Livingston Parish prosecutors will appeal a state court judge’s recent ruling that says the state Inspector General’s Office lacked authority to investigate former parish contractor Corey delaHoussaye for alleged overbilling after Hurricane Gustav.
District Attorney Scott Perrilloux, of the 21st Judicial District, said he believes the ruling was “erroneous and contrary to law” and his office has given notice of its intent to ask the state 1st Circuit Court of Appeal to review the ruling.
Inspector General Stephen Street also has decried the ruling, saying his office is clearly empowered to investigate all contractors and subcontractors of state executive branch covered agencies.
That power, Street said Thursday, includes the authority to follow the FEMA disaster relief dollars that the Governor’s Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness, a Cabinet-level state agency, distributes to parishes to help defray the costs of storm cleanup.
In this case, delaHoussaye’s company, C-Del Inc., contracted with Livingston Parish to close burn sites, and resolve wetlands mitigation and permitting issues after Hurricane Gustav. Under the contract, Livingston Parish paid C-Del for its work. The parish then could seek reimbursement of those expenses through GOHSEP.
Street said it was that GOHSEP connection that green-lighted his office to investigate delaHoussaye’s invoices and timesheets.
But Judge Brenda Ricks, of the 21st Judicial District Court, found that connection too tenuous.
Ricks wrote in her May 1 ruling that neither delaHoussaye nor his company had contracted directly with GOHSEP and that neither fell within the definition of a FEMA grantee or subgrantee for the disaster relief funds. C-Del was a contractor of the parish, which is not a covered agency, Ricks said.
Ricks ordered the suppression of all evidence obtained through the IG’s investigation, undercutting most if not all of the 59 counts of falsifying public records and theft leveled against delaHoussaye.
DelaHoussaye said the dates prosecutors allege he lied about his work hours are from invoices that were never reimbursed through GOHSEP anyway.
Those invoices were from the end of C-Del’s contract period, when the company was working on permit issues stemming from the parish’s debris removal efforts in canals and waterways.
FEMA denied funding for debris removal and monitoring work done in the parish’s waterways after then-Parish President Mike Grimmer raised concerns about potential fraud in those contractors’ invoices. Without FEMA approval for that funding, C-Del’s later work on the related permitting issues could not be submitted to GOHSEP for reimbursement, delaHoussaye said.
The parish repeatedly appealed that funding denial and ultimately went to arbitration over the issue. But a three-judge panel of the U.S. Civilian Board of Contract Appeals ruled that FEMA was correct in denying payment for the work and actually overpaid for the parish’s debris removal efforts in other areas.
DelaHoussaye said Friday, “If the IG really wanted to follow the dollars that flowed through GOHSEP and find fraud, why didn’t they investigate the contractors that the CBCA said had been overpaid?”
Of the $2.2 million Livingston Parish has paid C-Del for its post-Gustav work, only $398,827 was ultimately reimbursed to the parish through GOHSEP, delaHoussaye said. That amount was for his company’s burn site closure work and administrative costs, he said.
But Street said his office’s jurisdiction is not dependent on which invoices were actually reimbursed.
“If any of the dollars got there, we have the right to investigate it,” Street said. “We’re not going to ignore fraud when we see it, regardless of what it is. ... Once we have a right to be there, then we have a right to be there.”
Street said the appellate court will not be looking at which invoices were reimbursed with GOHSEP-controlled funds anyway.
“They’re not going to get down to that level of parsing and minutiae because they’ve got to consider the record that’s there,” Street said. “The transcript of the hearing is what will go up, and the court can take judicial notice of the statute, but those questions are not part of the record.”
Follow Heidi R. Kinchen on Twitter, @HeidiRKinchen, and call her at (225) 336-6981.