A former employee of the St. Tammany Parish Public Defender’s Office was arrested and booked with felony theft Monday, the same day that an independent audit noting a misappropriation of more than $8,000 at the office was made public by the Legislative Auditor’s Office.
Latoya Perkins, also known as Latoya Barnes, was arrested on a warrant Monday, according to Covington Police Chief Tim Lentz.
Perkins, 26, lives in Franklinton but was picked up in St. Tammany Parish during a traffic stop by the Sheriff’s Office.
She was the receptionist for the Public Defender’s Office, according to John Lindner, the chief public defender.
Lentz said the warrant was issued in July 2013 after the office, located in Covington, reported an internal theft. That happened shortly before Lentz took over as chief, and he said the matter got overlooked in the transition. But in recent weeks, Covington police had been actively seeking Perkins.
The audit, which was done by the LaPorte accounting firm, was for the fiscal year that ended June 30. It does not name the employee involved with the alleged misappropriation. It says the office was investigating a decrease in its probation revenue and discovered the theft. An employee had taken about $8,150 in probation money orders, according to the audit.
Lindner said the office does monthly reports and the drop-off in revenue was noticeable.
Local revenue sources such as court fees, bond forfeitures, probation fees and application fees make up about 52 percent of the office’s revenue, he said. The rest of the office’s annual budget of about $2.5 million comes from the state.
The audit notes that probation fees are hard to collect. Lindner said the office collects them itself and basically relies on the people who owe the money to come in and pay it.
The audit recommends that the office review its internal controls over those funds and take steps to strengthen them. Lindner said he has done so by moving the responsibility for collecting the money up the chain of command. Now, only the comptroller can collect those payments, he said.
“With the funding problems I have, I’ve got to make sure it doesn’t happen again,” he said.
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