Dee Dee Thurston and Katie Urbazewski / Houma Courier
A months-long review of former Terrebonne Parish sheriff Vernon Bourgeois' administration has turned up allegations of financial mismanagement and potential wrongdoing, a written report shows.
The draft report, prepared by the certified public accounting firm Kolder, Champagne, Slaven & Co., details more than a dozen “audit concerns,” including allegations that could run afoul of the law.
Attempts to contact Bourgeois, who opted not to run for election after a single four-year term that ended June 30, were unsuccessful. He did not answer the door at his home, and his cell phone has been disconnected. However, Bourgeois previously denied wrongdoing.
Jerry Larpenter, who was sheriff for decades, called for the audit after returning to the office in July following a four-year absence. He would not release a copy of the report today but called its findings damning.
“If it's not illegal,” he said of the audit's allegations, “it's the worst case of mismanagement of public funds I've ever seen.”
Among allegations in the draft report, Bourgeois:
-- Failed to collect more than $300,000 in taxes from Baby Oil, a Houma-based company owned by Neil Suard.
-- Lacked a credit-card policy and proper documentation for thousands in spending, including $646 spent at an out-of-state business. Those receipts — for $249 and $397 — came from a Lincoln, Ala., gas station and were for diesel fuel.
Bourgeois and a deputy used the card to fuel a borrowed RV they took to Talladega Superspeedway for October 2011's NASCAR race, Larpenter said in an interview today.
Larpenter said multiple Sheriff's Office employees told him about the trip, adding that a bookkeeper's research into the expense proved it to be true.
“It's a known fact that he'd go to out-of-state sporting events three or four days at a time,” Larpenter said.
-- May have failed to collect $240,000 from Louisiana Workforce, the vendor hired to run the Sheriff's Office's inmate-work-release program, and more than $800,000 in all. The vendor was supposed to pay the Sheriff's Office to use inmate labor to do jobs at businesses across the parish. The program differs from the jail trustees work program run by the Sheriff's Office.
-- Left office with a check for about $13,000, money he claimed he was owed for unused vacation pay. But sheriffs aren't entitled to paid vacation days, Larpenter said.
-- Failed to follow the state's public-bid law for the purchase of $12,618 worth of equipment.
-- Received a $600 clothing allowance to which he wasn't entitled. Other Sheriff's Office employees allegedly did the same.
The draft audit report also says deputies who appeared on “Cajun Justice,” the A&E Network show based on Bourgeois, his office and its cases, paid by the show's producers while on the Sheriff's Office clock. Additionally, the Sheriff's Office may not have received adequate compensation for the use of its equipment and resources.
The report details other, less serious, accounting and procedural shortcomings that its authors suggest should be corrected.
The auditor's report is awaiting Larpenter's response, which he said he plans to forward Thursday.
“I have to answer how we will correct these concerns,” he said. “We will correct them by returning to the way we did four years ago – it's called accountability.
The state Legislative Auditor gets the report next and will determine if the allegations outlined by the CPA firm merit further investigation, according to Sheriff's Office attorney Bill Dodd.
Dodd declined to say if Bourgeois could be charged with any crimes based on the allegations in the report.
The auditors “suggested we take steps to ensure, in their opinion, these things don't happen again,” Dodd said. “They made recommendations that past practices were not correct, and they want this sheriff to correct that. And he has begun to take those steps.”
Larpenter said he plans to ask the state Attorney General to look into the more-serious allegations and, if that office recuses itself, he'll turn to the FBI.
“I believe some things aren't legal, such as the credit-card use on a private RV,” Larpenter said, “and I don't know of any other sheriff who paid himself vacation.”