Audit: More New Roads credit card spending questioned; about $13,100 in purchases by city officials lacked receipts in 2014 _lowres

Advocate staff file photo by PATRICK DENNIS -- New Roads Mayor Robert Myer speaks in his office in November 2014 about discrepancies in his use of the city credit card.

New Roads Mayor Robert Myer directed staff to alter notations on credit card statements for a city-issued credit card and didn't repay the city for more than $2,000 in personal charges he made on the card, according to an investigative report prosecutors filed in the criminal case against him.

Among other things, the report by the State Inspector General’s Office filed into the court record provides insight into an alleged sexual relationship Myer had with the city's former finance director, Cherie Rockforte-Laviolette. The IG report says she rang up more than $11,000 in personal charges, most of which have not been repaid to the city.

Prosecutors also presented a case against Rockforte-Laviolette but no charges were brought by the grand jury. She left her position with the city in November 2014, city officials have said.

Myer's attorney Steven Moore on Tuesday called the report's claims "outlandish accusations" meant to discredit his client's reputation.

"If there is something out there proving the mayor failed to pay back the money, he didn't do that intentionally," Moore said. "This man didn't decide to run for mayor twice just so that he could try and fleece the city out of $2,000."

Moore said he's preparing motions in response to the latest filing as Myer's next court date approaches in February.

John McClindon, Rockforte-Laviolette's attorney, on Tuesday declined to comment on the findings in the IG’s report until he had a chance to review it again. "I haven't seen it in over a year," he said

Assistant District Attorney Tony Clayton on Tuesday said the Inspector General’s report is only one part of the evidence they have in their case against Myer.

"There is a whole lot more evidence surrounding this case that I cannot comment on," Clayton said.

The State Inspector General's investigative report was filed in court on Jan. 17 — six days after Myer's attorney asserted in court that prosecutors were withholding evidence in the case against Myer.

Myer was indicted in August on nine counts of malfeasance in office and a count of abuse of power. He is accused of using a city-issued credit card for personal transactions and of allowing Rockforte-Laviolette, to make more than $9,000 in personal charges on the card in exchange for sexual favors between 2011 and 2014.

Myer in October pleaded not guilty to the charges. He's called the case against him a conspiracy led by some of his political adversaries.

The investigative report appears to support Myer's claim that political adversaries played a part in getting the investigation of him launched. It reveals that the probe was launched after former Pointe Coupee Parish police juror Albert "Dewey" Dukes filed a complaint against Myer in November 2014. At the time, Dukes' son, Cornell Dukes, was challenging Myer's re-election bid.

The report revealed that state investigators subpoenaed financial records of credit cards issued not only to Myer and Rockforte-Laviolette, but also Police Chief Kevin McDonald and Salvador Rinaudo, New Roads' secretary-treasurer.

Rockforte-Laviolette claimed Myer ordered her and Chief McDonald on Aug. 18, 2015. to go to his house and "white out every handwritten note and then make copies of the altered credit card statements" after Cornell Dukes and an attorney requested a review of the city's credit card statements, the report says.

Investigators reached out to vendors whose names were listed in credit statements because many purchases lacked receipts detailing specifics of how the credit cards were used. The 15-page investigative report lists multiple purchases Myer made for things like cameras, grocery items, underwear, gardening equipment and concert tickets. Myer made many of the charges on the city credit card after his own debit card was declined, the report says.

State investigators discovered the mayor charged $165,777 on the city's various credit card accounts between Jan. 1, 2011 through Oct. 1, 2014 -- more than $11,000 worth they believe was personal. He wrote personal checks totaling $9,527 back to the city in what investigators think were reimbursements for personal expenses.

"At the time the purchases were made there was no known city ordinance in effect that authorized personal purchases to be made by a city employee using city funds regardless of reimbursement," the report reads.

A review of minutes from a Nov. 3, 2014 City Council meeting show that Myer implemented a credit card policy allowing personal use of city-issued credit cards as long as the city receives reim

Among the list of findings against Myer by the Inspector General's Office:

  • On Nov. 24, 2011 (Thanksgiving Eve) Myer charged $130 to purchase a Sony W570 camera and three sets of bed sheets at a Wal-Mart in Baton Rouge. There was no reason for the purchase listed and investigators say they found no reimbursement for it.
  • On July 22, 2012 Myer charged $613 at Lowe's in Baton Rouge to purchase a Husqvarna brand gas leaf blower and trimmer. The city's public works director and treasurer in separate interviews with state investigators said the city never used blowers or weedeaters of that brand. "They have only used those made by Stihl or Echo," the report reads.
  • On July 22, 2012 Myer charged $165 at Sam's Club in Baton Rouge to purchase watermelon, grapes, tilapia, bacon, chicken fajita, brownies, cherries, a gallon of milk, and a frozen pizza. Handwritten notes on the receipt claim the grocery items were for a basketball program, "however they appear to be personal expenses," the report says.
  • On Dec. 28, 2013, Myer charged $88.10 on KC and The Sunshine Band tickets.

The report includes statements Rockforte-Laviolette made to investigators claiming the mayor pressured her into a sexual relationship with him that began in August 2011 and ended in late 2013 after Myer became engaged to his current wife.

She described his advances to her as a "do this and I'll do this" type of relationship, the report says. Rockforte-Laviolette began using her city-issued credit card on Dec. 15, 2012, until Oct. 25, 2014. The Inspector General Office's report highlighted 63 instances of what appeared to be personal charges she rang up totaling $9,884.

It appears from the IG report that Rockforte-Laviolette made numerous personal charges at a local grocery store and Wal-Mart, and told investigators that Myer on several occasions told her to use the card to buy clothes and toys for her children.

There was also a $2,400 charge to World Travel Service, a corporate and leisure travel agency, and emails and phone records show that Rockforte-Laviolette's personal cellphone bill was paid with city funds for an entire year.

Through their investigation the IG's Office asserts that Rockforte-Laviolette had access to an additional city-issued credit card where most transactions took place at various places in Calcasieu Parish where her then boyfriend, now husband, lived. Those charges totaled approximately $500, the report states.

Follow Terry Jones on Twitter, @tjonesreporter.