The District Attorney’s Office has officially decided to open an investigation of the Town of White Castle, according to 1st Assistant DA Scott Stassi.
Stassi met with a representative from the Legislative Auditor’s office on July 10 to review the 2016 audit of the town, and based on those findings have decided to open the investigation into White Castle’s financial practices.
The decision was made after eight deficiencies were found in the internal controls of the Town’s finances which include: Unauthorized/Unapproved Payroll, Travel and Per Diem Expenditures, Cash Management, Past Due Monthly Accounts, Credit Card Management, Payroll Deductions, Conforming to Disclosure Requirements of Municipal Bond Insurers and Public Bid Law.
According to Stassi, when the Legislative Auditor (LA) does a report they pull random expenditures and make their decision based on what they find.
“We’re going to go back and we’re going to look at more than just the random pull,” Stassi said. “Not that there would be a full review of everything, but we would look at more information through the Legislative Auditor.”
Stassi said he and his team will review the eight deficiencies, expand on them and see what it may reveal. Those findings will then be presented before a grand jury for investigation.
“The investigation will look at actions or inactions to determine if further action is warranted,” Stassi added. “While no criminal charges have been determined thus far, the result of the investigation will be presented to a grand jury to contemplate any wrongdoing.
“I’ve seen some of the articles that the Mayor owns up to some of what he calls ‘mistakes’, but we intend to see if they arise to something that warrants criminal action.”
Some of the ‘mistakes’ found, according to the official audit report, include: “three hotel charges totaling $4,122 noted with no documentation of business purpose”, “a purchase at a Wal-Mart retail store for $195 with no supporting documentation”, “Employees who were not authorized to use the credit cards signed for certain purchases”, and “the Town credit card was used to pay for an employee’s co-pay of $100.00 for medical charges.”
The recent report also states that “as of September 30, 2016, the Town had deposited into the employees’ share accounts $10,485 in excess of what was withheld from their respective paychecks. Of this amount, $7,826 was attributable to the ex-husband of the Town Clerk.”
“Audits and laws pertaining to government agencies are intended to protect the public by deterring public officers and employees from abusing their positions of public trust,” Stassi said. “Elected officials take an oath to abide by the laws of this state and to perform all duties lawfully required of them.
“The refusal or failure to perform such a duty, by a public official or employee, is a breach of the law and their responsibility to their community.”
In its July 6 issue, the Post South reported on a letter issued from White Castle Mayor Gerald Williams to the citizens of White Castle addressing these ‘mistakes’. Williams reported then about “certain corrective measures to be implemented immediately in the human resource area”.
This measure includes the hiring of a Baton Rouge-based HR firm called Chief of Minds that will handle the town’s financials, including payroll.
“I know we’ve done nothing wrong and the Town has nothing to hide,” White Castle Mayor said about the investigation. “I’ve never seen a perfect municipality, and I’ve never seen a perfect government.”
This is the first time a case against White Castle will be brought before a grand jury under Mayor Williams, according to Stassi. In 2011, Former White Castle Mayor Maurice Brown was sentenced to 10 years in federal prison on racketeering and fraud charges. Brown was sentenced after a years-long FBI sting known as Operation Blighted Officials which also netted the conviction of former St. Gabriel Mayor George Grace, Sr.
Stassi said the DA’s Office is currently in the process of requesting the assistance of the LA’s Office in the investigation which is ongoing.
This is a developing story.