The Iberville Parish Clerk of Court’s Office has spent more than $30,000 in public funds on out-of-town conference trips and fuel for vehicles over the past three years — more than twice what was spent by its similarly sized counterparts in Pointe Coupee and West Baton Rouge parishes, records show.
The charges include thousands spent on annual trips to the Florida Panhandle for conferences, where the office’s two top officials acknowledge bringing family members to vacation in the high-end resort condominiums they rented for their stays.
“If I go to Florida, I’m bringing my family,” Iberville Clerk J. Gerald “Bubbie” Dupont said.
He has reimbursed his office for some of the trip costs. Records show he reimbursed $4,042 of the $9,018 total spent on condo rentals for Florida trips in 2013 and 2014. However, there’s no record of a reimbursement for a 2012 trip to Florida that cost $4,509.
Credit card statements also show Dupont has used fuel cards issued in his name to purchase fuel outside of the parish on several occasions. Many of the charges were at gas stations in Vidalia, and Natchez and Woodville, Mississippi, towns that are near a campsite he owns in Ferriday.
The fuel cards are used to gas up the 2015 GMC Yukon that Dupont leases through his office at a cost of $1,038 a month. He also spent $1,165 for subscriptions to satellite radio during the three-year period and to the OnStar navigation and mobile phone system.
Dupont, who is not seeking re-election this fall, said he has nothing to hide when it comes to his use of public funds generated by his office and that any spending was for business-related matters.
“I have been in the office 28 years, and I’ve never been questioned about this before,” he said Thursday when asked about the charges and travel expenses. “I’m a by-the-book man with my auditor. And none of this has ever been in question.
“If they think I was out of line on something, they’d tell me.”
Dupont also said he saw nothing wrong with having his family come along when he attended annual Nuts and Bolts legal education conferences in Destin, Florida.
Records show he sometimes planned the trips well in advance. For example, he charged $450 to his office as a deposit on a three-bedroom, three-bath deluxe condominium at Sterling Sands Resort a year before the 2012 conference.
According to a receipt from the resort, the reservation was for four adults and two children. The total tab for the June 2-9 stay ran to more than $4,000.
In 2013, Dupont used the credit card to reserve a condo at Ocean Reef Resorts in Destin for a seven-day stay the first week of June. The seven-day reservation cost a total of $4,554.
Records do not indicate how many people accompanied Dupont. A copy of a personal check dated July 7, 2013, shows Dupont reimbursed the parish $1,834 for that trip.
He said he did that on advice from his auditor, reimbursing for his family members’ portion of the reservation.
Finally, in 2014, DuPont and his Deputy Clerk Amy Patin used the credit card to reserve two condos in Destin for that year’s Nuts and Bolts conference. Both acknowledged bringing family members along.
The cost for Patin’s condo rental at Crescent Condominiums from May 31 to June 7 was $2,716. A receipt shows the reservation for the two-bedroom condo was for four adults.
Dupont’s three-bedroom condo at Crescent Condominiums for the same time span cost $4,464. The reservation’s confirmation statement shows the condo was reserved for eight people.
When Dupont was asked on Thursday if he repaid the parish for his guests, he said he’d do that if instructed to do so by his auditor. On Friday, his secretary sent The Advocate a copy of a personal check from Dupont, dated Oct. 20, 2014, showing he reimbursed the parish $2,208 of the costs for his 2014 trip.
Patin said Thursday she hadn’t reimbursed the parish for her guests but added, “If I would have been advised to do so, I certainly would have.”
Dupont’s fuel card statements show he fueled up at numerous Shell stations in Woodville; Natchez; Grand Bay, Alabama; Vidalia; and Pensacola, Florida.
According to financial disclosure papers filed with the Louisiana Ethics Administration, Dupont owns a campsite located along U.S. 569 in Ferriday, which is about 11 miles from Natchez and 9 miles from Vidalia.
Asked about the charges, Dupont said he was in those areas for business purposes but could not provide specific details of the business reasons for being there.
Asked if he had visited his camp during those occasions, Dupont said, “I could have stopped by there.”
Dupont’s peers in West Baton Rouge and Pointe Coupee parishes have charged considerably less on travel and fuel — and neither has attended the annual conference in Florida within the last three years.
West Baton Rouge Parish Clerk Mark Graffeo has spent $4,363 between 2011 and 2014 on travel-related expenses to attend various conferences throughout the state while Pointe Coupee Parish Clerk Lanell Landry charged $2,294 to attend work-related conferences and seminars during the same time period, according to their credit card statements.
Most of Landry’s credit card use was for fuel, which she used to charge $10,480 at gas stations in her parish to fuel up the 2011 GMC Yukon she leases through her office for approximately $500 a month.
Landry said that when she does use the vehicle for personal out-of-town trips, she fuels it with her personal credit card.
“I also take out nearly $100 out of my check to cover vehicle costs,” she said. “That’s just something my predecessor did, too.”
Dupont and Landry said they own personal vehicles in addition to the vehicles leased through their offices.
Graffeo doesn’t use his office credit card on gas because he opted to take a $800 monthly car allowance for his personal vehicle, which state law allows.
All three clerks in the 18th Judicial District earn approximately $140,268 in total compensation annually.
State law allows clerks to either lease vehicles or draw a car allowance equal to 15 percent of their annual salary.
Graffeo said he decided to take less than 10 percent for his car allowance because he thought “that was something the office could afford. I thought that would be fair.”
Landry said Thursday she’s considering switching to the car allowance as well when the lease agreement on her vehicle expires this year.
Follow Terry Jones on Twitter, @tjonesreporter.