Tuesday night in a 4 Investigates special report, we provided exclusive details into the investigation of state Fire Marshal Butch Browning for wearing military medals he didn't earn.
With Browning's sudden retirement yesterday, Mike Perlstein reveals additional allegations against Browning that remain under state investigation.
NEW ORLEANS -- Officials around the state were taken by surprise Tuesday when state Fire Marshal Butch Browning retired without notice. No goodbyes, no send-off and no public comment from Browning.
But Rafael Goyeneche of the Metropolitan Crime Commission had a hint it was coming.
"I consider the military ribbons a symptom of poor judgment that has manifested itself in other areas of that office,” Goyeneche said. “Frankly, in the grand scheme of some of the allegations that were made by individuals to the crime commission over the past six months, I think there are even more serious claims."
Browning's donning of military ribbons, which may be a federal crime under the Stolen Valor Act, is just one of a list of complaints about Browning that the state inspector general has been investigating for months. Many of those complaints were forwarded by the crime commission.
For example, when fire marshal search and rescue crews were sent to Alabama after the Tuscaloosa tornadoes last May, some employees allegedly were paid for rescue work while they attended LSU-Alabama baseball games. State Police spokesman Capt. Doug Cain said that mistake was caught and corrected by the state, but Goyeneche said it is unclear whether FEMA was notified or reimbursed.
"Allegedly some of the employees, at least on two occasions, attended two LSU-Alabama baseball games but billed FEMA through the state of Louisiana for working 18 hour days,” Goyeneche said.
In another complaint, Browning deployed several of his employees from around the state to New Orleans last July for a National State Fire Marshal's conference. But instead of attending educational programs, some employees allegedly were paid to work as chauffeurs and security guards.
"The allegations were that fire marshal employees were deployed from other parts of the state in their state vehicles to New Orleans provide security, to drive some of the attendees around town, and they're doing it on the clock," Goyeneche said.
Investigators also are looking at the purchase of Carnival beads that were reportedly tossed by Browning and others from French Quarter balconies.
"The issue is can fire marshal public funds be used to buy Carnival beads for people who are attending a national convention?” Goyeneche said. “I would say, logic would say, that's not an appropriate use of public resources."