Three Troopers suspended due to suspected $340,000 payroll padding

Graft, Lies & Politics: A Monument to Corruption.

November 8, 2017 by Tom Aswell (Louisiana Voice)

Louisiana State Police (LSP) has suspended three State Troopers and shut down a cooperative program with 44 parishes from Webster to Jefferson, from Calcasieu to East Carroll following a months-long investigation by New Orleans television reporter Lee Zurik that revealed the troopers were paid hundreds of thousands of dollars in overtime they may not have actually worked.

The action to shut down Local Agency Compensated Enforcement (LACE), a program in which state police are paid to conduct traffic patrol for local district attorneys, came after Zurik and New Orleans FOX 8 TV station surveillance found that troopers were in their homes much of the time for which they were being paid for doing patrol.

State Police Superintendent Col. Kevin Reeves, immediately upon learning of the Zurik findings, ordered the SUSPENSION OF THE LACE PROGRAM and also ordered a criminal investigation into what could ultimately be determined as payroll fraud.

Under the program, local district attorneys contract with LSP for the patrols. The parish keeps all fines written by the troopers and reimburses LSP for troopers’ overtime salaries.

The three troopers who were suspended, all from Southeast Louisiana and New Orleans, combined to receive some $340,000 in LACE payments. The three troopers who were suspended, their salaries, their years of service, and their LACE payments over the past year, in parenthesis, include:

  • Master Trooper Daryl J. Thomas, a veteran of 22 years earning $89,300 ($150,000 in LACE payments);
  • Hazmat Specialist Eric Curlee, 19 years with LSP earning $99,800 ($100,000 LACE);
  • Byron G. Sims, polygraphist, 22 years with LSP, earning $109,000 ($90,000 LACE).

A fourth trooper under investigation is already out on sick leave and has not been suspended as yet. Because he has not yet been suspended, his name was not immediately available.

LouisianaVoice revealed in August that former Louisiana State Police Commission (LSPC) member Monica Manzella, as part of her duties as an assistant city attorney for the City of New Orleans, signed off on LACE contracts between the city and LSP but she signed the contracts before being appointed to LSPC and she had no additional oversight responsibilities.

A retired State Trooper said that abuse of the LACE program is not restricted to the New Orleans area and that “there are dozens of troopers out there who have been less than honest on their LACE timesheets. And it’s been going on for years,” he said.

A 29-page report by the State Office of Inspector General in 2010 would seem to back up that claim. The REPORT, dated April 27, 2010, examined overtime for employees of both LSP and the Department of Health and Hospitals. It said that as much as 30 percent of all LSP overtime in 2008 could be attributed to LACE. Even then, it was noted that one trooper earned more than $80,000 in overtime pay.

A story by LouisianaVoice on Dec. 15, 2015, revealed that Trooper JIMMY ROGERS (now retired) was disciplined by former State Police Superintendent Mike Edmonson in 2010 to a 240-hour reduction in pay for 30 pay periods (60 weeks), representing a penalty of more than $4,800. But on Nov. 13, 2015, it was revealed by then-Lt. Col. Charles Dupuy that Rogers was allowed to make up for the suspension by working LACE patrol.

Dupuy said in his letter to then-Troop D Commander Capt. Chris Guillory that from Jan. 6, 2011, to Aug. 9, 2011, “Trooper Rogers worked 16 LACE overtime details in violation of (policy) in effect at that time.”

Guillory told Internal Affairs investigators he was unaware of the policy and that he failed to inform Rogers’s immediate supervisor that Rogers was serving a disciplinary action.

LSP Public Information Officer Doug Cain told LouisianaVoice that subsequent to Zurik’s revelation of his findings, State Police Superintendent Col. Kevin Reeves immediately ordered the criminal investigation and the statewide shutdown of LACE.

Cain said there are three steps to the investigation. First, there will be the criminal investigation, followed by an Internal Affairs investigation. Following the IA investigation’s report, an administrative investigation would be conducted and a decision made on disciplinary action against those involved. A decision will be made on reinstatement of the LACE program pending the outcome of the department’s evaluation of the program.

“We hope to re-start the program at some point,” he said.

Unfortunately, the latest revelations by Zurik are nothing new and that this type of payroll chicanery has been going on for years.

The story of payroll fraud by some LSP Troopers is old news. It has been reported time and time again but no action is taken until the press gets wind of it. Zurik is to be commended for his dedication by conducting a surveillance operation. LSP has yet to learn that Lee did exactly what LSP should have been doing all along.

Any Trooper that spends his time at home while he is supposed to be working can only accomplish that feat with the tacit or purposeful approval of supervision. LSP has yet to hold a single supervisor accountable for failure to supervise troopers who write their set number of tickets (quota) and go home.

Let’s look back at Troop D. There were two troopers who were allowed to resign amid similar accusations. Their supervisors faced zero punishment for the actions they allowed. The common denominator of the two troopers was shift Lieutenant Paul Brady of Beauregard Parish. He supervised both Jimmy Rogers and RONNIE PICOU.

Picou was initially terminated, later allowed to resign, after an investigation revealed massive absences from his shift to include 50 shifts with no work product. LSP failed to even address the partial absences from duty. Troopers anonymously reported Picou for his actions. The response was to give the investigation over to his friends, Capt. Chris Guillory and now retired Lt. Jim Jacobsen.

Guillory cleared Picou and doubled down by allowing him to continue with his practice of writing an assigned number of citations and taking the remainder of the shift off. Brady replaced Jacobsen as the supervisor for Picou upon Jacobsen’s retirement. Picou was finally terminated after public records requests by LouisianaVoice. LSP could have surveilled Picou just as Zurik did but chose to not to. The internal investigation files showed Picou was committing payroll fraud but he was never held accountable for his actions. Nor was Brady.

Jimmy Rogers resigned suddenly after allegations of payroll fraud involving LACE. A trooper who worked with Rogers informed LouisianaVoice that Rogers did exactly what the troopers who are now under investigation did. He wrote his assigned number of citations and took the rest of the shift off. Rogers allegedly took it a step further by writing LACE citations on regular state funded shift and claimed them as overtime. This is more egregious than what Zurik has discovered. Rogers was allowed to resign.

There were efforts to obtain the investigation files on Roger’s departure from LSP. LSP has enthusiastically kept them from public view. An audit of radio logs, LACE citations, and dash cam videos will confirm that Roger’s conduct was more egregious than what Lee Zurik has discovered. We think it is time that LSP held former Trooper Rogers accountable for his actions. The statute of limitations has yet to expire on felony crimes. Picou’s supervisor, Paul Brady was not punished, according to our public records requests.

When it comes to investigating payroll fraud, LSP appears to be incapable or unwilling—or at least so it seemed under Edmonson’s and Secretary of Public Safety and Corrections Jimmy LeBlanc’s leadership. The media seemed to figure it out. When a crime is committed, do an investigation. That investigation might include surveilling the target of the investigation. It seems that investigatory prowess is lost when investigating their own.

One thing seems certain: Reeves did not deserve the mess he inherited from Edmonson.

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