“The petty thief is imprisoned but the big thief becomes a feudal lord.”
There it was, splashed across the Metro page of Tuesday’s Baton Rouge Advocate:
“OMV audit: More than $200,000 stolen”
The entire matter is heavily weighed down by irony but you’d never know it from reading the story.
It seems that a new audit of the Department of Public Safety and Corrections (DPS) has revealed that two employees of the Louisiana Office of Motor Vehicles (OMV) misappropriated more than $211,000 before being arrested.
The two, Heather Prather of Baker in East Baton Rouge Parish and Angelle Temple of Marksville in Avoyelles Parish were actually arrested in early 2015—nearly a year ago—and fired for felony theft, injuring public records and malfeasance in office.
“Steal a little and they throw you in jail. Steal a lot and then they make you king.”
“Upon investigation, OMV management determined that the OMV employees had diverted public funds for personal use and violated state laws,” according to the Legislative Auditor’s Office.
Apparently the two issued receipts to paying customers but then either altered, voided or simply did not post the transactions. There was no indication as to whether or not the two knew each other or if they conspired together or acted separately in misappropriating the funds.
And yes, $211,000 is a lot of money and nothing in this post should be interpreted as excusing the women’s actions.
But isn’t it odd that the media would give such prominence to this story while overlooking official misappropriation of public funds?
Take, for example, the lingering case of high ranking State Police official Jill Boudreaux and the unmet demand that she repay nearly $60,000 in money she received to which she was not entitled. That little matter is still unresolved after almost six years.
And then there is Bobby Jindal. He allowed the taxpayers of Louisiana to pick up the tab for the cost of more than $3 million for State Police security details. Those costs were incurred while he spent more than two-thirds of his final year in office campaigning out-of-state for the Republican presidential nomination. A reasonable person would assume his campaign would have paid for that protection since his travels had zero to do with his job as governor of Louisiana.
But few lately have accused Jindal of being reasonable. The cost of flights, taxis, auto rentals, lodging, laundry and meals cost Louisiana taxpayers more than $640,000 in addition to the salaries of state troopers assigned to his out-of-state security detail. None of that has been refunded by Jindal’s campaign.
“He who uses the office he owes to the voters wrongfully
and against them is a thief”
Boudreaux, Undersecretary for DPS, which has management oversight responsibility for OMV, first said the office would consider a policy of no longer accepting cash as a safeguard against theft by employees.
Later, however, she and the Auditor’s Office agreed that OMV only needs a better system of controls over accepting cash. State Police public information officer Doug Cain said the goal of OMV was to continue to provide convenience to the customer while at the same time, assuring “due diligence to have accountability on the process.”
Due diligence appears to have been lacking in efforts to have Boudreaux repay the $59,000 she was paid as part of an early retirement incentive offered nearly six years ago.
In April of 2010, the Jindal administration, in an offer to implement across the board savings, made a one-time incentive package offer to various state agencies as a means to encourage state employees to take early retirement.
Handled properly, it appeared at the time—and still does appear—to have been an economical and compassionate way to nudge employees who wanted out but who could not afford to retire, into making the decision to walk away, thus reducing the number of state employees which in turn translated to long-term savings in salaries and benefits paid by the state.
On April 23 of that year, DPS Deputy Undersecretary Jill Boudreaux sent an email to all personnel informing them that the Department of Civil Service and the Louisiana State Police Commission had approved the retirement incentive as a “Layoff Avoidance Plan.”
In legal-speak, under the incentive eligible applicants would receive a payment of 50 percent of the savings realized by DPS for one year from the effective date of the employee’s retirement.
In simpler language, the incentive was simply 50 percent of the employee’s annual salary. If an employee making $50,000 per year, for example, was approved for the incentive, he or she would walk away with $25,000 in up-front payments, plus his or her regular retirement and the agency would save one-half of her salary from the date of retirement to the end of the fiscal year. The higher the salary, the higher the potential savings.
The program, offered to the first 20 DPS employees to sign up via an internet link on a specific date, was designed to save the state many times that amount over the long haul. If, for example, 20 employees, each making $50,000 a year, took advantage of the incentive, DPS theoretically would realize a savings of $1 million per year thereafter following the initial retirement year.
That formula, repeated in multiple agencies, could produce a savings of several million—not that much in terms of a $25 billion state budget, but a savings nonetheless.
The policy did come with one major caveat from the Department of Civil Service, however. Agencies were cautioned not to circumvent the program through the state’s obscure retire-rehire policy whereby several administrative personnel, the most notable being former Secretary of Higher Education Sally Clausen, have “retired,” only to be “rehired” a day or so later in order to reap a monetary windfall.
“We strongly recommend that agencies exercise caution in re-hiring an employee who has received a retirement incentive payment within the same budget unit until it can be clearly demonstrated that the projected savings have been realized,” the Civil Service communique said.
“A man with a briefcase can steal millions more than any man with a gun.”
Basically, to realize a savings under the early retirement incentive payout, an agency would have been required to wait at least a year before rehiring an employee who had retired under the program.
Boudreaux, by what many in DPS feel was more than mere happenstance, managed to be the first person to sign up on the date the internet link opened up for applications.
In Boudreaux’s case, her incentive payment was based on an annual salary of about $92,000 so her incentive payment was around $46,000. In addition, she was also entitled to payment of up to 300 hours of unused annual leave which came to another $13,000 or so for a total of about $59,000 in walk-around money.
Her retirement date was April 28 but the day before, on April 27, she double encumbered herself into the classified (Civil Service) Deputy Undersecretary position because another employee was promoted into her old position on April 26.
A double incumbency is when an employee is appointed to a position that is already occupied by an incumbent, in this case, Boudreaux’s successor. Double incumbencies are mostly used for smooth succession planning initiatives when the incumbent of a position (Boudreaux, in this case) is planning to retire, according to the Louisiana Department of Civil Service.
Here’s the kicker: agencies are not required to report double incumbencies to the Civil Service Department if the separation or retirement will last for fewer than 30 days. And because State Civil Service is not required to fund double incumbencies, everything is conveniently kept in-house and away from public scrutiny.
On April 30, under the little-known retire-rehire policy, Boudreaux was rehired two days after her “retirement,” but this time at the higher paying position of Undersecretary, an unclassified, or appointive position.
What’s more, though she “retired” as Deputy Undersecretary on April 28, her “retirement” was inexplicably calculated based on the higher Undersecretary position’s salary, a position she did not assume until April 30—two days after her “retirement,” sources inside DPS told LouisianaVoice.
Following her maneuver, then-Commissioner of Administration Angelé Davis apparently saw through the ruse and reportedly ordered Boudreaux to repay her incentive payment as well as the payment for her 300 hours of annual leave, according to those same DPS sources.
It was about this time, however, that Davis left Gov. Bobby Jindal’s administration to take a position in the private sector. Paul Rainwater was named to succeed Davis on June 24, 2010, and the matter of Boudreaux’s payment quickly slipped through the cracks and was never repaid.
Granted, $59,000 is not a lot in the over scheme of things—especially with the state facing a budgetary shortfall of nearly $2 billion. But as the late Sen. Everette Dirksen said, “A million here and a million there and pretty soon you’re taking about real money.”
Well, no matter the amount, it’s real money.
Perhaps when Jay Dardenne takes over as the incoming Commissioner of Administration, he may wish to take another look at the manner in which Boudreaux took $59,000 in extra cash and then defied the directive by Davis to repay the money.