Allegations of forged and falsified time sheets, misapplication and/or misappropriation of federal funds, unaccounted for expensive ice chests, a claim of a stolen computer hard drive and an FBI investigation.
Just another ordinary day at the office in another state agency in Louisiana.
Except this state agency, the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries (LDWF) normally flies well under the radar, attracting little or no attention from local, state or federal officials.
And, to be truthful, that’s the way LDWF officials would have preferred it.
In fact, according to one former agent who spoke with LouisianaVoice, he was told precisely that by a fellow agent: “Don’t worry, we’re over here in Southwest Louisiana where no one ever looks at us”
Long before it became public knowledge that the FBI was investigating irregularities at LDWF, LouisianaVoice received a cryptic telephone call in mid-June from an FBI special agent from Baton Rouge asking what we might know about the agency.
We had already received an anonymous tip that the feds were looking into illegalities involving misappropriation of federal funds related to the BP Deepwater Horizon Gulf oil spill cleanup. Our source said about $10,000 in fishing equipment was purchased with the federal funds, “along with 40 or 50 Yeti coolers,” of which “only three can be accounted for.”
Yeti coolers are expensive, top-of-the-line coolers, some costing more than $1,200, making them a prime target for theft.
Professing (truthfully) that we had little information to share, we referred the caller to former LDWF agent Todd Abshire who had contacted us earlier about payroll irregularities—including the forging of his initials on his timesheets to reflect time classifications which he says were inaccurate.
Now it appears official that LDWF is indeed under investigation for misapplication of federal funds from the BP oil spill. http://www.louisianasportsman.com/details.php?id=9895
At issue is how the agency spent $8.6 million seafood testing grant awarded by BP following the 2010 Deepwater Horizon spill.
Abshire, a Marine Corps veteran, said he was the victim of discrimination because supervisors would not accommodate him for his service-related PTSD. He also said he witnessed supervisors claiming hours that they did not work. In one case, he said the supervisor left him practicing backing a trailer in the supervisor’s driveway while the supervisor worked at his second job.
LDWF receives no state General Fund (direct) money, but the bulk of its funding is via statutory dedications which are state funds and, like all other agencies, its funds have to be appropriated by the state to be spent. Therefore it would be incorrect to say the agency is self-funded, as some in the agency insist. In fact, it receives funding from several federal programs and, says Abshire, that is where the time sheet irregularities come into play.
Agents are required to code their time sheets according to which of the federal programs they work on a particular day. The money for their salaries is charged back to the program listed on the timesheets.
The federal programs include, among others:
- Boating Safety Enforcement;
- Boating Accident Investigation;
- Boating Safety Search and Rescue;
- Recreational Fishing Federal;
- Commercial Fishing Federal;
- Commercial Catch Shares;
- Federal Game and Waterfowl;
- Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ);
- Maritime SWAT
Abshire said he has witnessed agents remaining in the LDWF offices while coding their timesheets under one of the federally-funded programs.
He even provided copies of his own timesheets which he said showed changes to times he did not work—changes made without his authorization and with his initials forged to the timesheets.
Besides the feds, the agency is also being investigated for contract irregularities and for nepotism by a number of local and state agencies, including the Legislative Auditor, the Louisiana Office of Inspector General and East Baton Rouge District Attorney.
Now, in addition to the missing ice chests, claims of illegal purchases with federal funds, and charges of falsified time sheets, comes the word that a LDWF employee has reported the theft of items from her desk, items that include a computer hard drive and a day planner.
Wendy Brogdon, listed as a confidential assistant, said the hard drive, day planner and personal souvenirs were taken in a burglary of her office between the evening of Aug. 11 and Aug. 24 during a time the office was shut down because of record flooding, according to her attorney, J. Arthur Smith, III.
Inexplicably, she was placed on administrative leave after reporting the theft and just as puzzling, LDWF spokesperson Adam Einck would not confirm whether or not she was a LDWF employee even though her name regularly appears in the minutes of the Louisiana Wildlife and Fisheries Commission as the commission secretary.
LDWF officials also said surveillance cameras at agency offices were of no use because they were aimed at the office’s exterior and not the interior. If we had a tendency toward conspiracy theories, that would be just too convenient and it might even prompt us to wonder what might have been on the hard drive and the day planner that was important enough to be taken in the theft.
But this is Louisiana, after all, so it’s only natural that the thief would also take Duck Commander duck calls autographed by Willie Robertson of the reality TV show Duck Dynasty, Duck Commander tea cups signed by Si Robertson and Duck Commander baseball caps signed by Willie and Si Robertson.
At least now we know the real reason for the burglary.