LIVINGSTON — A state court judge found no probable cause Monday for the prosecution of former Livingston Parish contractor Corey delaHoussaye on allegations of overbilling, but prosecutors said they will move the case forward to trial anyway.
“Just because they wear black robes doesn’t mean they’re always right,” District Attorney Scott Perrilloux, of the 21st Judicial District, said outside the courtroom after the ruling. He declined further comment.
Prosecutors contend delaHoussaye billed the parish for hours he wasn’t actually working on wetlands mitigation and burn site closures after Hurricane Gustav. DelaHoussaye faces 54 counts of falsifying public records and five counts of theft related to his billing.
DelaHoussaye’s attorney, John McLindon, said he was happy with state Judge Brenda Ricks’ ruling, though a bit surprised the district attorney was pressing forward with the case.
“Occasionally that happens, but in this case, you’ve got a grand jury that failed to indict and now a judge that failed to find probable cause,” McLindon said. “This needs to be put to bed.”
McLindon said he blamed the state Inspector General’s Office for conducting a “very poor, half-baked investigation.”
Jessica Webb, a criminal investigator with the Inspector General’s Office and the state’s only witness Monday, said records from delaHoussaye’s golf club, two gyms and a cosmetic clinic in Baton Rouge showed he was charging the parish for work while he played golf, tanned, worked out and had liposuction, botox, hormone therapy and other cosmetic treatments.
Webb walked the court through the charges count by count, detailing the receipts, tee schedules and electronic card swipes supporting the state’s case.
By Webb’s tally, delaHoussaye had billed the parish $8,700 while he played golf and drank Patron at Greystone Golf & Country Club in Denham Springs; $4,930 while he had cosmetic procedures and hormone therapy at the Aesthetic Medicine & Anti-Aging Clinic in Baton Rouge; $2,175 while he worked out at Spectrum Fitness; $797.50 while he tanned at Anytime Fitness; and $580 while he worked on an unrelated project in another parish.
DelaHoussaye’s firm billed the parish $2.3 million for its Gustav cleanup. He has been paid $1.9 million to date.
McLindon challenged Webb on her findings, noting that on many of the days delaHoussaye is accused of being off the job, he billed the parish for eight hours in a nine-hour time frame. How delaHoussaye spent that unbilled hour was at his discretion, McLindon argued.
McLindon also pressed Webb for more information about who prompted her investigation, what authority she had to conduct it and whether she really understood the political context of the parish’s Gustav storm cleanup program.
Webb testified that parish legal adviser Christopher Moody, an appointee of the district attorney, had asked the Inspector General’s Office to investigate delaHoussaye’s billing. But on cross-examination, she admitted she never spoke with the former parish president, the Parish Council or the federal agencies delaHoussaye was working with regarding his billing or his work under the parish contract.
Webb said she had not compared delaHoussaye’s time sheets to his phone records or — despite seizing computers and other electronic devices from his home — his emails to determine whether he had actually worked more hours than he billed.
She testified that although she subpoenaed delaHoussaye’s medical and gym records, the golf records were provided by Moody’s office. Webb said she was unaware that Moody had gotten those records from attorneys for International Equipment Distributors — the debris removal firm that delaHoussaye reported for alleged illegal work after the 2008 storm.
Pressed further by McLindon, Webb admitted she had no real knowledge of the parish’s other Gustav contractors, delaHoussaye’s status as a whistleblower regarding those companies’ work or the federal arbitration ruling denying $59 million in costs associated with the debris removal.
Webb also testified that she was unaware that state law required the Inspector General’s Office to release a report of its investigative findings, or that the judges who granted her subpoena requests were required to give written reasons for granting them.
Webb told McLindon she understood that the inspector general can investigate only covered agencies, but she could not state which covered agency she believed had hired delaHoussaye. The Parish Council is not a covered agency.
Assistant District Attorney Greg Murphy said McLindon’s concerns about how the investigation was conducted should be handled through a motion to suppress evidence — a motion McLindon said was likely to follow Monday’s ruling. But Ricks said whether Webb had authority to investigate delaHoussaye was “very pertinent” to Monday’s hearing.
“If she doesn’t have authority to investigate, then what are we doing here?” Ricks said.
Murphy argued there was enough evidence to proceed to trial, particularly regarding days when delaHoussaye’s records showed he spent multiple hours at the golf course or in the doctor’s office.
“He’s saying don’t hold him accountable for the hours he billed because he did that work some other time, but his contract says he’s paid by invoice,” Murphy said. “If he’s physically not where the invoices say he is, he can’t come back later and have a reason behind that. It should’ve been reflected in his invoice.”
The parish hired delaHoussaye’s firm, C-Del Inc., in October 2009 but fired him in August 2011 amid concerns about his invoices.
He has said he “block-billed,” or recorded roughly the same hours each day, because his schedule varied widely and because he sometimes had to disguise the hours he worked while he was an FBI informant.
The District Attorney’s Office filed an 81-count bill of information against delaHoussaye in December 2013 after a parish grand jury fell one vote shy of indicting him. Prosecutors dropped 22 of those counts Friday.
DelaHoussaye was re-arraigned on the amended bill Monday and again pleaded not guilty to the charges.