LA Police Refuse to Release Public Records Regarding Payroll Scams
For the several months I have followed an unfolding scandal ocuring within the walls of the Louisiana State Police Troop D Headquarters in Lake Charles.
The scandal, involving the upper ranks of Troop D, alleges the padding of payroll hours by troopers which were then approved by their supervisors.
The story has been extensively covered by Tom Aswell, a retired investigative reporter who formerly ran Capitol News Service and reported extensively on Louisiana Politics.
He now considers himself a muckracker, someone who searches for corruption in politics. Aswell publishes the findings of his corruption investigations on his blog, the Louisianavoice.com, named by the Washington Post as one of the best state political blogs in the country.
The Louisiana state police scandal Aswell uncovered centers around a state trooper named Ronald Picou, who was alleged to be working only a few hours of his shifts before returning home to run his construction business while continuing to be paid by the department.
Picou wasn’t the only trooper being accused of padding their time sheets. The allegations also involved the padding of the time troopers took to drive to Baton Rouge to qualify for firearms certification.
Picou was said to have been working only a few hours of his twelve hours shift each day before returning home to run his construction business. The scheme is said to have gone on for several years before fellow troopers anonomously reported the behavior to commanders in Baton Rouge who turned the information over to the Troop D internal investigators.
This is when the under-the-rug sweeping occurred as the investigation revealed no wrongdoing, even though radio logs confirmed Picou’s silence for the times in question.
The allegations came to Aswell from troopers within the department who were not only upset with the fraud occurring, they were upset that when the allegations were reported by lower ranking troopers three years earlier, the only investigation internal affairs conducted was to find the trooper who anonymously sent in the complaint.
Aswell’s investigation turned up this document, confirming the investigation was conducted and the findings of it:
Aswell’s record request, for the payroll reports and radio logs, prompted another internal investigation and an order from state police commanders that troopers are not to speak of the investigation, which now involves the original payroll fraud and the actual internal investigation that was closed three years ago.
Two separate directives, one from State Police Internal Affairs and the other from the Louisiana State Troopers Association (LSTA), have been sent to state troopers from State Police Troop D in Lake Charles relative to a multi-pronged investigation of reports of a series of irregularities in the troop.
A two-page memorandum from the Louisiana State Troopers Association (LSTA) was sent to Troop D state troopers in Lake Charles informing them that “eight or so” Troop D members have received letters indicating they are the targets of an Internal Affairs administrative investigation.
While the investigation was classified as administrative, it was made clear that the probe could become a criminal investigation.
While the investigation continues into the allegations, Aswell says he doesn’t see how Louisiana state police will be able to keep Picou on the payroll. He thinks Picou’s termination is inevitable, but he also knows that Louisiana politics ensures that anything could happen.
To read more details about the mess within LSP Troop D click here.
Aswell’s coverage of this story, made me curious as to how wide spread the problem of police officers committing fraud to steal money from their department and the taxpayers might be. My research led me to many different incidents of payroll fraud occurring around the state.
In November of 2013, Raphael Dobard and Quincy Jones filed payroll reports claiming they were working for the New Orleans Police Department when they were also working and receiving pay from a private company.
April 2014, Lenvi Tennessee, a member of the Baton Rough Community College Police, was accused of fraudulently filing payroll documents saying he was at work when he was not. Tennessee had a habit of showing up to work late and leaving early.
In September 2014, Jayson Germann of the New Orleans Police Department was also accused of working for a private company while getting paid to be on the NOPD Gang Unit.
And here’s another from the tiny town of Welsh, where officers were fired and never prosecuted for padding their time sheets. There is also this incident from Lake Charles where one cop was falsely claiming time she didn’t work and her supervisor was signing off on it…and the list goes on.
My interest was peaked even more when I was approached by members of my local sheriff’s department who claimed there was at least one employee within the agency who may be perpetrating a similar time padding scheme.
In my research I found the Association of Certified Fraud Examiners have a web site with excellent resources and instructions on how to uncover fraud as told by fraud examiners. I also learned that payroll fraud is the number one source of accounting fraud in the country and that though it may not be entirely preventable, it is easily discovered by reconciling the payroll accounts.
I decided to do my own reconciliation of the department’s payroll account. I made my own public records request to the sheriff’s department by email for detailed payroll reports for the past twelve months for all of the administrative personnel. The request was turned over to the sheriff’s office attorney, Edward Barousse and I eventually received this document:
Sadly, the document was not responsive to my request for detailed payroll reports for administrative employees for the past twelve months. The document presented, I am told, was created for me specifically to respond to my request. I immediately informed Barousse, the attorney handling the request for the department, that the document provided was not responsive and made a second request for the detailed payroll reports. Baronesse responded:
I am concerned because your most recent clarifying e-mail specfically asks for “check stubs for the last year, minus the private information but including their name”. I did not catch your request for name information earlier but did today when circling back to your e-mail from this morning. I am attaching a copy of the Angelo Iafrate decision mentioned in the paragraph directly above for your reference. In particular, I would draw your attention to the last sentence of the opinion on page 12, which states “Accordingly, we conclude the employee’s right to privacy concerning their personal particularized wage information outweighs any public interest there may be in disclosure of that information linked to the employees’ names and addresses”. As such, I cannot waive the protection afforded to the coupling of names and particularized wage information. Please understand I am not trying to be difficult- I am instructing my client to respond to the request but not to disclose protected information. That being said, if that information can be redacted from accounting software printouts I am in complete agreement that you are entitled to that information. Another concern that has been voiced to me is that it took a substantial amount of time to track down information and prepare the document that I previously transmitted to you previously. As such, the issue has been raised that your inspection may need to take place after normal business hours. I am not certain of that but wanted to alert you to this potential issue.
Of course, Barousse and I did more research and found that the Louisiana public records laws do not allow the exemption of names of public servants from their payroll records, only their private information is exempt.The court case he mentions in the email, the Angelo Iafrate decision, refers to the public record exemption of the names of employees who work for contractors of the state. In this case, the employees worked for a construction company contracted to build a road for the Department Of Transportation and Development and the plaintiff wanted the names of the employees on the payroll information they had requested.Unfortunately Barousse now tells me that department officials want more than $200 to do the research which they claim to be overly burdensome. Barousse confirmed this in an email he sent to me on December 9th notifying me that they would be charging me for after hours inspection, even though they are required to allow inspection during normal business hours unless the requestor needs the extra after hours time to inspect a large amount of records.That part of the records law was written to accommodate individuals and companies who may be making a massive request that would need to be completed quickly…the entity can agree to allow after hours viewing. This is a portion of the email I was sent:
…As such, I asked the sheriff’s office to provide an itemized statement of the time expended after work hours to respond to your request. I am attaching those invoices to this e-mail. You will see that the two invoices total $203.76. In keeping with the statutory mandate that funds be advanced for said work incurred after hours, I would ask that you please remit payment in that amount to the Acadia Parish Sheriff’s Office to the attention of Ralph Lacombe or Cathy Powell. I am seeing for the first time after composing this e-mail that the pdf describes that costs incurred as “attorney fees.” That is inaccurate.The costs incurred are for sheriff’s office personnel. Once payment is remitted we will be happy to provide the documents responsive to your records request. I am leaving town for a legal conference in New Orleans that will have me out of the office for the balance of today as well as Thursday and Friday. I will have e-mail access during this time period should you have any questions.
It became apparent to me that this record request ruffled some feathers at the sheriff’s department when they seemed confused about what constituted a detailed payroll record but now the request is at a standstill as I wait for a response to my objections to the requirement of paying more than 200 dollars to look at the record I have few options.Certainly I have the option to file a lawsuit and begin the expensive and time consuming process of legally compelling them to produce the record but after today I believe the agency will have a legal exemption to deny the records based on an investigation being performed.I also know that I can count on our PINAC readers to call the department and demand the release of the records. Seriously, if they have nothing to hide, they have nothing to fear.
Feel free to phone the Public Information Officer at the Acadia Parish Sheriff’s Department and ask her why they refuse to release the payroll records that I requested. If she doesn’t know, call Sheriff Wayne Melencon and ask him.
Maxine Trahan, PIO Acadia Sheriff’s Office: (337)788-8788
Wayne Melencon, Acadia Sheriff: (337)788-8700
Here is the demand for payment to receive access to public records:
These are the pay stubs that were sent to me. I have blacked out the name that appears on the check stub as we are still trying to compel the release of the public documents that would verify or disprove the theft of funds: