Audit blasts Ponchatoula on three big findings, including improper credit card usage _lowres

Bry Layrisson

Missing records for tickets issued to officers and the use of a Police Department credit card to pay an officer’s private cellphone bill triggered two findings in the city of Ponchatoula’s audit for 2015.

Auditors also cited the city for spending 24 percent more than the $6 million budgeted for the year, despite a state law requiring a budget amendment any time expenditures exceed the budget by more than 5 percent, according to a report the Louisiana Legislative Auditor’s Office released this week.

Auditors said the budget problem appeared to be an oversight related primarily to road repairs and improvements.

The report noted several problems with the Police Department’s handling of ticket books, including a failure to keep control copies of the tickets issued so the city can track what becomes of them.

In addition, the department’s log of all tickets issued did not include 23 tickets issued to officers during the 2015 fiscal year, according to the report.

“Since no control copy of tickets issued remain in the books, there is no way to determine what the final disposition of the missing tickets is,” accountants from Durnin & James wrote in the report.

The auditors said the department’s practice of allowing officers to receive multiple ticket books at a time, coupled with the books being issued out of numerical order, also made it difficult to determine whether any books were missing.

“These internal control weaknesses create an environment in which errors or irregularities in the processing of fines and forfeitures revenue could occur and not be either prevented or detected and corrected by city employees in a timely manner,” the auditors wrote.

The use of a Police Department credit card to pay an officer’s private cellphone bill also caused auditors some concern.

The $2,150.07 charge was for a delinquent bill accrued prior to the officer’s employment with the city, according to the report.

The city’s purchasing department rejected the payment request as being inappropriate, but Police Department personnel later paid the bill using the Police Department’s credit card.

“The payment of a personal expense of an employee prior to their employment with the city for which the city has no legal responsibility we believe is a donation of public funds to that individual and may constitute a violation” of the Louisiana Constitution, the auditors wrote in the report.

The auditors recommended the city require the officer to repay the money and, if the Police Department cannot follow city procedures, cancel the department’s credit card.

Police Chief Bry Layrisson declined, on the advice of his attorney, to comment Tuesday on the audit report.

In its response to the findings, the city said it was taking steps to correct the problems with the ticket books.

As for the cellphone charge, “We are currently in the process of obtaining previous Verizon phone records for the mentioned phone account,” the city responded. “Once these have been obtained and reviewed, we will discuss this issue further.”

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