State auditors say a former manager of the Evangeline Apartments in downtown Lafayette last year wrote 13 checks to himself totaling almost $33,000, money that belonged to a nonprofit that helps and houses poor people.
The Louisiana Legislative Auditor, in a report released Monday, says former apartment manager Bryan Jackson wrote the checks over five months in 2015, from mid-March to mid-August.
The report states that Jackson claimed he wrote checks to himself as reimbursement for items he personally purchased for the apartments. But auditors found numerous problems with the way the expenses were defined in the ledger, whether they were needed, and whether they were ever purchased at all.
In one instance, Jackson wrote two checks to himself totalling an even $5,000 — a reimbursement he claimed was for furniture he paid for that went in the apartments. But the store where Jackson claimed he bought the furniture told auditors there was no purchase. Auditors later determined the invoice used to back up the furniture purchase had been fabricated.
Another purchase — $1,290 for a Samsung washer and dryer, along with a portable ice machine — never made it to the Evangeline Apartments. And auditors later discovered the apartments didn’t need the appliances.
“We found that the Evangeline Apartments leases coin-operated washers and dryers that are located in the community laundry room,” the report says. “As such, it appears that Mr. Jackson was reimbursed for items that were not received and not necessary for the operations of the Evangeline Apartments.”
Jackson is a partner in JR Property Management, which is registered in Richland Parish.
From March, 1, 2015, until March 1, 2016, JR Property Management had a contract with the nonprofit Lafayette Neighborhoods Economic Development Corp. to run Evangeline Apartments, which is owned by the nonprofit. LNEDC’s mission, according to its website, is to run the apartments and to provide small loans to entrepreneurs in distressed neighborhoods to enhance those areas.
Located at the corner of Jefferson and Vine streets, the Evangeline Apartments is in a six-story building that is on the National Register of Historic Places. It is the former Evangeline Hotel, built in 1926. Its 87 rental units are currently 90 percent occupied, according to an employee.
The renters are poor — many of them disabled — and operations are run under state and federal guidelines.
Investigators have tried to talk further with Jackson, but he’s been hard to reach. An interview set with Jackson on Jan. 29 to discuss his check-writing was canceled at Jackson’s request, the report says.
Attempts Monday by The Advocate to contact both Jackson and LNEDC officials were unsuccessful.
The auditor’s office recommends the nonprofit try to recover some of its funds from Jackson. It also recommends strengthening financial controls at Evangeline, including requiring detailed invoices for purchases.
LNEDC says in a letter to Legislative Auditor Daryl Purpera that it had terminated its affiliation with JR Property Management and Jackson, and that it thanked the state of Louisiana for bringing its operations’ shortcomings to their attention.
“After a very detailed review of the draft report, we do not dispute any of its findings, and realize that certain internal controls and oversight were lacking that could have prevented the obvious misappropriation of funds,” LNEDC’s letter, dated May 12, states.
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