Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for the ‘Fraud’ Category

Try for a moment to imagine that:

  • You were born in England of Indian parents, moved to Louisiana at the age of 10 with your parents and twin brother;
  • You graduated from the prestigious Louisiana School for Math, Science & and the Arts and the LSU School of Dentistry;
  • You’ve practiced dentistry for the past 16 years in Monroe;
  • You have devoted your entire adult life to serving those less fortunate;
  • The Dean of the LSU School of Dentistry recommended you for a seat on the Louisiana State Board of Dentistry;
  • You were appointed to the board by the governor of the State of Louisiana in January 2019;
  • Three months later, you learned your appointment had been abruptly rescinded because the incumbent board member pitched a hissy fit and called in political favors.

If your name is Dr. Jeetendra S. Patel, you don’t have to imagine because that scenario is all too real to him.

Along the way, he has learned several valuable lessons they don’t teach in high school civics classes:

  • Power is bestowed upon those who best know how to abuse it;
  • Once in possession of that power, they are quite reluctant to relinquish it;
  • Not everything in politics is done above-board—far from it;
  • Without the right connections, there are no slam-dunks;
  • There are many avenues to obtaining power but conniving, back-stabbing, deception, treachery and outright lies are the preferred methods.
  • Power is never achieved for the purpose of doing good; it is for one purpose only: crushing your opponents, both perceived and real;
  • The simultaneous possession of power and idealism are incompatible;

But, hey! That’s the new reality. You study hard, make good grades, do well in college, work hard, provide for your family, help the underprivileged, get involved in your kids’ schools, cheer for your favorite team and then see you idealism, your dreams smashed against the cold, hard rocks of political favoritism, back-room deals, good ol’ boy cronyism, and big-money politics.

In short, your American Dream has morphed into an American nightmare—and you never saw it coming.

That’s the story—the disillusionment, really—of Dr. Jeetendra S. Patel.

In an April 12 (Friday) email to State Sen. Francis Thompson (D-Delhi), Patel wrote:

The Louisiana State Board of Dentistry has been in the hot seat the last several years. The board needs diversity and some fresh faces. On Monday, October 1st, 2018, I was nominated to be on the board and to represent Electoral District 4. Dr. Richard Willis (who has already served a 5-year term) and Dr. Robert Spatafora were also nominated. These nominations were submitted to the Governor. On January 18th, 2019, I was appointed to the Louisiana State Board of Dentistry by the Governor. As of today, I have been on the state board almost 3 months and have already participated in the first meeting of 2019 as well as reviewed a board complaint case against a dentist. I have had the pleasure of meeting all the board members.

Unfortunately, I found out from a colleague today that I will not be confirmed by the Senate. Please help me understand why this is the case. I have been practicing dentistry in Monroe for 16 years and have attended most Northeast Louisiana Dental Association (NELDA) meetings since 2003. On September 18th, 2018, Dr. Willis sent an email out to all practicing dentists in our district stating that there would be a nominating meeting for the District 4 vacancy (a vacancy that did not exist). The meeting was to be held at his practice/office. How is this fair?  He had all his friends, most of whom were older dentists, come to the meeting.  A few of the dentists present don’t even practice dentistry anymore and I have never seen them at a meeting. Most of the dentists that came to his office usually are not present at our association meetings. Dr. Willis also had all 3 of his dental partners present. Nowhere in the bylaws, is there a ballot vote required. I questioned Dr. Willis that night about this unfairness in voting and his words were that’s what we are going to do.

This whole situation was handled poorly and with bias. Our first NELDA meeting of 2019 was held at The Taste of India on Thursday, January 17th. Dr. Willis was present that evening and was to give a state board report to all dentists who were present. When he found out that I was going to be appointed the next day, he stormed out of the restaurant and never gave his report. To make matters worse, he had one of his associates call me the following week to see if I would step down from the board. On Monday, April 1st, 2019, an anonymous email went out to all 4th district dentists asking for a new vote on the state board member appointment. This was a survey that any person could vote on. To make matters worse, the email stated that “At our recent legislature dinner, our local legislators requested a new vote on the state board member appointment.” The very next day, the Alternate Director to the LDA and the President of NELDA, sent out an email stating that this was not discussed.

So, basically, here’s what we have:

  • Willis has completed a five-year term on the board;
  • By law, the governor’s office solicits three names for nomination to succeed him;
  • The names of Patel, Willis and a third dentist were submitted;
  • Patel was selected from the three and nominated to the board—and has even attended a board meeting;
  • Willis didn’t want to go;
  • Willis tries an end-run around the governor’s office to call a new vote, a vote which state regulations do not allow;
  • An anonymous email was sent out (apparently on Willis’s behalf) announcing that a new vote had been requested by area legislators. This time, unlike the first, anyone who had a body temperature of approximately 98.60 would be eligible to vote;
  • Those in attendance of a meeting at which Willis walked out say no such discussion was ever held;
  • Patel’s nomination, nevertheless, was yanked and now Willis is scheduled for Senate confirmation within the next few days.

The words ruthless come to mind here.

And unless Gov. Edwards intervenes in this power play and reinstates Patel, this could become a campaign issue. It’s at least the second such case of a board appointment suddenly being rescinded by the governor’s office and if this is indicative of a trend, it’s an ugly one.

Many state boards in general and the Louisiana State Board of Dentistry and the Louisiana State Board of Medical Examiners in particular have become tight little cliques and outsiders need not apply.

It’s far past time that once and for all, the unequivocal point needs to be driven home that the memberships of these boards are not for personal enrichment or to destroy competition, but to serve the citizens of the State of Louisiana.

That point has been lost somewhere along the way.

Advertisements

Read Full Post »

As reports of financial improprieties in the LSU BASKETBALL program, the SCHOOL of VETERINARY MEDICINE and a children’s foundation at a Baton Rouge HOSPITAL compete for headlines, another scandal has been quietly brewing across town that thus far has managed to fly under the radar of news reporters and investigators.

It’s nothing on the magnitude of the pay to play story that has rocked higher education at the nation’s elite universities, but it is indicative of a growing problem of a deterioration of trust, integrity and morality behind the walls of academia.

Once considered paragons of virtue, propriety, and incorruptibility, our colleges and universities have become politicized by draconian budgetary cuts to the point that schools find themselves searching for their collective moral compasses even as they strive for funds to remain afloat.

But budgetary cuts alone can’t account for the some of the shenanigans we see taking place on our college campuses. Sometimes it’s just outright contempt for the rules of common decency.

Take Southern University, the state’s largest predominantly black university, for example.

The school has, with nobody taking notice, become embroiled in a dispute involving the firing of four faculty members in the Department of Speech-Language Pathology/Audiology.

The firings occurred when the faculty members refused to go along with:

  • The creation of a so-called shadow, or non-existent curriculum to benefit a single student;
  • The falsifying of another student’s grade from F to B so that she could graduate even though she failed to attend the class;
  • Allowing a student to enroll despite her being under suspension from the university;
  • Permitting a major course to be offered as an independent study when the department does not have independent study, again to benefit a single student;
  • Nepotism;
  • Bullying and threatening behavior by administration officials when faculty members questioned the legality or propriety of their actions;

The four, Dr. Elaine Lewnau, Dr. Christy Moland, Dr. Terrilynn Gillis, and Dr. Marilyn Seibert, are represented by Baton Rouge attorney J. Arthur Smith, III.

During Monday’s hearing by the Southern University System-wide Grievance Committee, committee chairperson academic counselor Marla Dickerson consistently interrupted Smith with a barrage of questions despite Smith’s repeated requests that he be allowed to complete his statements to the committee.

The entirety of Monday’s hearing was the very definition of a kangaroo court as the four faculty members were also interrupted time and time again as they attempted to give their opening statements.

Then, without a motion or vote to do so, Dickerson called an executive session, saying the hearing was not a public meeting and the committee was not a public body even though any decision it may make is clearly defined as an official action by a public body under state law. Dickerson’s saying otherwise does not change that.

The state’s OPEN MEETING STATUTE, R.S. 42:16 (A)(25) reads:

In order for a public body to enter into an executive session, a vote of 2/3 of members present at an open meeting, for which proper notice was given pursuant to R.S. 42:19, is necessary — along with an accompanying statement of the reason for entering into the executive session. The vote of each member on the motion to enter into executive session along with the reason for entering the executive session must be recorded and entered into the minutes. (emphasis added)

So, the “Grievance Committee” violated the state’s open meetings statutes which require public hearings of grievances should those filing grievances request a public hearing, which all four in fact, did request.

The same section says:

Further, the public body may not enter into executive session for the purposes of this discussion, if the individual requests that the matter be discussed in an open meeting. (emphasis added)

Dickerson, in calling the closed session, ejected not only LouisianaVoice, but also the four professors and their legal counsel (Smith) as well as the legal counsel for the university itself (Winston Decuir), thus preventing legal counsel for each side from hearing any testimony by witnesses.

The grievance was filed against Dr. James Ammons, executive vice president and executive vice chancellor of Southern University.

For the 2018 Spring Semester, a shadow curriculum consisting of three courses, was approved for a single student, even though there is no record of a syllabus for such courses and no record of student performance in the courses for which she received a grade of A. “This is grade fraud,” Smith said, because “The department chair did not know that these courses were being given to the student” and “there is no record of ASHA (American Speech-Language-Hearing Association) certification standards achieved in any of the courses.

“Because these courses were put into (the student’s) schedule without any knowledge of the department chair (or) graduate program director, in other words, illegal courses, and taught by…illegally appointed department chair and graduate program director, respectively,” Smith said. The previous department chair and graduate program director were removed by Ammons without reason, in violation of school policy, Smith said.

Smith said a major course was offered to a single student as an independent study in the 2018 Fall semester even though the Speech Pathology Department does not offer independent study, which Smith said violates the accuracy of the ASHA accreditation report where no independent study has ever been reported. Again, Smith said this constituted grade fraud.

Further, Smith said Dr. Stephen Enwefa removed Dr. Lewnau from her duties of teaching the course without reason and appointed his wife, Dr. Regina Enwefa, to teach the course. “This is nepotism despite the insistence by Dr. Ammons and President (Ray) Belton’s general counsel that the university is not in violation of the state’s nepotism laws.”

The student was to have completed an unauthorized clinic in the 2018 Spring semester, Smith said, but neither the site nor the clinical hours were approved by the Clinical Education director. The student was given an F because she attended only two weeks of the eight-week clinic, but Ammons changed her grade to a B. “The grade of B that was authorized by Dr. Ammons is fraudulent,” Smith said.

“Because Dr. Moland refused to give credit for something of which she had no record; because she would not falsify records for this student and lie, Dr. Ammons fired her,” Smith said.

Likewise, Dr. Gillis said she was fired for refusing to violate the ASHA professional ethics and because she “refused to submit to the illegal orders of Dr. Ammons.”

Dr. Seibert said she entered into an agreement with Southern whereby she would be paid $20,000 for teaching in the Speech-Language Pathology Department during the 2018 Fall semester but was subsequently paid only $7,500.

Dr. Lewnau added, “As chair of the admissions committee for the master’s degree program in speech-language pathology, Dr. Gillis had been contacted several times about the admission of 6 students who had applied and been denied because they did not meet the minimum admissions requirements.

“These contacts came from various offices on campus, including the President’s office, the Board of Supervisors’ office and the office of the Executive Vice President/Executive Vice Chancellor and someone who claimed to be a member of the Southern University Alumni Association, for the purpose of trying to get these students into the master’s degree program.

“Dr. Gillis had to repeatedly stated that the students just did not qualify for admissions. After Dr. (Donna) Dejean and Dr. Lewnau were removed from their administrative offices and replaced by the husband and wife team of Drs. Stephen and Regina Enwefa, and Dr. Gillis was given a letter of termination from the University, effective May 2019, these students were admitted to the master’s degree program by the Enwefas.

“Bear in mind, these students were admitted by the Enwefas who together and without any input from the rest of the faculty admitted them and without re-opening the admissions process to other students who might interested.

“The invitation was extended to these students who had been supported by individuals from the offices cited above. We believe that this was a contributing factor to Dr. Gillis’ being terminated. She refused to bow to the pressure placed upon her in the matter of these admissions. Since then all admissions, undergraduate and graduate, are administered by Stephen and Regina Enwefa; there is no longer an admissions committee as there had been in the past. Once again, nepotism!”

 

Read Full Post »

The Louisiana Legislative Auditor’s office, as required by law, issued its Report on Fiscal Deficiencies, Inefficiencies, Fraud, or Other Significant Issues Disclosed in Governmental Auditors for the first quarter of Fiscal Year 2019 last October.

And now, six months down the road, it’s a pretty good bet that no more than a handful of legislators, at best, have even glanced at the five-page REPORT that nine state agencies and one local agency for 17 deficiencies or irregularities totaling more than $245.7 million. Some of the deficiencies reported go back as far as 2008.

In fact, the smart money says that no more than a half-dozen of the 28 House members and 19 Senators who comprise the Joint Legislative Committee on the Budget have even picked up a copy of the report.

After all, there are campaign funds to be raised and lobbyists to be kept happy and one must have priorities.

And these are the ones who are charged with watching the purse strings on the state budget:

Joint Legislative Committee on the Budget (JLCB)

HOUSE
Henry, Cameron                           Chairman                          
Abraham, Mark                           Member                          
Abramson, Neil C.                           Member                          
Amedée, Beryl                           Member                          
Armes, James K.                           Member                          
Bacala, Tony                           Member                          
Bagley, Larry                           Member                          
Berthelot, John A.                           Member                          
Billiot, Robert E.                           Member                          
Carter, Gary                           Member                          
Chaney, Charles R.                           Member                          
Edmonds, Rick                           Member                          
Falconer, Reid                           Member                          
Foil, Franklin J.                           Member                          
Harris, Lance                           Member                          
Hodges, Valarie                           Member                          
Leger, Walt III                           Member                          
McFarland, Jack                           Member                          
Miguez, Blake                           Member                          
Miller, Dustin                           Member                          
Pylant, Steve E.                           Member                          
Richard, Jerome                           Member                          
Simon, Scott M.                           Member                          
Smith, Patricia Haynes                           Member                          
Zeringue, Jerome                           Member                          
Jackson, Katrina R.                           Interim Member                          
Stokes, Julie                           Interim Member                          
Barras, Taylor F.                           Ex Officio                          

 

SENATE
LaFleur, Eric                           Vice Chair                          
Allain, R. L. Bret                           Member                          
Appel, Conrad                           Member                          
Barrow, Regina                           Member                          
Bishop, Wesley T.                           Member                          
Donahue, Jack                           Member                          
Fannin, James R.                           Member                          
Hewitt, Sharon                           Member                          
Johns, Ronnie                           Member                          
Martiny, Daniel R.                           Member                          
Morrell, Jean-Paul J.                           Member                          
Tarver, Gregory                           Member                          
White, Mack “Bodi”                           Member                          
Chabert, Norbèrt N. “Norby”                           Interim Member                          
Morrish, Dan W. “Blade”                           Interim Member                          
Thompson, Francis C.                           Interim Member                          
Walsworth, Michael A.                            Interim Member                          
Alario, John                            Ex Officio                          
Long, Gerald                           Ex Officio                    

 

I base my opinion on the premise that had any of them read the report, they would—or should—be raising holy hell over such things as:

  • For the sixth consecutive report, the Department of Environmental Quality has not fully implemented effective monitoring procedures over the Waste Tire Management Program (WTMP) to ensure that waste tire date used to calculate subsidized payments to waste tire processors is reasonable. “We first reported weaknesses in controls over payments to WTMP processors in our engagement that covered fiscal years 2008 and 2009,” the report says. For the period from July 1, 2007, through June 30, 2017, DEQ paid out $99.4 million in subsidies to six waste tire processors.

Other major deficiencies cited included:

Governor’s Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness (Hazard Mitigation):

  • Expense reimbursements not supported by invoices, receipts, lease agreements, contracts, labor policies, time records, equipment logs HUD settlement statements, appraisals, elevation certificates, duplication of benefits verification, engineer plans inspection photographs or other documentation: $1.8 million;
  • Contracts and purchases did not comply with applicable federal and state procurement requirements: $1.47 million.

Governor’s Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness (Public Assistance):

  • Completed work not within the scope of an approved project: $2.3 million;
  • Expense reimbursements not supported by invoices, receipts, lease agreements, contracts, labor policies, time records, equipment logs, inventory records or other documentation: $40.1 million;
  • Contract and purchases did not comply with applicable federal and state procurement requirements: $11.95 million;
  • Work reflected in the expense reimbursements did not comply with applicable FEMA regulations: $9.4 million;
  • GOHSEP’s cost estimating tool and/or expense review form either omitted or contained duplicate and/or incorrectly categorized expenses: $956,000.

Attorney General:

  • The AG did not deposit money into the Fraud Fund in fiscal year 2016 in accordance with state law: $713,000.

Louisiana Department of Health:

  • LDH did not deposit money into its Fraud Fund between fiscal years 2012 and 2017 in accordance with state law: $2.8 million;
  • LDH incorrectly deposited money into the Medicaid Fraud Fund in fiscal year 2012 that should have been deposited into the Nursing Home Residents’ Trust Fund: $323,000;
  • LDH spent money from the Medicaid Fraud Fund in fiscal year 2017 for salaries that do not appear to meet the intended purpose of the Fraud Fund: $477,000;
  • LDH spent money from the Medicaid Fraud Fund in fiscal 2012 on software that could not be implemented due to system compatibility issues: $643,000.

Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority (Oil Spill):

  • Amounts requested/invoiced not supported by invoices, receipts, lease agreements, contracts, labor policies, time records, equipment logs

It’s somewhat puzzling when people like Reps. Cameron Henry (R-Metairie) and Taylor Barras (R-New Iberia) try to fight the governor’s budgetary proposals at every opportunity (including his attempt to increase teachers’ pay) but you never hear a peep out of them about a paltry $245 million.

And Henry just happens to be chairman of the JLCB and Barras just happens to be Speaker of the House.

As our late friend, C.B. Forgotston was fond of saying, “You can’t make this stuff up.”

 

 

Read Full Post »

The hits keep on coming.

The long-awaited investigative audit of the DeSoto Parish Sheriff’s Office’s Local Agency Compensated Enforcement (LACE) program is finally out after considerable legal wrangling between the Legislative Auditor and the sheriff’s office that, apparently, still is not over.

But the bottom line is the sheriff’s office took yet another hit just five years after an earlier INVESTIGATIVE AUDIT revealed that a former deputy’s private company had run half-a-million dollars in background checks through the sheriff’s office.

The latest AUDIT is far less damaging but nevertheless illustrates a pattern of lax oversight of the LACE program by former Sheriff Rodney Arbuckle who abruptly RESIGNED last March 16 in anticipation of the latest audit.

Thanks to the Haynesville Shale, Arbuckle had been able to administer a payroll of $11.2 million, three times that of neighboring Sabine Parish and $3.3 million more than Natchitoches Parish, which has nearly twice the population as DeSoto.

All of which circles back to the current audit that shows that 23 deputies were paid more than $15,000 for 335 hours of LACE details they may not have worked in the five-month period of January 1 to June 2, 2017.

Although $15,000 is not a particularly mind-boggling amount, even for such a short period of time, interviews with three former deputies reflected a deliberate policy by the department that encourage an atmosphere of payroll fraud and malfeasance.

That, in itself, was most probably the root cause of the Sheriff Jayson Richardson’s decision to employ legal efforts to prevent the Legislative Auditor’s office from gaining access to the department’s personnel records even though it created the appearance that the sheriff’s office may have been attempting to hide embarrassing or incriminating information.

“During the course of our audit, a Legislative subpoena was issued for personnel files of the current Sheriff, Jayson Richardson, and 12 former and current DPSO deputies,” the report reads. “The Sheriff contested the subpoena by means of a declaratory judgment filed in DeSoto Parish.” Legislative Auditor Daryl Purpera filed an exception of venue but in a classic example of home cooking, a local court ruled against the auditor’s office. Purpera then filed an Exception of Non-Joinder of Proper Parties (an omission of one or more persons who should have been made a plaintiff or defendant). Again, there was an adverse ruling by the court which ruled that the Louisiana Legislature was not a necessary party in the matter in a determined effort to protect Richardson’s office. The LLA requested supervisory writs from the Second Circuit, which were granted on February 14, 2019. Following decisions from the courts of review, a trial on the merits will proceed before the trial court. “We may issue a supplemental report after the litigation is concluded,” the report said,” the report said.

“The DeSoto Parish Sheriff’s Office (DPSO) has participated in DeSoto Parish’s Local Agency Compensated Enforcement (LACE) program to enhance traffic safety and generate revenue for many years,” the report said. “The LACE program is administered by the District Attorney (DA) for the 42nd Judicial District. The Criminal Court Fund reimbursed DPSO $45.00 per hour for off-duty deputies (i.e., deputies working at times other than their regularly-scheduled work hours) to write tickets and also reimbursed DPSO $10 per hour for operating costs and wear and tear on DPSO’s vehicles for the hours worked through February 2017. However, there was no written contract or agreement between the DA and DPSO to conduct LACE details.

“DA Gary Evans told us he relied on DPSO to manage the LACE program when he began his first term as district attorney in January 2015; however, two years later, he learned other DAs managed their own LACE programs and used pretrial diversion (PTD) programs to fund them. This prompted DA Evans to create a PTD program for LACE traffic citations and discontinue participation in the LACE program funded by the Criminal Court Fund in March 2017.

“DPSO participated in the DA’s new LACE program from March 23, 2017 to June 2, 2017. A dispute arose as to whether the Criminal Court Fund or the DA should pay DPSO $107,140 for LACE details worked in March, April, and May 2017. Former Sheriff Rodney Arbuckle told us that he paid his deputies for LACE details they worked and was entitled to reimbursement from the DA, who was now diverting LACE tickets. The DA countered that DPSO did not perform all services as invoiced and that he does not owe DPSO reimbursement. The DA did not reimburse DPSO and DPSO stopped working LACE details on June 2, 2017.”

The reported noted that the 42nd Judicial District Criminal Court Fund reimbursed participating law enforcement agencies for the time spent on LACE details through March 2017 when Evans created a pre-trial diversion (PTD) program for LACE traffic citation and discontinued participation in the program funded by the Criminal Court Fund.

DPSO had few written policies on procedures for LACE details during the period covered by the audit, lending to an atmosphere of abuse and falsified time sheets, time sheets approved by then-Captain of Patrols Richardson.

Because LACE details paid more than other off-duty details such as security, there was active competition for open LACE spots, the report says, adding that four current and former deputies who worked LACE were told to “get on and get off” I-49 quickly so that the next deputy could begin his or her LACE detail.

State auditors attempted to speak with deputies but only three former deputies agreed to interviews.

Following are the LLA’s summation of what the former deputies told auditors:

  • Former Lt. Stephanie White told us that she was paid for hours she claimed on LACE details that she did not work on Interstate 49. She further said that she was never told that she had to be on Interstate 49 for her entire LACE shift and ran personal errands after she left the interstate before returning the digiTICKET device. She stated that, in September 2017, former Sheriff Arbuckle asked her before we began our investigation if LLA was going to find any problems with the LACE details; she said she informed him that the deputies did not work all of the hours claimed.
  • Former Deputy Dennis Buckingham said that he was trained to work LACE details by claiming one hour per citation written without regard to hours actually worked. He further said that he wrote numerous citations during the first hours of his LACE shift and then went home for the remainder of his shift. Because he may not have worked all the hours on his LACE time sheet, he may have been paid for hours he did not work.
  • Former Deputy Alphonsa Carter stated that she received compensation for hours she did not work. She stated although she knew it was common practice for other deputies to claim an hour for each citation written and not work full shifts, she should not have done wrong just because they were.

Buckingham filed a written response to the audit in which he denied that he admitted to being paid for lace hours he did not work, although he reiterated that he was instructed to claim a full hour for every ticket written.

“Four former deputies told us that one former deputy routinely called in as starting work for LACE details although the deputy remained at home for several hours after ‘starting’ the LACE detail,” the report said.

“If these deputies claimed time and were paid for hours not actually worked on LACE details, they may have violated state law,” it said. “Additionally, since DPSO billed by the hour for the use of its patrol units for LACE details, DPSO may have over-billed the DA for that same period.”

Richardson’s response, written by James Sterritt, an attorney for the Shreveport law firm Cook, Yancey, King and Galloway, said that the sheriff’s department “became aware of several inconsistencies” while assisting the LLA with information during the audit. “That information led to three deputies being placed on administrative leave,” Sterritt said. “All three resigned shortly afterwards.

At the same time, Sterritt, said that a comparison of deputies’ timesheets to digiTICKET log reports “may not provide a complete picture of time actually worked by deputies performing LACE details. Thus, the hours designated in the report as ‘over-payments’ may have been overestimated.” Sterritt said that when superiors become aware of improper conduct by a deputy, “that deputy is properly disciplined”

 

Read Full Post »

There are those like a certain former governor who see no good in any state employee. Perhaps that is why efforts were exerted to privatize every state government agency in sight and even to the extent of destroying one of the better teaching hospital systems in the country.

And gutting higher education’s budget only brought higher tuition costs, putting a college education out of reach of thousands of Louisiana students.

Perhaps that is one of the reasons Louisiana is the SEVENTH-FASTEST shrinking state in the nation, according to 24/7 Wall Street, a research organization that routinely publishes lists of the best and worst in a wide array of subjects.

Of course, another reason steeped in Louisiana tradition is the sordid history of CORRUPTION that has permeated the political culture of this state for longer than anyone reading this has lived.

And when you have a state legislature that ignores the well-being of the state’s citizens in favor of the corporate interests of the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry (LABI), the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), and the oil and gas industry get first consideration, it’s no wonder that folks are a tad jaded.

Yet, thousands of state employees report to work each day to do jobs that go largely unnoticed—until something goes awry. Then, of course, all hell breaks loose. A civil servant gets fined for receiving an unsolicited Christmas ham from a vendor (that really happened), but another employee, an administrator, gets caught claiming time on the job while actually on vacation and nothing gets done.

Let a few rank and file state troopers drive across country for a conference at the direction of the State Police Superintendent and they are punished while the superintendent is allowed to retire—with full benefits.

Let another agency head trade sex with the manager of a restaurant in exchange for a permit to operate and nothing happens. But that same agency head dished out arbitrary punishment and fired employees for no cause and it took civil lawsuits to bring some measure of justice. And not even all of the lawsuits produced satisfactory results for the fired employees.

I write all that to say that while little seems to get done much of the time, there is one agency that has uncovered nearly $6.3 million in criminal violations, initiated investigations that have resulted in 51 criminal prosecutions that have resulted in produced 57 terminations or resignations.

A hard-charging, politically ambitious, headline-seeking prosecutor?

Nope. Just the work-a-day numbers-crunchers working for Louisiana Legislative Auditor Daryl Purpera.

From Jan. 1, 2015, through Nov. 13, 2017, Purpera’s office has submitted 108  investigative audits of local and state government agencies, boards and commissions and quasi-public entities. From those 108 investigative audits came 72 actual reports with 200 findings reported and 555 recommendations made.

summary of projects

An investigative audit, by definition, is far more serious than routine audits that agencies undergo on a regular basis. Before embarking on an investigative audit, there must be a reason for the auditor’s office to suspect some kind of wrongdoing.

The dollar amount covered in those 118 investigative audits was $148.96 million dollars with almost $6.3 million in alleged criminal violations turned up.

Some of the more high-profile investigative audits performed during the 22-month period included:

  • Misappropriation of funds by an employee of the Evangeline Parish Sheriff’s Office;
  • Misapplication of funds at Northwestern State University in Natchitoches;
  • Improper payments and tickets to athletic events at the University of Louisiana-Lafayette;
  • Improper expenditure of $268,000 by the Institute for Academic Excellence in New Orleans;
  • Improper expenditure of $360,000 by the Municipal Employees’ Retirement System;
  • Nearly $800,000 in seized cash assets was not deposited in the account of the 9th Judicial District Attorney in Rapides Parish;
  • Employees of the Ouachita Parish Clerk of Court Office improperly paid for 51 days that they did not work;
  • Numerous violations by management at Angola State Penitentiary which resulted in the resignation of Warden Burl Cain and others;
  • Nearly $200,000 in seized cash assets was not deposited in the account of the District Attorney’s Special Asset Forfeiture Fund as required by the Acadia Parish Sheriff’s Office;
  • Mismanagement and missing state equipment from the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries;
  • Improper use of state vehicle, hotel rooms, personnel, meals and training facilities by management personnel of Louisiana State Police;
  • Improper use of $164,000 of state funds by two employees and a student worker, unauthorized use of student identification cards, unauthorized free meals totaling more than $12,600 and improper advances of financial aid to students at Grambling State University.
  • Failure of the Non-Flood Protection Asset Management Authority in New Orleans to collect more than $600,000 in boat slip rental fees.

So, while it’s easy to criticize civil servants, it’s important to understand that while the public perception may be one of “deadheads,” they are people just like you—people with mortgages, student debt, family illnesses, and myriad other concerns (again, just like you). They are your neighbors, your friends and your relatives and they show up for work every day—just like you. And they struggle to make ends meet—just like you.

Given that, it’s a little difficult for me to understand how someone like autocrat Trump can pretend to say he relates with 800,000 federal workers who are facing the second pay period without a paycheck.

It’s puzzling also that daughter-in-law/adviser Lara Trump calls the government shutdown during which federal employees have to resort to food banks to eat, hold garage sales to pay the rent, or worse, be ordered to work without pay thus preventing them from taking part-time jobs that do pay, “a little bit of a pain.” This privileged, self-centered little rich girl has never known “a little bit of a pain.” so, how the hell can she relate?

And how can Trump economic adviser Kevin Hassett even dare to suggest that idled workers are better off because they’re benefiting from “a free vacation”? That’s unsurpassed arrogance.

But Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross took the prize by suggesting that federal workers simply run out to the corner bank or credit union and float a loan.

Perhaps Ross was trying to encourage them to borrow from the Bank of Cyprus that he once headed as it washed the money of Russian oligarchs.

All of this just so Trump can try to score some kind of vague point in order to say he’s a winner.

But my question to all those I’ve talked to who suddenly think a wall is of the utmost importance to the continued existence of a free and pure America is simply this:

Did you ever—even ONCE—consider the crushing need for a wall before Trump tossed the idea out as a throw-away line during a campaign stop in 2016? Did you know he was instructed to do that by his handlers only as a means of keeping him on topic?

Neither Trump, you, your mama, my mama, nor anyone else had ever given a wall a fleeting thought until then. Suddenly, it became the holy grail for all his followers who were unable to come up with an original thought of their own. And so, they fell in lockstep and followed, like so many sheep.

But there was another part to his promise that he has quietly dropped.

Mexico ain’t paying for it.

So, that’s my tribute to public employees, both state and federal and I hope to hell every one of them remembers our two U.S. Senators and five of our six U.S. Representatives who blindly support Trump’s every asinine utterance, tweet, and stumbling, bumbling, fumbling action.

 

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »