Maxine Trahan, longtime public information officer for the Acadia Parish Sheriff’s Office in Louisiana, was charged Friday with the theft of public funds in excess of $25,000 – six months after Photography is Not a Crime began a public records investigation into allegations against the media spokeswoman.
Trahan, who has worked for the department for more than ten years, is accused of failing to deposit cash seized from citizens into the department’s bank account, pocketing the money instead.
According to the arrest warrant, the thefts date back to 2010.
We have also been told that the department knew about the thefts that same year, but were allowing her to pay the money back while keeping her job.
Those allegations, however, are not mentioned in the warrant.
But it would not be the first time the Acadia Sheriff’s Office has done that.
According to KATC.com, the arrest followed an investigation that Acadia Parish District Attorney Keith Stutes says began a month ago after he says “…questions began to arise as to availability of those funds for disbursement and forfeiture and basically that’s what prompted the investigation.”
But PINAC filed a complaint with Stutes’ office this past November after receiving a tip that Trahan had not only been stealing seizure money but was also padding her paychecks by claiming to work more than 50 hours of overtime a week on at least four separate occasions in 2015.
The allegations were backed up with copies of several of Trahan’s pay stubs validating the accusations.
The criminal complaint was filed after we were denied public records that would have confirmed or disproved the payroll padding allegations.
PINAC’s investigation began in October when we made a series of public record requests into the allegations after receiving the tip. We requested an itemized statement of the payroll accounts of all administrative officials at the department.
And while payroll records are undeniably subject to disclosure (with the redaction of addresses and social security numbers), the department denied our request by claiming the entire record was exempt for privacy reasons.
After a series of emails to the department’s attorney, Edward Barousse, we were offered the record upon payment of $200 to cover the overtime for employees to pull the record.
Strangely enough, the department claimed that producing the record involved bringing in a dot matrix printer, claiming that payroll accounts were stored on an old mainframe computer which was extremely time-consuming and involved after-hour attention.
When negotiations broke down with our request for public records, we filed a criminal complaint, specifically citing the deliberate public record violations as well as mentioning the allegations regarding the stolen seizure money and payroll fraud.
The complaint was filed with the Louisiana Attorney General and Legislative Auditor.
Stutes, the district attorney, was also notified of our complaint and our desire to have his office recuse itself from any investigation or prosecution due to the close working relationship it shares with Trahan through her employment with the sheriff’s office as well as through the “Choices” program, a campaign funded in part by the district attorney’s office to educate high school students of the dangers of impaired driving. Trahan administered that program.
Although the theft of public funds is subject to mandatory reporting to the Legislative Auditor’s Office, the Acadia Sheriff’s Office has made a habit of shielding its employees from prosecution by keeping the thefts quiet and allowing the thieves a chance to pay the money back.
In 2010, Reginald Phillips filed a lawsuit against the department after being shot by his estranged wife, Kimberly Phillips, who was employed with Acadia Sheriff’s Office.
Phillips was shot multiple times by Kimberly Phillips in the back while he retrieved his property from the couple’s home. His injuries left him paralyzed.
Phillips claimed in his lawsuit that the sheriff’s department failed to fire Kimberly Phillips in 2009 after it was discovered she had stolen $60,000 in tax payments made to the Parish by citizens.
Instead of being fired and prosecuted, she was allowed to stay with the department while she repaid the money.
Reginald Phillips claimed that had she been prosecuted for the theft, she would not have had access to carry a firearm.
Kimberly Phillips eventually pleaded guilty to theft of more than $500 for the embezzlements and to a charge of aggravated second-degree battery for the shooting of her husband.
So, while it is thrilling to see our work against government corruption culminate in the arrest of Trahan last week, it’s surprising that Stutes has chosen to involve his office in this investigation and prosecution, which already seems to be working in Trahan’s favor as she was allowed to turn herself in the day following the issuance of the arrest warrant and allowed to post bond and free to leave in record time.
Let’s hope that the obvious conflict of interest will not get in the way of Stutes cleaning out ALL of the trash at the Acadia Parish Sheriff’s Office.
Of course we will be watching closely to see that all of the parties involved in these criminal violations are held accountable.