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Archive for the ‘Auditor’ Category

It’s a common practice in investigative reporting to have confidential sources. I do myself because in many of those cases, the information comes from a person who cannot afford to have his identity revealed for fear of reprisals. Often a person must conceal his identity because to do otherwise could mean the loss of his job at worst, impossible working conditions at best.

Perhaps that is why New Orleans TV station WWL scrambled for damage control when LouisianaVoice revealed the source of the leaked Louisiana State Police (LSP) audit that was so critical of the management missteps of former LSP Superintendent Mike Edmonson.

Obviously, WWL and its news partner, the Baton Rouge Advocate, were trying to protect the identity of the one who leaked the audit (or indeed, may not of even known the source—I’ve received anonymous tips before; the story of the attempt to bump up Edmonson’s retirement by about $100,000 is an example) but WWL got a little sloppy when, in the course of airing its story, showed a copy of the audit’s cover letter to Edmonson.

They either didn’t know or forgot that cover letter went out to only one person—Edmonson. Only two copies of the audit were printed and the other, sans cover letter, went to LSP.

So, by showing that letter in its video coverage of the audit report, WWL blew Edmonson’s cover even as Edmonson was, in my late grandfather’s vernacular, squealing like a stuck pig over the “premature release” which he said adversely affected his response to the audit—just the way he planned it.

By crying foul, he could claim his defense, in case of subsequent criminal charges, has been tainted. After all, a Baton Rouge judge recently ruled that while Legislative Auditor Daryl Purpera is protected as a public official from legal liability for the contents of an audit of the Louisiana Department of Veterans’ Affairs, he is not necessarily protected by a news release issued by the auditor’s office concerning the contents of that audit. The judge, in his ruling, has allowed a lawsuit by the former secretary of Veterans’ Affairs to go forward on that basis.

Edmonson then, or most likely his legal counsel, saw an opening. A premature release of the audit before Edmonson had a chance to respond could conceivably prejudice the case against Edmonson. Accordingly, Edmonson (or more likely someone acting anonymously on his behalf) slipped a copy of the audit to The Advocate/WWL.

It might have worked had it not bee for the posting of that cover letter on WWL. That let the cat out of the bag and exposed Edmonson as the leak.

WWL, in an effort to save face, quickly removed the video from its web page after LouisianaVoice blew the whistle. Now there’s just a story but no video.

But as a LSP officials said on Monday, “There are a ton of screen shots of the letter floating around out there, so it’s not gone.”

Two quotes come immediately to mind.

From Andy Taylor, talking to Barney Fife on The Andy Griffith Show:

“There’s mischief afoot.”

From the late C.B. Forgotston:

“You can’t make this stuff up.”

 

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First of all, let’s give credit where it’s due: Baton Rouge Advocate reporter Jim Mustian pulled off a major coup in securing and publishing the FINDINGS of the Legislative Auditor’s preliminary report of its audit of Louisiana State Police (LSP). The fact that the document is a draft and not the final document in no way diminishes the importance of the findings nor does it really matter how Mustian obtained it—except perhaps to Legislative Auditor Daryl Purpera.

Former State Police Superintendent Mike Edmonson, who was subjected to withering criticism in the report, is livid that it was leaked before he had an opportunity to respond to its findings. He texted Mustian to say that by reporting the audit’s contents, “you will be negating my legal right to review. The process is for me to respond back to them first, not the media. Whoever furnished you with the report did so without the approval of the auditor’s office,” he said.

Purpera told LouisianaVoice that he is confident the leak did not come from his office because he tracks who has access to reports prior to their release. That would appear to narrow the premature release to someone within LSP. But appearances are misleading.

As the officials say during those college and NFL football games, upon further review, a WWL-TV newscast about the audit Friday may have inadvertently revealed the real source of the leak. If you go to the 40-second spot on this VIDEO, you will see a screenshot of the auditor’s Nov. 28 cover letter to….Edmonson. The only other audit copy went to LSP but that one did not contain the cover letter to the former superintendent.

That can mean only one thing: The audit report was leaked by none other than Edmonson himself—or by someone to whom he provided a copy of the report.

So, it would seem that his anger over the premature release of the audit is somewhat misplaced.

And the fact remains that had Edmonson not gamed the system to his and his family’s advantage, there would be no reason for him to find it necessary to exercise his “legal right to review.”

Edmonson, who many rank-and-file troopers refer to as “Precious,” said he was preparing a detailed response to the “lengthy” report and that he looked forward to “answering any questions after the release of the final report.” We can’t wait.

Rafael Goyeneche, president of the Metropolitan Crime Commission, a New Orleans watchdog group that monitors public wrongdoing, said the audit showed Edmonson to be “less the colonel of the State Police and more the Boss Hog of the State Police,” a reference to the popular TV series that ran from 1979 to 1985. He said the audit signaled “a day of celebration” for rank-and-file troopers who were aware of what Edmonson was doing to the organization and of his “self-serving decisions.”

Meanwhile, details that have come out of LSP headquarters about the manner in which Edmonson mixed personal and departmental business, accepted free hotel rooms and other services, and generally ran the department like his own fiefdom has gotten the attention of the feds.

“The Louisiana State Police has been and continues to coordinate efforts with the U.S. Attorney’s Office and the Federal Bureau of Investigation regarding this matter,” said Maj. Doug Cain, a State Police spokesman, in a statement to The Advocate and to LouisianaVoice.

U.S. Attorney Corey Amundson, of the Middle District of Louisiana, confirmed that his office “has been and will continue coordinating with State Police,” Mustian reported.

LSP Public Affairs Officer Lt. J.B. Slaton also said, “We continue to cooperate with the Legislative Auditor’s office. The department is currently formulating our response to the findings and recommendations of the audit. That response will be included in the final report and disseminated by the Louisiana Legislative Auditor.” He said any further comment “would be premature and interfere with the Legislative Auditor’s standard procedures and directives to the department.”

So, what, exactly, does that audit report say?

Well, here are a few of the low points taken from Mustian’s story:

  • He used a state credit card to purchase more than $7,000 in special meals without approval from the Division of Administration and without sufficient documentation to show their business purpose.
  • He moved his family into the Department of Public Safety (DPS) compound “without legal authority” to do so, allowing taxpayers to pick up the cost of his utilities, including cable TV and electricity. Its formal name is the Residential Conference Center. It was constructed in 2002 and intended only to house the governor and State Police superintendent during emergencies such as hurricanes.
  • He did not include his use of the residence, valued at nearly $435,000, as a fringe benefit on his federal form W-2 during the time he and his family resided there, from February 2008 (right after his appointment by Bobby Jindal) to March 2017 when he retired under fire from the now notorious San Diego TRIP. Auditors feel he should have paid taxes on the benefit but are uncertain if he did. Perhaps that’s one of the questions he will answer.
  • He made a practice of requiring state troopers to transport his wife to various places: bar-hopping in New Orleans, gambling in Lake Charles, to the Baton Rouge airport, or to take his wife, mother-in-law and a friend to and from a Bob Seger concert in Lafayette. On one such occasion, troopers said they were ordered to escort Mrs. Edmonson and a friend to the French Quarter while they were wearing costumes that may have included parts of the LSP uniform.
  • He procured complimentary hotel rooms in New Orleans for friends and family and even received improper reimbursement for them. He allowed friends and family to stay in extra hotel rooms that were paid for by the city of New Orleans and which were intended for troopers working Mardi Gras detail. He would receive multiple rooms in his name or the names of other troopers, the report said. He also received reimbursement from State Police for a hotel room in 2014 even though the city of New Orleans had reserved a room for him in a different hotel. In February 2015, he allowed two friends to stay in a Windsor Court suite that was intended for troopers. He admitted inviting the friends but said he thought they paid for the room. A friend of Edmonson’s said Edmonson booked rooms for him and his wife at Windsor Court on numerous occasions but that they did not know they were paid for by the city of New Orleans. In 2016, Edmonson obtained another room and Loews New Orleans Hotel for his stepdaughter and her friend that was intended for a trooper. Edmonson claimed it was an “extra room” that had been taken out of service because the air conditioner was broken.
  • He annually received free tickets to the Endymion Mardi Gras Extravaganza. State law prohibits public servants from accepting anything of economic value as a gift or gratuity from any person or organization who has or is seeking contractual or other business or financial relationships with that public servant’s agency. Endymion paid LSP nearly $400,000 from 2013 to 2017 for security details.
  • He received more than $6,300 between January 2014 and March 2017 as a daily allowance from LSP to pay for cleaning his uniform. Yet he used the dry-cleaning service at the Governor’s Mansion to clean his uniform and other clothing for free.
  • He consistently failed to pay for his meals at the State Police cafeteria. While he told auditors it was possible during his tenure that he walked out of the cafeteria without paying for his coffee, the cafeteria manager said he failed to pay for his meals at least half the time.
  • He ordered inmates to deliver food to his residence, used state resources to service his son’s jeep and his wife’s vehicle, and had prisoners cook, clean, and walk the family dog.

Those were some of the specifics. In general terms, the audit painted a portrait of a freeloader who was not above taking every handout that came his way, Mustian said.

Basically, most of the points covered are things the media knew—or at least suspected— Edmonson was doing all along, so the audit’s criticisms are really nothing new at all.

One LouisianaVoice reader wrote on Facebook, “Karma is such a good thing.”

Some have a different word for it.

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We have apparently entered into an era in which a public servant who does his job as he should now runs the risk of being named a defendant in one of those strategic lawsuits against public participation (SLAPP) discussed in recent LouisianaVoice posts.

The very prospect of Legislative Auditor Daryl Purpera being sued for issuing a press release about an audit report his office performed should send a chill throughout the Fourth Estate—mainstream media as well as bloggers. Who’s to say you can’t be sued for discussing an audit report over a Frappuccino at Starbucks?

Welsh Alderman Jacob Colby Perry recently won a court victory when the judge threw out not one, but four SLAPP LAWSUITS against him but now the attorney for the four who sued him—the Welsh mayor, her children, and the police chief—is attempting to get the presiding judge recused from the case in a desperate attempt to keep the frivolous lawsuits alive.

Louviere v Perry

Johnson v Perry

Cormier v Perry

And now we have a STORY in the Baton Rouge Advocate telling us that Baton Rouge attorney Jill Craft is suing Purpera on behalf of her client, former Secretary of Veterans’ Affairs David LaCerte—not because an investigative audit by Purpera’s office found that LaCerte, a Bobby Jindal appointee, allowed fraudulent behavior in his department, but because Purpera had the audacity to issue a press release saying so.

The state asked that 19th Judicial District Court Judge William Morvant dismiss the lawsuit on the grounds that Purpera was protected by the same statute that protects the speech of legislators.

Incredulously, Morvant ruled that while the auditor’s investigative report was protected, the press release issued by Purpera’s office was not. “I don’t think the press release falls within that immunity,” Morvant said, apparently with a straight face.

That immediately raises the question of whether or not the media are free to write their own story from the report. In other words, yer honor, can I, as a news reporter, write a comprehensive story that accurately reflects the contents of the audit without fear of some attorney swooping down and SLAPPing me?

  • Can LouisianaVoice or The Advocate, or any other medium be SLAPPed for writing that a contract for the privatization of a state hospital contained 50 blank pages, even though it did?
  • Is it defamation that reporters wrote about the oil and gas industry pouring contributions into the campaigns of a governor who killed a lawsuit against 97 oil and gas companies?
  • Can Lamar White be SLAPPed because he wrote about U.S. Rep. Steven Scalise speaking at an event attended by David Duke? That certainly didn’t reflect well on Scalise’s image.
  • Can Bob Mann be SLAPPed for admonishing Republican politicians to quit calling themselves “pro-life” if they “can’t speak out on behalf of sick kids” after Louisiana’s congressional delegation remained silent after Congress allowed the CHIP program to expire? That was, after all, a pretty damning condemnation of those self-righteous Republicans who seem to believe life begins at conception and ends at birth.
  • Can Robert Burns be SLAPPed for documenting payroll fraud on the part of an employee of a state board?
  • Can The Lens, a New Orleans online news service, be SLAPPed for exposing the Orleans Parish District Attorney for issuing bogus subpoenas?
  • Can a Houma blogger be SLAPPed for criticizing Sheriff Jerry Larpenter? Apparently the sheriff thought he could be at least raided. Instead Larpenter wound up having to pay substantial damages in the ensuing lawsuit, so at least there’s that.

We’ve already seen SLAPP suits where Superintendent of Education JOHN WHITE sued private citizen James Finney over Finney’s request for public records.

That followed a similar lawsuit filed by 4th Judicial District JUDGES against the Ouachita Citizen over the newspaper’s unmitigated gall in seeking public records from the court.

When the audit was issued, LaCerte’s attorney at the time called the audit’s findings “blatantly false. Both the interim secretary and the newly-appointed secretary of Veterans’ Affairs agreed with the findings and had taken corrective actions, Purpera’s news release said. The news release also noted that LaCerte’s attorney at the time called the audit’s findings “blatantly false.”

One thing Louisiana’s anti-SLAPP laws do is provide for the awarding of legal fees should a defendant prevail in one of these outrageous attempts to stifle public discourse.

Perry stands to collect something on the order of $16,000 in attorney fees. If plaintiff attorney Ronald Richard persists in pursuing this matter, he will be doing his clients a disservice because those attorney fees for Perry can only continue to climb.

LouisianaVoice also collected attorney fees in a recent SLAPP action when the presiding judge ruled in our favor. But there appears to be no shortage of plaintiffs willing to sue and unless judges start imposing sanctions, there will be no incentive for attorneys to refrain from collecting legal fees to represent them.

Morvant’s ruling, for lack of a better term, is an absurd interpretation of the First Amendment held in such high esteem by Thomas Jefferson who once said if forced to choose between a government without newspapers or newspapers without a government, “I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter.”

This is just the kind of ruling, if it is allowed to stand, that can send us barreling down the slippery slope to a government without newspapers—or any other independent media with courage enough to report the truth.

Somewhere in the great hereafter, Richard Nixon and Spiro Agnew are applauding Morvant’s ruling and should he learn of it, Donald Trump will no doubt be tweeting the glad tidings of great joy about the “fake news” comeuppance.

 

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LouisianaVoice has received confirmation that the Legislative Auditor’s office has served subpoenas on the New Orleans Roosevelt Hotel in connection with its ongoing investigation of Louisiana State Police (LSP) management practices under former Superintendent Mike Edmonson.

Confirmation was received first from one of the principals of the historic, 116-year-old hotel and subsequently from Legislative Auditor Daryl Purpera, who declined to provide any specifics as to what investigators were looking for.

But it’s not difficult to figure out.

Considering an Oct. 11 LouisianaVoice STORY about complimentary hotel rooms given Edmonson and other LSP command personnel and State Fire Marshal personnel by two other New Orleans hotels, a good bet would be that auditors are looking at one of two possibilities:

  • Were state police given complimentary rooms at the Roosevelt Hotel in violation of state ethics laws that prohibit state employees from accepting anything of value as a gift, or
  • In cases where the state may have paid for the rooms during events like Mardi Gras, did anyone other than LSP personnel stay in the rooms?

Questions are pretty much limited to those two options.

Of course, “anyone” could simply refer to wives or other family members, which would be a violation in itself, or it could be other “guests.”

Rumors have circulated for months that officials of both LSP and the State Fire Marshal’s office loved to party hearty in New Orleans and female companionship and booze often were parts of the equation.

One source, when LouisianaVoice only asked if the wives and girlfriends of fire marshal personnel were also allowed to stay at the hotels free of charge, volunteered, “Oh, yes. Wives, girlfriends and other female guests.” (Emphasis his.)

Because Purpera could not go into detail as to what his investigators were looking for, he naturally also declined to speculate as to who, if anyone, else may have stayed in rooms assigned to LSP personnel.

Nor would he offer any insight as to whether he was trying to make a determination as to identities of hotel guests or attempting to learn if LSP personnel simply accepted free rooms from the hotel.

On one hand, state employees may have been accepting free rooms, a clear ethics violation. On the other, the state may have paid for rooms for state employees who were on temporary duty in New Orleans but who then allowed others to share the rooms—on the state dime.

From our vantage point, there doesn’t appear to be much distinction between the two insofar as flouting the ethics rules for public employees is concerned.

Such was the attitude that was allowed to permeate LSP during Edmonson’s nine years as Louisiana’s top cop.

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The most recent audit (August 2017) of the Foster Care Program of the Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) found that:

  • DCFS did not conduct proper criminal background checks on non-certified foster care providers;
  • DCFS allowed nine certified providers with prior cases of abuse or neglect to care for foster children during fiscal years 2012-2016 without obtaining required waivers.
  • DCFS does not have a formal process to ensure that caseworkers actually assessed the safety of children placed with 68 non-certified providers.
  • DCFS did not always ensure that children in foster care received services to address physical and behavioral health needs.
  • State regulations require DCFS to expunge certain cases of abuse or neglect from the State Central Registry, which means those records are not available for caseworkers to consider prior to placing children with providers.

(See the DCFS audit summary HERE.)

So, the question now is this: What steps will the state take to protect these children now that the Legislative Auditor has pointed out these serious deficiencies?

If the results of a 2012 audit of the Louisiana Department of Economic Development’s Enterprise Zone Program is any indication, then the answer is nothing.

Under state statute, Louisiana’s Enterprise Zone (EZ) program is designed to award incentives to businesses and industries that locate in areas of high unemployment as a means of encouraging job growth. (The summary of that audit can be viewed HERE.)

That audit found that:

  • Approximately 68 percent of the 930 businesses that received EZ program incentives from the state were located outside of a designated enterprise zone. These businesses received nearly $124 million (61 percent) of the $203 million in total EZ program incentives during calendar years 2008 through 2010.
  • Approximately $3.9 billion (60 percent) of the $6.5 billion in capital investment by businesses receiving EZ incentives was located outside a designated enterprise zone.
  • Approximately 12,570 (75 percent) of the 16,760 net new jobs created by businesses granted EZ incentives were located outside an enterprise zone.
  • Four other states with which Louisiana was compared exclude retail businesses from EZ incentives. Louisiana does not, allowing such businesses as Walmart to take advantage of the incentives.
  • None of the four neighboring states allows businesses to count part-time employees among the new jobs created. Louisiana does.
  • Louisiana state law prohibits disclosure of the amount of incentives received by businesses.

Little, if anything, has been done to rectify these deficiencies in the oversight of the EZ program.

There has been precious little reaction from this year’s audit of the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries which found that thousands of dollars in equipment had been stolen, a story LouisianaVoice called attention to last year. Go HERE for a summary of that audit report or HERE for our story.

Some remedial steps have been made in addressing a multitude of problems exposed in a 2016 audit of the Department of Veterans Affairs (See audit summary HERE).

Yet, we can’t help but wonder where the oversight was before a critical audit necessitated changes. Among those findings:

  • Payment of $44,000 to a company for improperly documented work without the required contract.
  • The use of $27,500 in federal funds specifically earmarked for the Southeast Louisiana Veterans Cemetery in Slidell for the purchase of a Ford Expedition for the exclusive use of headquarters staff.
  • The failure to disclose information of potential crimes involving veteran residents at several War Veteran homes.
  • The possible falsifying of former Secretary David Alan LaCerte’s military service as posted on the LDVA website.
  • LaCerte’s engaging in questionable organizational, hiring, and pay practices that led in turn to a lack of accountability.

Likewise, some positive steps have been taken in shaping up the Department of Corrections’ (DOC) trusty oversight programs but that resulted as much from a thorough investigative report by Baton Rouge Advocate reporters as a 2016 audit (see HERE) that found:

Because the Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola’s trusty policy, 1,547 (an astounding 91 percent) trusties at Angola were not eligible for the program and even after the policy was revised, 400 (24 percent) of 1705 trusties were ineligible. All 400 were considered by DOC to be eligible as a result of having an undocumented, implicit waiver for a sex offense or time served less than 10 years.

Equally troubling, the audit found that 14 of 151 (9 percent) of trusties assigned to work in state buildings in Baton Rouge were not eligible because of crimes of violence, including aggravated battery, manslaughter, and aggravated assault with a firearm. The report further found that if those 151 were required to comply with the requirements in place for Level 1 trusties, 49 (32 percent) would be ineligible.

Indicative of the monumental waste brought about by the proliferation of boards and commissions in state government, a 2017 audit (see HERE) of “Boards, Commissions, and Like Entities) noted that the number of boards and commissions had been reduced from the 492 in 2012 to “only” 458 in 2016. Texas, by comparison, has 173, Mississippi about 200. The appointment of members of those boards and commissions take up a lot of time as the governor’s office supposedly vets each new member.

Four boards did not respond to the auditor’s request for data in 2017 and 2016.

There were 11 inactive boards which were not fulfilling established functions, five of which were also inactive the previous year.

Some of these boards, as illustrated on numerous occasions by LouisianaVoice, often go rogue and there seems to be no one to rein them in. These include the Louisiana State Police Commission, The Louisiana Board of Dentistry, the Auctioneer Licensing Board, the State Board of Cosmetology, and the State Board of Medical Examiners, to name but a few.

Take, for example, the 2016 audit of the Louisiana Motor Vehicle Commission (see HERE):

  • The commission did not have adequate controls over financial reporting to ensure accuracy.
  • The commission did not comply with state procurement laws requiring contracts for personal, professional and consulting services, failing to obtain approval for contracts for two vendors totaling $80,000.

The point of this exercise is to call attention to the one office in state government which, with little fanfare and even less credit, goes about its job each day in attempting to maintain some semblance of order in the manner in which the myriad of state agencies protects the public fisc.

The Legislative Auditor’s Office, headed by Daryl Purpera, performs a Herculean, but thankless job of poring over receipts, contracts, bids, and everything related to expenditures to ensure that the agencies are toeing the line and are in accordance with established requirements and laws regarding the expenditure of public funds.

Thousands of audits have been performed. We pulled up only a few random examples: there are others, like the Recovery School District, the Department of Education, Grambling State University (only because it has so many audits with repeated findings), levee districts and local school boards and parish governments. Untold numbers of irregularities have been uncovered—only to be largely ignored by those in positions to take action against agency heads, who, because of political ambitions, allow attention to be diverted from their responsibilities of running a tight ship.

In cases of egregious findings, the media will jump on the story, only to allow it to fade away and things soon return to normal with no disciplinary action taken against those responsible.

If all elected officials and members of the governor’s cabinet were held accountable for their sloppy work or the outright dishonesty of their agency heads, it would send a message throughout state government and this state might well save hundreds of millions of dollars in wasted expenditures and theft.

It calls to mind the lyrics of a 1958 Johnny Cash song, Big River, recorded when he was still with Sun Records:

“She raised a few eyebrows

And then she went on down alone”

Through it all, Purpera and his staff trudge ever-onward, raising a few eyebrows and then continuing (alone) to do their jobs even as those above them do not.

They—and the taxpayers of Louisiana—deserve better.

 

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