Sheldon Sheppard

A former Ascension Parish tractor operator who has been charged with felony theft over $2,800 in alleged personal spending on his parish fuel card now also faces a state ethics count arising from the same allegations.

The Louisiana Board of Ethics has charged Sheldon Sheppard, 54, with a single count of violating state laws barring public employees from receiving anything of benefit for their work in government beyond their normal salary and benefits.

Sheppard, a nearly 11-year Public Works employee before his termination in March 2019, had been issued the credit card to buy diesel for the grass-cutting tractor he operated, according to an ethics charging document. 

The administration of then-Parish President Kenny Matassa uncovered the misspending after an internal audit and reported it to the Ascension Sheriff's Financial Crimes Unit, parish and sheriff's officials said then.

Sheppard was arrested March 18, 2019, but has been out on $5,000 bail.

In May 2019, prosecutors in Ascension charged Sheppard, a resident of White Castle, with a single count of theft of between $1,000 and $5,000. That case is pending. He has pleaded not guilty to that charge. 

John Connelly, spokesman for Parish President Clint Cointment's administration, said Wednesday that Parish Attorney O'Neil Parenton Jr. had not been made aware of the new ethics charge but that "in a situation of theft, he always recommends to file criminal charges."

Ascension Parish Sheriff Bobby Webre said at the time of Sheppard's arrest last year that the parish audit showed Sheppard had been using the fuel card for his personal vehicle since August 2018 and racked up $2,800 in credit card charges. 

But the new ethics count, which was made public this week, accuses Sheppard of buying $451 worth of unleaded fuel for his personal vehicle. 

The ethics charge claims Sheppard, an hourly employee while at the parish, admitted to sheriff's deputies in March 2019 that he had used the fuel card 14 times for his personal vehicle.

Kevin D. Thompson, a lawyer representing Sheppard in the criminal case, said Wednesday he could not speak about the ethics accusation while he was still trying to resolve Sheppard's criminal case.

"It would be inappropriate for me to comment about anything at this time, except that Mr. Sheldon (Sheppard) maintains his innocence," Thompson said.

The state board has called for a hearing to determine if Sheppard violated the code.

If Sheppard is found to have violated the state ethics code, he could be assessed a civil penalty worth as much as half of what he is accused of taking, in addition to having pay back the credit card charges. That civil penalty could come on top of any criminal penalty that Sheppard might face. 

The state Ethics Board, which meets in secret when it convenes on investigatory matters, voted to bring a charge against Sheppard on May 8. The charging document, which is dated July 14 and was sent to Sheppard and his attorney, was made public Monday morning on the board's website.

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