Audit: Iberville assessor possibly violated Louisiana law in connection with purchase of 2 trucks _lowres

Advocate staff photo by BILL FEIG -- Iberville Parish Assessor John “Randy” Sexton shown in March 2009.

An investigative audit released Monday says Iberville Parish Assessor John “Randy” Sexton may have violated Louisiana public bid laws from the purchase of two trucks during a five-year span and could owe up to $79,000 in fines for not marking the vehicles as public.

The audit, which the Louisiana Legislative Auditor’s Office said was conducted after receiving allegations about Sexton, also chided the parish assessor for using the vehicles to commute to work and allowing a deputy to do the same. The report also says Sexton exceeded his salary cap, which is set by state law, by more than $70,000 over a five-year span because he didn’t reimburse the state for any personal use of the vehicles.

Sexton did not return multiple calls Monday seeking comment.

But in a written response included in the audit, his attorney, Rob Marionneaux, defended many of the allegations, citing various provisions within state and federal laws that protected Sexton’s actions. Marionneaux also said the tip that launched the investigation was “politically motivated.”

Sexton was re-elected into office without opposition in the Oct. 24 primary.

“... Your office has performed annual audits during each of the years Mr. Sexton has been the elected assessor,” Marionneaux wrote in his Oct. 21 response. “Not a single instance in those years ... has your office made a single finding as it relates to said vehicles ..., despite all records being available and examined by your office during said audits.”

The Auditor’s Office said Marionneaux’s statement was incorrect and noted the Assessor’s Office annual audits for 2012 through 2014 were conducted by Plaquemine-based firm Baxley and Associates.

Monday’s audit findings have been turned over to the District Attorney’s Office for the 18th Judicial District, the state’s Attorney General’s Office, state Department of Revenue and federal Internal Revenue Service.

However, Assistant District Attorney Scott Stassi said Monday its highly unlikely his office will move forward with any criminal proceedings following the report’s release.

“There are no criminal allegations in the report,” he said. “They send it to us as a courtesy.”

The audit first calls attention to Sexton’s Feb. 2012 lease-purchase of a 2012 Ford F-250 costing $60,079. Auditors said the Assessor’s Office did not properly advertise for bids or get quotes before Sexton signed the lease-purchase agreement. State law requires that purchases made with public funds of more than $30,000 be advertised and awarded to the lowest responsible bidder.

Sexton violated public bid laws again in July 2014 when he authorized the purchase of a 2015 Ford F-250 Platinum-edition truck, for $59,120, without advertising for bids, the report says.

Auditors said Sexton told them the 2015 truck was purchased for his professional and business use, and the 2012 truck was passed down to his Deputy Assessor Clint Seneca for his business use.

Sexton said his office needed the utility trucks for their four-wheel drive capability to navigate through the parish’s rural roads. Sexton also told auditors it was an oversight on his part to not obtain the bids, but said his office did solicit three telephone quotes for the 2015 truck.

Auditors said Sexton’s Office had no physical record of the quotes.

Sexton and Seneca are noted in the report as having told auditors they used the vehicles for business purposes along with commuting to and from work each day.

State auditors with the Iberville Assessor’s Office also did not properly report the personal use of the vehicles to the Internal Revenue Service, which would have bumped Sexton’s annual salary beyond statutory limits by a total of $75,494 for 2009 through 2014. The audit notes that Sexton earned his maximum annual salary each year taking home $114,895 in 2009, $123,926 in 2010-12, $128,883 in 2013 and $134,039 in 2014.

Finally, the report says neither truck had the Assessor’s Office insignia or public license plates as required by state law.

Auditors said Sexton could be fined $25 to $50 per day, or $39,500 to $79,000, during the years both cars were used by his office with the proper markings.

The IRS’s commuter rule allows the personal use of an employer’s vehicle but requires a person to declare it as income on their W-2 form at a rate of $3 per day. However, the IRS prohibits the use of the commuter rules for elected officials, the audit reads.

In his response to the report, Marionneaux said Sexton has implemented a written policy to ensure the public bid laws are not violated in the future. As for the audit’s claim Sexton and Seneca did not report their personal use of the vehicles to the IRS, the attorney said Seneca was not required to report his use on personal taxes because he never used the truck for personal reasons. Seneca was allowed to take his vehicle home because he’s on-call 24 hours a day, Marionneaux wrote.

Marionneaux said Sexton also was exempt from reporting any personal use of the vehicles because the trucks have a gross weight that exceeds the IRS’ definition for an automobile.

In addition, Marionneaux said that placing identifying markings on the vehicles would undermine the Assessor’s Office’s ability to investigative properties with anonymity.

Follow Terry Jones on Twitter @tjonesreporter.