members when the actual report submitted by Buck did nothing of the sort.

Kennedy, for his part, released a prepared statement on Wednesday, saying that as Treasurer, he is constitutionally responsible “for the custody, investment and disbursement of state funds. It is a job that I take very seriously. At least three times a year, the Treasury sends a comprehensive report to the administration about every penny, nickel and dime in the state general fund and the Treasury is audited every year by the legislative auditor.”

Kennedy also said that as Treasurer, he is not responsible “for ensuring that the administration is truthful with legislators and the public about the amount of money that can be appropriated from the state general fund. It is the administration’s responsibility to take our reports and tell legislators and the Revenue Estimating Conference about any and all available money instead of creating a secret slush fund.”

Kennedy said it is clear that the state spent more money than it brought in during the fiscal year that ended on June 30. “We have a $141 million deficit,” he said. “It’s also clear that the administration wants to use its own secret slush fund to resolve the problem while blaming others for the mess.” He called the administration’s figures “a manufactured surplus.”

“I don’t blame them,” he added. “I wouldn’t want to be held responsible for the bad budget practices that drove the Office of Group Benefits into financial ruin, drained the Medicaid Trust Fund for the Elderly, and crippled our universities. As Treasurer, I’ll continue to be a watchdog over the people’s money.” He said if the Legislature wants him to take charge of the budget, “I am more than happy to take on those responsibilities.”

Legislators will get a chance to ask their own questions when the JLCB convenes on Friday in the Capitol.

Meanwhile, Legislative Auditor Daryl Purpera said there no way of knowing if the administration’s claim of a $178 million surplus is valid until a thorough audit has been conducted.

“This is a different way of looking at what is surplus,” he said. “The bottom line is…until we have audited it, I can’t tell you if it’s a good number or bad number or what.”

In contradicting Nichol’s claim that the accounting system was changed by the administration, Purpera said the new figures represents a sudden departure from the method employed since 1997. “This is not the way they have calculated it before,” he said.

Even the administration could not verify the source of the surplus, saying only that it was “not exactly clear, but we are confident it is there,” according to DOA communications director Meghan Parrish.

Jindal desperately needs to avoid the prospect of a budget deficit if he is to continue his quest for the presidency. A budget hole at this juncture would severely wound, perhaps mortally, his oft-repeated claim that he has balanced the Louisiana budget every year of his administration.

That threat alone would go far in explaining the administration’s sudden frenzy in spinning a favorable fiscal tale contrived to propel him into the White House via fantasy land—or Iowa or New Hampshire.

Just another day in the wacky world of Jindini escapism, folks.

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“What about all the other troopers who retired under the old system?  If Edmonson and the Houma guy are the only ones left on the payroll, what about the ones who already retired?  Shouldn’t they now sue for equal treatment?  I wonder what that would cost?  A lot more than the minimum of $300,000 this bill will cost.”

—State retiree who possesses considerable knowledge of state fiscal matters, commenting on the amendment to Senate Bill 294 that gives State Police Commander Mike Edmonson an extra $30,000 in addition to his earned $134,000 retirement.

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State Police Commander Col. Mike Edmonson has been rumored to be priming himself for a run at public office and his latest “Who, me?” pronouncements would seem to indicate that he’s finally ready for the big jump.

Meanwhile, the Louisiana Retired Troopers Association is not happy and appears ready to leap into the controversy surrounding a special amendment giving Edmonson and one other state trooper hefty retirement benefit increases.

Edmonson says he is not getting special treatment, that he did not seek nor was he aware of the $30,000 a year retirement bump he got from an amendment sneaked into an otherwise nondescript bill on the final day of the session.

So, here’s the deal: everyone in the room who believes Edmonson please line up against the opposite wall. Now. Go ahead. Don’t be shy. We’re waiting. C’mon, people…

All right, let’s try a different tactic: everyone who does not believe his tooth fairy story, please leave the roo….Hey! Whoa! Not so fast! Someone’s gonna get hurt!

Edmonson also says that he and a Houma-based state trooper are the last holdovers from a defunct retirement plan and that the amendment allows them to retire in the current State Police Retirement System.

Are we to believe, then, you would have had no pension whatsoever had this amendment not been slipped in? Seriously?

Forgive our skepticism, Colonel, but that seems something of a stretch. First you deny knowledge of the amendment and then you go to great lengths to defend it.

Such self-serving denials/non-answers (bureaucratic two-steps) round out the qualifications for political office for Edmonson who, before moving upstairs to shadow Gov. Bobby Jindal for all those photo-ops, spent much of his career on the sidelines of LSU football games protecting the Tiger head coaches from…what, Hostile fans? Groupies? Reporters?

So now, as the State Police Retirement System staff prepares to take up this issue today at 1:30 p.m., the Retired Louisiana State Police Communication Network is abuzz about the sneaky way in which the amendment was tacked on by the Legislative Conference Committee on the last day of the session.

Word is there are retired state troopers scattered across the state who are not at all happy with the news that Edmonson, in addition to 100 percent retirement (his salary is $134,000 per year), based on more than 30 years of service, he also now becomes eligible for longevity benefits and the three Deferred Retirement Option Plan (DROP) years, boosting his retirement income another $30,000 per year over and above the amount at which he qualified at the rank of captain when he entered DROP.

And if anyone was of a mind to file a lawsuit to halt the special treatment of Edmonson, any retired state trooper would have sufficient legal standing to do so.

The actuarial notes prepared by the Actuarial Services Department of the Legislative Auditor’s office, calculate a fiscal impact on the retirement system of $300,000 but that’s only over a five-year stretch because that’s as far out as the notes may project. That calculates to $30,000 per year for each of the two troopers.

We can only speculate, of course, but it seems reasonable to assume the two will live more than five years beyond their retirement, which of course, will only add to the cost.

(The actuarial notes, by the way, were prepared on June 5, three days after the legislature adjourned, which gives us some idea of the surprise element involved with this amendment.)

http://www.legis.la.gov/legis/ViewDocument.aspx?d=913382

But back to those disgruntled retired state troopers: What might it cost the state if a retired trooper—or several retirees—got their backs up sufficiently to file suit?

While it might be a windfall to Jimmy Faircloth, it also might cost the state a lot more to defend the action than the $300,000, especially if the state should lose as it very well could. Such a lawsuit, after all, would be about fair and equal treatment.

One observer in a position to know said fiscal notes are required for bills affecting a pension plan’s unfunded accrued liability (UAL). “I don’t imagine one was prepared for this bill, but somebody knows what it will cost and the law requires any acts with the effect of increasing the UAL to have to be funded so that they don’t (affect the UAL).”

State Sen. Jean Paul Morrell (D-New Orleans), who submitted the bill, said it was intended to address routine changes in the law governing police officers under investigation and had nothing to do with retirement benefits. He said he was unaware of the impact of the amendment, a claim that most of the legislators who voted for the bill can probably make with a high degree of honesty considering the last minute crush of business in the session final days.

“Assuming Morrell is not lying,” our observer said, “I read into this…that Edmonson himself got him (Morrell) to do this amendment (after) having been tipped to its enrichment potential for him.”

Thus far not mentioned in all of this, but something that should certainly be considered:

How can Edmonson, after this furtive move and his lame denials, realistically expect the men and women under his command to continue to respect him as a leader?

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The news just keeps getting worse for Superintendent of Education John White.

Gov. Bobby Jindal has put White on a short leash with Executive Order BJ 2014-7 on June 18 and last Wednesday (June 25) Internal Audit Administrator Marsha Guidry issued an extensive laundry list of documents information relating to the Department of Education’s (DOE) contract with Data Recognition Corp.

At the same time, LouisianaVoice has learned the Legislative Auditor’s office is conducting an investigation of DOE that could involve payroll fraud, according to sources inside the department.

White, as we have reported several times in the past, has loaded up the department with unclassified appointments at bloated six-figure salaries.

There are apparently three major problems with that:

  • Many of these appointees seldom, if ever, show up for work and apparently are required to perform few, if any, duties to earn their keep;
  • The department did not have enough money in its budget to pay their salaries so they are reportedly being paid from federal funds earmarked for specific purposes;
  • The appointees are not assigned to areas for which the federal funds are allocated.

If true, these are serious allegations and even more serious violations that could prompt a federal probe in addition to the investigation already underway by the Legislative Auditor.

Of course, no one really knows who works where at DOE because no one has ever managed to obtain an organization chart for the department.

Oh, the Legislative Auditor, among others, has tried but with each request over the past couple of years now, the response has always been that the department is “undergoing reorganization.”

So, no organization chart and no determination of who works where in DOE.

And now, on top of that sticky wicket, up crops the controversy over Common Core and the testing by Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for Colleges and Careers (PARCC).

Short version: Jindal, White and the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE) back Common Core and legislation is introduced for state implementation of Common Core.

But then, somewhere along Jindal’s way to the White House, someone whispered in his ear that path of least resistance to the Oval Office would be for him to oppose Common Core on grounds that he didn’t want the big bad old federal government dictating how we teach our kids in Louisiana. He may even have waved a little American flag when he said it.

But White and BESE continue to back Common Core and the legislature passes it.

Jindal vetoed it but White and BESE said they were going ahead with it, and Jindal jumped onto his Nautilus Nitro Plus workout station to prepare for battle. He announced he was canceling the contract for the testing because, he said, DOE had issued the contract without taking competitive bids.

And now, the Office of Contractual Review (OCR) is reviewing the contracts.

Meanwhile, Guidry sent this letter to White:

Executive Order BJ 2014-7, issued June 18, 2014, directed the Division of Administration (DOA) “to conduct a comprehensive accounting of all Louisiana expenditures and resources related to PARCC.”  Pursuant to the Executive Order (EO) and the auditing authority of DOA over consulting contracts, I have been asked by the Commissioner to collect and review certain information.  Please provide the following information to carry out the EO to ensure DOE is complying with Louisiana law.

 Please identify and provide documentation for the following:

 1.      All documentation related to contracts with DRC or other testing or academic assessment tools, including both paid and outstanding invoices.

2.      Please provide an accounting of the cost of the PARCC Technology Readiness Tool survey, the method and documentation related to the procurement of this survey, and documentation of the funds used to pay for it, including all receipts and accounting paperwork.

a.       Please provide information related to the price of PARCC assessments as a total cost to the State of Louisiana and as an individual cost of each assessment to be provided in the State of Louisiana. This should include:  any cost information related to an increase or decrease in cost as a function of the number of states withdrawing from PARCC or other reasons.

3.      Please provide documentation related to negotiations on the price of any new assessment tool(s) including any negotiations or communications related to the cost of individual assessments, the total cost to the State of Louisiana of new assessments, or any breakdown of the cost negotiated or discussed by or with DOE. This should include communications conducted in writing (emails, letters, and memos) as well as any meeting minutes and calendar entries.

a.       Please also provide documentation of how DOE’s negotiations met the statutory requirement for the lowest-cost bidder, for a competitive procurement process, and the statutory authority of DOE to conduct such negotiations.

4.         Please provide evidence of DOE’s process to ensure during any Request for Proposal (RFP) conducted by PARCC or by a member state on behalf of PARCC that such RFP was a fair, competitive, price-sensitive proposal and was conducted using a fair, transparent process in accordance with Louisiana revised statutes. Please provide all files relative to these procurements.

5.         Please provide evidence that John White affirmed in writing to the Governing Board Chair of PARCC the State’s continued commitment to participation in the Consortium and to the binding commitments made by John White’s predecessor as Chief State School Officer as required by the Memorandum of Understanding establishing the PARCC Consortium.

 In addition to providing the above documentation, please provide a written response to each of the following questions:

a.       What contracts or other agreements are in place or in negotiation for the purchase of an assessment?  Please provide a list of these along with copies of all related documentation.

b.      What steps have been taken by DOE to procure any Common Core aligned assessment product?

c.       What steps have been taken by PARCC to procure any Common Core aligned assessment product?

Please provide these items by June 30, 2014. I may identify other documents or information necessary to complete this review and request your cooperation pursuant to the Executive Order.  Please identify any additional individuals within DOE who will be available to respond to any questions I may have during the course of the review.

 The documentation requested should be delivered to the Office of the Commissioner to my attention at 1201 N. Third Street, Baton Rouge, LA, 70802, Suite 7-210, on the 7th floor of the Claiborne Building.

http://www.myarklamiss.com/story/d/story/division-outlines-next-steps-in-doe-contract-revie/34643/LOilN9i14EaHl0wQ9zrGuA

You will note that White was given until today (Monday, June 30) to provide the information.

The problem with the governor’s request, as LouisianaVoice, Crazy Crawfish and others have learned, is that Jindal may not have followed proper procedure in seeking the information.

You see, when we ask for information, we are required to ask for specific documents, not simply information.

In fact, both DOE and the Division of Administration (DOA) have in the past simply refused to comply with our requests with the stock response that we requested information as opposed to specific records and therefore, both DOE and DOA felt comfortable informing us (somewhat condescendingly, we might add) that they were not required under the state public records act to respond.

Now if White only had the stones to tell DOA and Jindal that, we might yet have that epic Niles-Sheldon grudge match on Pay per View.

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“No one involved understood there to be an ethical violation or that there was a potential for a violation. Further, Mr. Davidson has retired and is no longer employed by the DPSO.  Accordingly, the relationship in question and the potential for a conflict have terminated.”

—Shreveport attorney James R. Sterritt of Cook, Yancey, King & Galloway, in response to a state audit that revealed that former DeSoto Parish Sheriff’s Deputy Robert Davidson’s private company used the sheriff’s office to run nearly half a million dollars in background checks in an 11-month period, netting his firm approximately $372,000.

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A former DeSoto Parish sheriff’s deputy may have violated state law by using his office to run background checks for a company in which he owned a major interest, according to an investigative audit report by the Legislative Auditor’s office in Baton Rouge.

But the lawyer for the High Sheriff says the former deputy did nothing wrong.

His company, Lagniappe and Castillo Research and Investigations, ran 41,574 background checks through the sheriff’s office during an 11-month period between April 1, 2012, and February 28, 2013, the report says.

The report, released on Monday, also noted that three DeSoto Parish Sheriff’s Office (DPSO) employees were paid nearly $2,000 by Lagniappe and Castillo Research and Investigations for running the background checks between January 2011 and May 2013, duties they would normally perform as part of their jobs with the sheriff’s office.

The company charged its customers $12 for each background report and paid the sheriff’s office $3 per report. That represents an income of more than $498,800 and a profit of more than $372,000 for owners Robert Davidson and Allan Neal Castillo over the 11-month period.

Davidson, retired chief investigator for the DeSoto Parish Sheriff’s Office, is 50 percent owner of Lagniappe and Castillo. He was employed by DPSO from 1980 until his retirement in May of 2013. Besides being listed by the Secretary of State as 50 percent owner, he also is listed as the registered agent of the company.

But the lawyer for the High Sheriff says the former deputy did nothing wrong.

Sheriff Rodney Arbuckle, through his legal counsel, defended the practice, saying that Davidson did not own a “controlling interest” in the company and that he did not “participate” in the transactions because he was employed in the criminal investigation division of the sheriff’s office and the background checks were performed by the civil administrative division. “The criminal investigation division is both physically and functionally separate and apart from the civil administrative division,” he said. “Thus, he did not “participate” as defined by the Code of Ethics…”

Arbuckle also claimed that the three DPSO employees ran the background checks for which they were paid by Lagniappe and Castillo on holidays and weekends, adding that state law does not prohibit deputies from being paid by a non-public source for off-duty work.

State law requires that employers obtain criminal background checks prior to making an offer to employ or contract with a non-licensed person. Background checks are run through the Louisiana State Police Internet Background Check System database.

The obvious question becomes: could there conceivably have been 41,574 jobs or job applicants in an 11-month period in a rural parish of only 27,000 living souls, including children? If not, for what purposes were these background checks done, what information was contained in them, and to whom were they sold?

Perhaps we have a Fourth Amendment issue here.

One other question still unanswered is whether or not Sheriff Arbuckle received any of the proceeds from the transactions other than the $3 per report charged by the sheriff’s office.

Employers who request background checks through the State Police are charged a $26 fee. Authorized agents approved by State Police are also charged $26 for each report but until July 1, 2013, State Police did not charge a fee to local law enforcement agencies. To circumvent the $26 charge for each report, Lagniappe and Castillo simply routed its requests through the DPSO, which was not charged for the reports. For that privilege, the company paid the sheriff’s office $3 while charging clients $12 for each reported generated through the DPSO, the audit report said.

State Police records indicate that during the 11-month period from April 1, 2012 through Feb. 28, 2013, all local law enforcement agencies statewide combined to run 91,074 background checks. Of that number, 65,174 (72 percent) were ordered by DPSO. The 41,574 ordered by Lagniappe and Castillo represented 63.8 percent of the total run by DPSO. Arbuckle said his office averaged 200 to 300 background checks per day.

“During the audit period, Mr. Davidson’s company paid DPSO more than $124,000 ($124,722) for information that we understand his company sold to private clients for nearly a half a million dollars,” ($498,888) the audit says. “Because Mr. Davidson entered into transactions with the DPSO in which he had a personal, substantial economic interest, he may have violated the state’s ethics laws.”

But the lawyer for the High Sheriff says the former deputy did nothing wrong.

Arbuckle’s attorney James R. Sterritt of Cook, Yancey, King & Galloway of Shreveport argued that Davidson, with 50 percent ownership, did not own a “controlling interest” in the company, he committed no wrongdoing.

Nice try. Such creative interpretation of the law might even land him a job representing Gov. Bobby Jindal if Jimmy Faircloth didn’t already that gig.

Sterritt’s legal interpretation notwithstanding, Louisiana Revised Statute 42:1102(8) clearly defines controlling interest as “any ownership in any legal entity…which exceeds 25 percent of that legal entity.”

The audit report also cites a state statute which “prohibits public servants from participating in transactions involving the governmental entity (sheriff’s office) with any legal entity in which the public servant (Deputy Davidson) exercises control or owns an interest in excess of 25 percent (emphasis added) and who by reason thereof is in a position to affect directly the economic interests of such public servant.”

But the lawyer for the High Sheriff says the former deputy did nothing wrong.

Thus, the report says, “former DPSO Chief Investigator Robert Davidson’s 50 percent interest in Lagniappe and Castillo was a controlling interest which may have prohibited Lagniappe and Castillo from entering into transactions with the DPSO.”

The audit also cites yet another state statute [R.S. 42:1111(C)(1)(a)] which “prohibits public servants from receiving anything of economic value for any service from a nonpublic source that is similar to the work being done for the public employer.”

The audit report said that since the three employees’ jobs “were to run background checks for the DPSO, this relationship may have violated the state’s ethics law.” The report added that the “vast majority” of the reports “appear to have been performed during on-duty hours, thus contradicting Arbuckle’s contention that the work was done on weekends and on holidays.

But the lawyer for the High Sheriff says that’s okay, too.

The audit report also dismissed Arbuckle’s examples of off-duty deputies working for private concerns such as providing security for businesses. “The instant case differs from the instances cited by Sheriff Arbuckle in that, here, the deputies were performing the same—not similar—services that they are paid to perform in their on-duty jobs.”

The audit report, signed by Legislative Auditor Daryl Purpera, ended with a recommendation that Arbuckle seek further legal guidance (emphasis added).

“We recommend that the DPSO consult with legal counsel and the Louisiana Board of Ethics on the legality of these relationships.

“The DPSO should also adopt detailed ethics policies and procedures, including requiring all employees to complete the annual ethics training in accordance with (state statute) and prohibiting employees from contracting with the DPSO,” it said.

A copy of the audit letter was sent to the Board of Ethics.

Sterritt, meanwhile, assures us that “no one involved understood there to be an ethical violation or that there was a potential for a violation.

“Further, Mr. Davidson has retired and is no longer employed by the DPSO. Accordingly, the relationship in question and the potential for a conflict have terminated.”

While this has the potential of becoming a gravely serious issue for a small community—and it certainly should be considered as such—we can’t help thinking after reading Sterritt’s convoluted (and glaringly faulty) legalese of the half-serious joke about an attorney’s legal response to the claim that his dog had bitten a man as he walked past the lawyer’s home:

“My dog doesn’t bite. I keep my dog inside a fence. I don’t own a dog.”

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