Pearl River Mayor James Lavigne indicted _lowres

James Lavigne

Former Pearl River Mayor James Lavigne and former Town Clerk Diane Bennett Hollie, who were indicted last fall on charges of misusing town funds, now face new charges from the state Ethics Board over the same set of allegations.

The Louisiana Board of Ethics voted this month to charge Lavigne and Hollie with breaking state law.

Lavigne is accused of paying bonuses to himself and other employees to which they were not entitled, making personal purchases with the town’s credit card and getting free garbage pickup at his home.

Hollie is accused of buying personal items with town funds and of taking extra paychecks for special meetings and unused vacation.

Lavigne, who served six terms as mayor, failed to make the runoff in last fall’s election, which occurred several weeks after his indictment on seven counts, including malfeasance.

Hollie, who was indicted on four counts, including one of malfeasance, was fired in January from the job she held for nearly nine years. She is scheduled to go to trial in 22nd Judicial District Court on Aug. 31; Lavigne is set for trial on Sept. 28.

Lavigne is accused by the Ethics Board of spending just over $1,000 on the town’s credit card for a ring and a washer and dryer. He also authorized a total of $1,852 in bonus payments to himself from 2011 to 2014 that he wasn’t entitled to receive, according to the ethics charges. He was even more open-handed with employees, according to the charges, handing out just over $40,000 in unwarranted bonuses for the same period.

Hollie is accused of pocketing extra paychecks totaling more than $5,000 for taking minutes at two special meetings and for unused vacation time. She was not entitled to either, according to the ethics charges. She also racked up nearly $4,000 in personal expenditures on the town credit card, the charges say.

She and Lavigne later reimbursed the town for the credit card expenditures, according to the Ethics Board document, and the former mayor reimbursed the town $480 for garbage pickup.

Lavigne was indicted in October on seven counts: four for malfeasance in office, one for theft between $500 and $1,500 and two for unauthorized use of a movable, a charge that typically refers to cases where a person uses someone else’s property without permission.

Hollie was indicted on two counts of unauthorized use of a movable, one count of malfeasance and one count of theft over $1,500.

A blistering state Legislative Auditor’s Office report issued in May 2014 brought the Lavigne administration’s spending issues to light. It identified eight extra payroll checks to Hollie, totaling nearly $8,000, that were issued from March 30, 2012, to Aug. 30, 2013.

The report, which was turned over to the Ethics Board, said Lavigne and Hollie admitted that they used the town credit card for personal purchases to avoid paying state sales taxes, from which municipalities are exempt. But while they maintained that they had intended to reimburse the town for the charges, the auditor said they did so only after other employees questioned the purchases.

The Ethics Board charges mirror the audit report that accused both Lavigne and Hollie of getting free services from the town’s maintenance staff. Workers allegedly picked up building supplies and delivered them to Hollie’s home.

Lavigne was long defiant in the face of the accusations, responding to the audit report with a 10-page letter that praised his own progressive leadership — including what he said was the best Easter egg hunt in town history — and blasted the audit as a political attack.

His six-term lock on the mayoralty ended last fall when he failed to make the runoff in a contest that saw former town Alderman Dave McQueen elected mayor.

Follow Sara Pagones on Twitter, @spagonesadvocat.