Owner of former St. Tammany work-release program facing ethics charges _lowres

Jimmy Laurent

An owner of a controversial work-release program that St. Tammany Parish Sheriff Jack Strain shut down in March is facing a conflict-of-interest charge filed by the state Board of Ethics.

Jimmy Laurent owns 30 percent of Northshore Workforce, a work-release program that was closed amid negative media coverage and repeated inmate escapes. He also served as chairman of a Lacombe-area recreation district that hired two inmates who were participating in the program, Billy McBeth and Bernard Alfonso.

The Ethics Board cited the two inmates’ employment at St. Tammany Parish Recreation District No. 4 and the money Laurent’s company made off of their work in its Oct. 16 vote to charge Laurent.

The Ethics Board also charged that Northshore Workforce violated state law by entering into transactions with the recreation district when Laurent served on the board.

He was removed from the recreation board by Parish President Pat Brister in April.

The Ethics Board cited a state statute that prohibits members of boards and commissions from participating in transactions in which they have an economic interest.

Northshore Workforce got 60 percent of inmates’ pay or $63.50 per day, whichever was less. According to the Ethics Board, the company got $10,438.22 of McBeth’s gross pay between Oct. 25, 2010, and Aug. 28, 2011, and $5,760 of Alfonso’s gross pay from Aug. 29, 2011, to Feb. 12, 2012.

The Ethics Board cited a recreation board meeting in late 2010 at which members were told that McBeth had been hired as a maintenance person and at which Laurent “offered that after 90 days of work, consideration should be given for an advance in pay determined by his productivity, and the board agreed,” the charge said.

He also signed all the payroll checks, along with a fellow board member, according to the charge.

Laurent said he has retained legal counsel and is disputing the charge, which he described as “completely inaccurate and untrue.”

The Ethics Board did not ask him to appear before it, he said, but he has asked to do so. He said he has notarized documents showing that the charges are wrong and that he will prove it in court.

Laurent said he didn’t hire the men and that the board had full disclosure about his relationship with Northshore Workforce. He also didn’t vote on the decision to hire them, he said.

Laurent made similar arguments when he was removed from the board, saying that the two inmates were hired by the recreation district director without his knowledge and that the director didn’t know about his ownership interest in Northshore Workforce.

When he discovered the hirings, he said, he disclosed that interest to the board, which chose to continue their employment.

Board minutes don’t reflect that. But five identical affidavits signed by former and present recreation board members in April say that Laurent notified board members that he was co-owner of the company and that he abstained from voting on the matter.

Follow Sara Pagones on Twitter, @spagonesadvocat.