MARINGOUIN — Several former Maringouin officials may have misused more than $1,000 in public funds and failed to properly account for about $100,000 in supplemental pay from the state — some of which former Police Chief John Simien received, an investigative audit report released Monday says.
The 30-page report also says the town’s former mayor did not provide proper oversight over the Police Department and the town magistrate improperly reduced 43 percent of the Police Department’s speeding tickets, costing the town nearly $12,000 in revenue.
Assistant District Attorney Scott Stassi said Monday his office is reviewing the matter and will “probably set up a meeting” with state auditors soon to discuss their investigation.
The town’s current Mayor Demi Vorise released a statement Monday saying her administration already is working to correct problems by following the 10 recommendations state auditors made in the audit report.
“Under the previous administration, it at times lacked checks and balances,” she said. “I am confident that this administration will continue to make Maringouin one of the greatest places to reside.”
The Louisiana Legislative Auditor’s Office said Monday the investigation into the town’s fiances was started after several complaints about the town’s Police Department while Simien was in office.
Simien lost his bid for re-election last year after serving two consecutive, four-year terms as Maringouin’s police chief. Simien could not be reached for comment Monday.
The audit claims that from March 7, 2012, to March 14, 2014, Simien and Officer Daniel Dorsey misused public money by extending their hotel stays while attending the Louisiana Association of Chiefs of Police conferences.
Simien and the officer expensed a total of $1,291 during his final two years in office by checking into hotels a day earlier and staying a day after LACP conferences that were held in Marksville, Baton Rouge and Lafayette.
Dorsey told auditors it was normal for he and the former police chief to arrive at the conferences a day early and stay past the end dates.
Auditors assert both men may have violated state laws because the extra days did not benefit the town.
Auditors also noted hotel invoices from the Marksville conferences in March 2013 and March 2014 showed that the two men were reimbursed $179 and $100, respectively, for prepayments the town made for their reservations.
The report says Simien told auditors any refunds would have been paid to him, not Dorsey, but then added he had never received any cash back from the hotel.
The audit also says town officials failed to include $116,807 in monthly supplemental pay from the Louisiana Department of Public Safety when calculating state and federal payroll deductions for Simien and three full-time police officers between Jan. 1, 2007, to Dec. 31, 2013.
Of the $116,807 in supplemental pay, the audit claims Simien received $31,000 he wasn’t eligible to get because he was not a POST — Peace Officer Standards and Training — certified police officer. The state requires all officers hired after Jan. 1, 1986, to be POST certified.
The audit says Simien lied on his application for supplemental pay benefits about the certification.
When the state Department of Public Safety learned the truth in September 2012, the audit says, Simien claimed he had received a letter from the DPS stating he was grandfathered to receive the supplemental pay and exempt from the POST certification requirements.
By failing to include supplemental pay into officer payroll and not requiring Simien to repay the supplemental benefits he received up until 2012, the audit says former Mayor John Overton also may have violated state laws.
In his response, Overton, who also lost his bid for re-election last year, said the officers did not make his administration aware they were receiving income from supplemental pay. Overton said the officers had their supplemental checks mailed to their personal addresses.
“Although I, as mayor, signed the applications for the officers to receive supplemental pay, I was never made aware that they were receiving the funds,” he wrote in his response.
And because the town was unaware of Simien’s ineligibility, Overton requested the matter, and most of the other allegations, be turned over the District Attorney’s Office.
In addition, auditors said Overton and Town Magistrate Sharah Harris-Wallace may have improperly reduced the fines of 124 speeding tickets from March 2012 through July 2014.
In the report, auditors referenced several attorney general opinions and state laws they say show Harris-Wallace, who was appointed into the position by Overton, lacked the authority to dismiss citations or reduce speeding tickets.
But in her three-page response, Harris-Wallace cited other state laws she interpreted gave her the right to make those decisions.
“I must adamantly say that any prior notice of my actions being allegedly inappropriate were obviously misunderstood by me,” she wrote.
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