State inspector general looking into Northshore work release program

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wwltv.com

Posted on April 9, 2014 at 5:20 PM

Updated Wednesday, Apr 9 at 5:51 PM

Katie Moore / Eyewitness News
Email: kmoore@wwltv.com | Twitter: @katiecmoore

BATON ROUGE, La. -- The Office of State Inspector General has ordered the owners of a controversial work release facility, North Shore Workforce, and the St. Tammany Parish Sheriff’s Office to maintain and preserve all documents related to their operations, indicating they are investigating the work release program.

St Tammany. Parish Sheriff Jack Strain shut down the program last month after the latest in a string of recent escapes in which an inmate kidnapped his ex-girlfriend from Covington and led the Tangipahoa Sheriff’s Office on a chase in Tangipahoa Parish, and after our series of reports about alleged violations of Louisiana Department of Corrections policies at the facility.

The St. Tammany Parish Sheriff’s Office confirmed they received a preservation of documents letter, which are often sent to the subjects of open investigations to ensure they do not destroy any of the records related to the investigation.

A spokesman for the sheriff said the letter was delivered during a meeting between members of the sheriff’s office and a representative from the Office of State Inspector General.

“He was happy to hear that we had already instructed NSWF (verbally and in writing) to preserve all their records as well. We were already doing same in accordance with our standard records retention,” said George Bonnett, public information officer for the St. Tammany Parish Sheriff’s Office.

Sources say Marlin Peachey, a co-owner of North Shore Workforce, has also received a preservation of documents letter. Peachey has retained an attorney in the case, Gray Sexton.

Sexton would not say why Peachey had retained him as counsel, but he’s a former attorney for the Louisiana Ethics Administration and the website for the firm indicates they specialize in “legal matters affecting elected officials, public employees, lobbyists and businesses.”

The Inspector General’s investigation into North Shore Workforce comes on the heels of months-long joint investigation into the facility by WWL-TV and The New Orleans Advocate.

The series of reports first revealed that no-bid contracts to run the two work release facilities in St. Tammany Parish were awarded to people with close ties to Strain.

Marlin Peachey, one of the co-owners of North Shore Workforce, is Strain’s campaign treasurer. Another one of the owners, Jimmy Laurent, was recently forced to step down from the board of St. Tammany Recreation District No. 4 after our investigation revealed he had hired two inmates from North Shore Workforce possibly without the prior approval of the board.

Laurent is a prominent construction company owner in St. Tammany Parish. Laurent Construction Company donated $2,500 to Strain’s campaign in 2011, years after being awarded the North Shore Workforce contract.

The Louisiana Department of Corrections conducted a surprise inspection of North Shore Workforce back in February after our reports revealed violations of DOC policies.

Nineteen inmates either failed drug tests or were sent back to prison for other violations. That was a month before Strain shut the facility down saying he couldn’t guarantee more escapes wouldn’t happen.

When contacted about the possible investigation, Inspector General Stephen Street said, “I cannot comment.”

 

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