NEW ORLEANS — Amid multiple recent controversies and a management shake-up at the Orleans Parish Sheriff’s Office, another battle is brewing after the city’s Inspector General was forced to issue a subpoena this week for sheriff’s office records that they began requesting as far back as January.
The IG audit covers everything from payroll and attendance records to payments to deputies who worked extra duties during Carnival helping with parade security.
In a letter to Councilman Joe Giarrrusso in his capacity as chair of the budget committee, Inspector General Ed Michel wrote that his investigators “have yet to receive the vast majority of documentation requested.”
“The inability or refusal of the Orleans Sheriff to comply with our lawful request interferes with the efficient oversight which we are required to administer,” he wrote.
Giarrusso revealed the issuance of the subpoena at a budget hearing Thursday during a presentation by City Attorney Donesia Turner. Giarrusso wanted to know who would have to pay the legal bills if the IG has to go to court to enforce the subpoena.
“The OIG is apparently now having a dispute with the sheriff's office about information owed under the audit and now has formally sent a subpoena,” Giarrusso said. “And I just want to say out loud that I don't think it should be the City of New Orleans that has to fund that litigation if there's a fight.”
Turner told Giarrusso she agrees that the city would not be on the hook for such legal fees.
Giarrusso also asked about who should pay legal fees if the sheriff’s recently fired Chief Financial Officer David Trautenberg takes Sheriff Susan Hutson to court as a whistleblower claiming wrongful termination, as his attorney has suggested.
Again, Turner said the sheriff would have to cover those costs.
Through a spokeswoman, the sheriff responded with this written statement: “Sheriff Hutson is committed to following all federal and state laws and will respond to any subpoenaed documents in a timely manner.”
Earlier this week, Trautenberg’s attorney, Kevin Vogeltanz, stated that his client “was fired shortly after launching an internal, financial investigation into the use of hotel rooms paid for by OPSO over the Mardi Gras holiday, along with the propriety of a cash donation made by a third-party company to OPSO covering the costs of those hotel rooms.”
The lodging controversy came to light in media reports shortly after Mardi Gras. Records show the sheriff paid more than $29,000 to house 13 top deputies in high-end local hotels rooms while they worked Carnival parade security. Hutson initially defended the lodging expenses as “money well spent,” but later announced that a dog training company in Vermillion Parish, LA-K9, had agreed to donate the money for the rooms.
In a press briefing Tuesday on the front steps of the Orleans Justice Center, Hutson denied that the dust-up over the hotel rooms – and the internal dissent over her decision – had anything to do with her staff shake-up.
“I want to be very clear. That any media stories have nothing to do with the changes that I'm making. None,” she said. “This is all about us moving forward as an organization.”
Hutson took office last May.
But multiple sources inside the sheriff’s office said the top executives who were put on notice Friday and fired Monday were blind-sided by the sudden dismissals.
In addition to Trautenberg, former legal counsel Graham Bosworth and Assistant Sheriff Pearlina Thomas were let go, while Assistant Sheriff and Chief of Internal Affairs Kristen Morales will stay another 30 days to help with a transition.