An investigative audit report released Monday accuses two former employees of the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries of taking almost $20,000 worth of fishing and other sporting equipment purchased with state-issued credit cards.
The report also alleges that Eric Newman and Monique Savoy, who are now married, received gifts from Wildlife and Fisheries' vendors while they were employed by the state agency.
The couple, who now run a charter fishing business in Venice, did not return a phone call Monday seeking comment about the report's findings.
The investigative audit by the Louisiana Legislative Auditor's Office is a follow-up to Wildlife and Fisheries' annual audit report, which was released Nov. 9. In that report, auditors highlighted a lack of financial and operational oversight by Wildlife and Fisheries in a British Petroleum Tissue Sampling Program after they couldn't locate some missing equipment among the list of expenditures made during the program.
The $10.5 million tissue sampling program, which was funded by the oil giant and overseen by the state agency, paid to test fish in the Gulf of Mexico after the BP oil spill in 2010. The previous audit found “insufficient sampling of fish for contamination from the oil spill," as well as money misspent, including the missing items.
Newman was in charge of the program, which was stationed in Venice. Savoy was a member of his team of employees there, the audit states. Newman and Savoy resigned from the state agency in January 2014 after working at Wildlife and Fisheries for three and two years, respectively.
They started the charter fishing business shortly after resigning, the audit says.
Auditors zeroed in on $54,957 worth of equipment purchases they couldn't locate and that were made by Newman's team using state-issued credit cards.
"The missing equipment could not be located by Wildlife and Fisheries staff after Mr. Newman and Ms. Savoy resigned from their positions in January 2014," the investigative report said.
Among the inventory of missing equipment were fishing reels, rods, some binoculars and a spear gun.
With help from the Louisiana Department of Justice's Bureau of Investigations, state auditors connected the couple to nearly 36 percent of the missing items, which have a total worth of $19,762.
State agents found approximately $14,338 of the merchandise at the couple's home in Covington. They also discovered several posts Savoy made on Facebook after she resigned, soliciting buyers for several of the missing reels and fishing rods, the report states.
Monday's audit also claims that while searching the couple's home, state agents found a 2014 tax return for their charter fishing business indicating they had $30,800 worth of fishing equipment in service less than a month after they resigned from Wildlife and Fisheries.
Auditors didn't find any proof that Newman and Savoy had purchased that equipment with their own money, the report states.
The couple also was accused of having improper relationships with several Wildlife and Fisheries' vendors. Auditors said the couple received gifts from contractors with the state agency.
Their alleged actions were in direct violation of state law, which prohibits public employees from soliciting or receiving anything of economic value from anyone hired by the employee's agency.
Auditors used emails, personal bank records and social media posts to show questionable interactions the couple had with vendors. The couple is accused of accepting a $1,350 check from one vendor and a trip to Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, from another, according to the report.
Legislative auditors urged Wildlife and Fisheries to consult with a lawyer about possible legal action they can take against the couple.
Wildlife and Fisheries Secretary Jack Montoucet said in his response letter to the audit that the agency will "evaluate all legal options" that might be available to them in this matter.
In his letter, Montoucet said the agency has implemented several policy changes and protocols to prevent the same thing from happening again.