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Media probe puts spotlight on Louisiana state troopers

13th November 2017   ·   0 Comments

Louisiana State Police Superintendent Kevin Reeves has suspended three state troopers and is investigating a fourth after a scathing report by a local news station that has unearthed what appears to be chronic payroll fraud at the state’s top law enforcement agency. The four state troopers are suspected of abusing a ticket-writing agreement the LSP has with many local parishes.

FOX 8 News reported last week that the details program has also been suspended as a result of its investigation pending an internal review. It is known as LACE, which stands for “Local Agency Compensated Enforcement.”

LACE allowed 44 parishes — including Orleans, St. Tammany, St. Charles, St. John the Baptist, Ascension and Calcasieu parishes — to hire troopers to write tickets on highways in those parishes.

After months of undercover surveillance, FOX 8 News learned that some state troopers earning huge paychecks from the LACE program actually weren’t patrolling the roads. Hours after FOX 8 News shared its findings with the Louisiana State Police, the agency launched a criminal investigation into the four troopers.

Among the four officers is Trooper Daryl Thomas, who earns more money than any other law enforcement officer in Louisiana and more than any district attorney, police chief, the attorney general, or even his boss, the LSP superintendent.

Last year taxpayers paid this trooper $240,000. But FOX 8 News’ undercover surveillance investigation, backed up by timesheets and traffic citations, shows Thomas may not have legally earned much of that money.

“I’m so fed up and sick,” says Patrick Lynch, a CPA with Rogers, Lynch and Associates who comments frequently on cases of public impropriety.

“I’m outraged,” Tulane law professor Joel Friedman told FOX 8. “This is absolutely, as a matter of criminal law, theft.”

For August 17, Thomas claims on his timesheet that he started work at 7:00 a.m. But FOX 8 News’ undercover camera spotted him leaving for work two and a half hours later, at 9:35 a.m. For 155 minutes, Thomas stayed at home while earning money from taxpayers.

“You should be patrolling or doing a patrol function,” LSP Superintendent Kevin Reeves, when FOX 8 asked him about the discrepancy.

FOX 8 News had an undercover camera at Thomas’ house for 12 different work days over the past few months. It found, for those 12 days when Thomas claimed hours on his timesheet, he didn’t work all of them:

For September 4, Labor Day, Thomas billed taxpayers for 16 hours. The first six hours, he worked a ticket-writing overtime shift in St. Charles Parish. From noon to 10:00 pm, his timesheet shows, he worked his regular state police shift. But FOX 8 News’ undercover camera caught Thomas at home from 11:10 a.m. until 5:00 p.m. — almost six hours of that work day, Thomas didn’t work.

The next day, September 5, Thomas’ timesheet shows he worked until 10:00 p.m. But he arrived home at 6:00 p.m. and stayed there until 9:12 a.m. — three of the last four hours of his shift, Thomas’ car remained in his driveway.

And on September 6, Thomas claims, he worked 6:00 a.m. until 10:00 p.m. But FOX 8 News’ surveillance unit spotted him arriving home at 9:26 a.m. He left at 12:43 p.m., but less than six hours later, he once again pulled into his driveway, and his car stayed there for three hours, until he left just after 9:00 p.m. Of the 16 hours Thomas billed taxpayers that day, six of them, he remained in his house.

“You don’t have to take a class in criminal law to know that you can’t submit fraudulent time-sheets,” Friedman told FOX 8.

“The allegations are very concerning,” LSP Supt. Reeves says. “They’re very troubling.”

After FOX 8 News brought its findings to LSP, Supt. Reeves placed Thomas on administrative leave and launched a criminal investigation.

“We have to conduct an investigation here to see exactly what we’re looking at with these troopers,” Reeves told FOX 8 “What we’ve seen on the camera is of great concern.”

Thomas has historically been the highest overtime earner in the state and has consistently ranked among the state’s highest-paid employees. The last two years, he’s made $240,000. Each year, that included $147,000 in overtime.

The numbers are startling: that means Thomas billed taxpayers for, on average, 83 hours of work a week.

“These are red flags that screaming to somebody to look into,” Lynch told FOX 8.

Those overtime levels caught FOX 8 News’ attention seven years ago, when it asked then-LSP Supt. Mike Edmonson about Thomas’ workload and overtime.

“Know him well, good trooper, very hard worker,” Edmonson told FOX 8 in 2010. “I can assure you, every one of those hours he put down, he worked.”

Edmonson guaranteed his work product then. Now, FOX 8 News has unearthed proof that Trooper Thomas may not have worked all the hours he claimed.

“You’re committing payroll fraud and you’re being paid like executives are being paid,” Lynch says.

According to FOX 8 News, this is not the first time a question has been raised about Thomas’ timesheets. Twenty years ago, Thomas received a four-day suspension for a discrepancy on his timesheet. The Louisiana State Police reportedly caught Thomas claiming work on his timesheet he never performed.

This article originally published in the November 13, 2017 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper.

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