Last month, State Police cleared a longtime assistant warden at the Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola of wrongdoing after an investigation into potential payroll fraud.
But the actual summary of that investigation, released last week in response to a public-records request from The Advocate, paints a much more complicated picture.
It suggests that State Police were ultimately unable to pin down whether the assistant warden, Kenny Norris, was ever actually at work during the hours he was paid for. That’s because Norris, who is married to the niece of his recently retired boss at Angola, Burl Cain, was not required to log his comings and goings from the prison the way most other employees must.
Instead, investigators relied on Norris himself, plus his subordinates and his relatives — categories that in one case overlap — to verify the working hours he claimed. And even then, examining just a six-month period, they discovered discrepancies. Norris told investigators that he had been in the hospital for a five-day stretch for which he was paid as though he was clocking in every day, something he attributed to an apparent payroll error on the part of his niece.
The seven-page document was written by Trooper 1st Class Jesse Brown, who investigated Norris. State Police also shared it with Sam D’Aquilla, district attorney for the 20th Judicial District, where Angola is located. D’Aquilla agreed with State Police that no criminal charges would be filed.
D’Aquilla released the document to The Advocate in response to a public-records request. Several days later, State Police also gave the newspaper a copy of their full report.
Among other things, the report reveals that the State Police probe began only after The Advocate — acting on tips about Norris’ work habits — requested copies of Norris’ job description, his payroll records and records from the prison’s front gate showing his comings and goings.
The report says Stephanie Lamartiniere, another assistant warden at the prison, was preparing those records and “began comparing Norris’ time sheets to the Angola prison front gate log books and could not reconcile the two.” At that point, she “became concerned” and alerted her new boss, recently appointed Warden Darrel Vannoy, who in turn called State Police and asked them to investigate.
Norris, who earned about $93,000 a year, told State Police that his “job duties did not require him to be on the grounds of the prison to be considered at work” and that, among other things, he acted as a “liaison” between the prison and various police departments and sheriffs’ offices. Those duties sometimes took him away from Angola for periods of up to a month, Norris said.
“I asked Norris if he maintained a daily journal of his work-related activities,” Brown wrote in his report, “and he stated he did not.”
Pam Laborde, a spokeswoman for the state correctional department, said prison employees must notify their supervisors when they work off-site, but they are not required to fill out any paperwork unless their supervisor demands it.
In Norris’ case, his supervisor — Cain — apparently never did.
Cain hired Norris roughly 15 years ago — after Norris retired from the No. 2 post in the State Police — to oversee internal investigations at the prison, according to Norris. But his job description, provided by the Department of Public Safety and Corrections, includes various other duties, including overseeing the human resources department and programs for the Angola museum.
Like Norris, Cain told investigators that Norris frequently worked off-site with other agencies. While Norris told The Advocate in January that he “sometimes” worked from his home in Pitkin, nearly four hours from the prison, Cain told investigators that Norris “was not allowed to remain at home and be considered at work.”
Generally, Cain said “he did not have reason to believe or suspect that Norris was claiming he was working when in fact he was not,” according to the report.
That position was essentially echoed by three other Angola employees interviewed by State Police: Deputy Warden Leslie Dupont, Col. Stewart Hawkins and Capt. Kristen Hooper.
Hooper — who is Cain’s granddaughter and Norris’ niece, relationships not noted in the report — was responsible for entering Norris’ hours and those of others in their unit into the computer system. She told investigators that “from time to time, she made errors on the master time sheet, but when they were discovered, the proper adjustments were made.”
Brown’s initial review of Norris’ time sheets covered six months, starting in July 2015. Vannoy, the new warden, told him that Norris had been in the hospital for part of that period.
Brown asked Norris for hospital records to confirm the dates, but Norris instead “verbally provided” the dates he was admitted. That “self-reported” list included five days in July for which he had been paid as though he was at work.
Asked about the discrepancy, Norris blamed his niece, saying Hooper “was aware he was in the hospital and not at work” during the dates in question.
Brown attempted to look at six more months’ worth of time sheets, and he asked Norris for older medical records. But Norris “advised he did not have the information requested and could not recall being in the hospital during the subject time period.”
“As a result, investigators did not have the information required to determine if a conflict such as the one previously discovered exists,” Brown wrote.
In the end, Norris was docked five sick days, and investigators closed the books on the case. Norris, who retired in December, declined to comment for this story.
The report makes clear that it was almost impossible for investigators to piece together when Norris was actually at work.
When Brown asked prison staff about the site’s gate logs, they told him “a record was not necessarily generated each time an employee entered or exited the prison. … Only the driver of a vehicle entering the prison is identified and their name entered into the log. Passengers are not.”
In his report, Brown noted several other reasons why those logs might not be reliable indicators of an employee’s comings and goings. But Laborde, the corrections spokeswoman, said some of the information in the report wasn’t accurate and that Angola officials have ways to account for everyone on the grounds of the maximum-security prison.
“Passengers are not logged in; however, security staff at the front gate counts the number of passengers and notes that information on the logs,” she wrote in an email to The Advocate, saying the practice is used to prevent bottlenecks.
State Police spokesman Maj. Doug Cain, who is no relation to the former warden, said he wasn’t concerned about the fact that several of the Angola employees who vouched for Norris are kin to him.
“I’m not gonna dissect the report. The report speaks for itself,” he said.
Ultimately, Doug Cain noted, it fell to D’Aquilla, the district attorney, to decide whether to prosecute anyone in connection with the inaccuracies the investigation turned up.
D’Aquilla said he didn’t think the information rose to the level of a crime.
“I just don’t think they had enough information (to build a case),” he said.
However, he added that he believed investigators “could’ve followed through on a couple more things,” such as obtaining Norris’ medical records.
District attorneys have the power to work with law enforcement to build a case, such as by convening a grand jury, but D’Aquilla took a hands-off approach in the Norris investigation. In fact, his office doesn’t even have the whole file.
Brown’s report lists several attachments, but D’Aquilla said he didn’t receive them.
“I didn’t even ask (State Police) to do an investigation on this,” D’Aquilla said. “I’m not an investigatory agency. … I go off their investigation.”
Asked whether the corrections department plans to make any policy changes based on the report’s findings, Laborde said the department will first await the findings of a separate investigation by the Legislative Auditor’s Office.
D’Aquilla and Doug Cain said their agencies didn’t suggest any changes. Their only duty was to determine whether Norris committed fraud. And though they never got the documents to determine whether the problem was more pervasive than the one week of overpayment they uncovered, they are pleased with their work.
“Our detective did a thorough investigation,” Doug Cain said.
Follow Steve Hardy on Twitter, @SteveRHardy.