Charles K. Abels III

Charles K. Abels III

The top administrator of the Louisiana Tax Commission was arrested Friday and accused of collecting pay for hundreds of hours he actually spent playing golf, shopping, receiving spa treatments and indulging in similar activities.

Charles Abels III, 51, of Baton Rouge, claimed and was paid on multiple occasions for time worked "while not in the performance of his (tax commission) duties," Louisiana State Police said in a news release Friday morning. Abels is also accused of using a state rental car for his personal use.

Authorities conducted a "surveillance operation of Abels for one full week" beginning at the end of July, according to his arrest warrant. During that time he "was observed playing golf on several different occasions at multiple golf courses. He was also observed shopping, visiting a spa, attending court in Livingston Parish on a personal matter and consuming alcoholic beverages." 

The audit found that Abels spent a total of one hour and 40 minutes in his office during the entire week that he was under surveillance. Authorities wrote in the warrant that he visited the office Monday morning and for the rest of the week engaged in activities that "did not appear to be related to (tax commission) business."

His time sheet for that period claimed he had worked 32 hours and taken eight hours of annual leave.

Abels' attorney Mary Olive Pierson said Friday she believes the allegations against her client are nothing more than an attempt to get him ousted from his position as administrator, which he's held for over a decade. 

"Obviously somebody down there wants to get rid of Mr. Abels and he's a civil servant and civil servants are hard to get rid of," she said. "So they had to go about it a different way. I guess they decided to go through the back door." 

Pierson said Abels was placed on paid administrative leave in November because of the investigation, which is normal protocol under state civil service law.

Investigators also examined Abels' cell phone and bank records, his golf course receipts and time sheets between Jan. 1, 2017, and Sept. 30, 2018. They found that during that time period he submitted a total of 36 inaccurate time sheets claiming about 351 hours "that appear in conflict with his personal activities for a total amount of $17,025.40." 

Records of Abels' use of state rental cars included 27 reimbursement requests for fuel "purchased on weekends and holidays or on dates that corresponded with records indicating that Abels was playing golf." Those requests totaled $1,216.82, according to the warrant. 

Pierson said Abels is a salaried employee and as such doesn't punch a clock to indicate the exact hours he works every day. She said it's possible he was meeting colleagues on the golf course or for a drink — professional engagements that are common in many workplaces. She also said his annual and sick leave allotments could have been used to cover the hours of alleged payroll fraud. 

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"I'm not saying that Mr. Abels is a saint … and I don't want to diminish taxpayers paying for things they shouldn't have to," she said. "But I think this is making a mountain of a molehill."

The tax commission is a state agency that oversees the property tax assessment process in Louisiana and provides guidelines for assessors aimed at fairness and uniformity, according to the commission website

Abels was booked into East Baton Rouge Parish prison Friday on one count each of malfeasance in office and public payroll fraud and 63 counts of filing or maintaining false public records — one count each for the 36 time sheets and 27 fuel reimbursement requests.

Pierson said Abels' bail was set at $16,300 and he planned to post bond by the end of the day Friday.

His record also includes a domestic violence arrest in Livingston Parish last March and multiple DWI arrests dating back more than a decade.

A report from the Livingston Parish Sheriff's Office said deputies responded to Abels' home on La. Highway 22 in reference to a battery complaint following an argument that caused the complainant to fear for her safety.

The initial police report didn't indicate who was the target of the alleged violence. But Abels' wife filed for and was granted a temporary restraining order against him on earlier the same month, based upon findings of domestic abuse and stalking, according to court records. She later filed for divorce in the 19th Judicial District Court. 

Abels has been charged with domestic abuse battery since his March arrest, according to a spokesperson for the Livingston Parish District Attorney's Office. 

In her request for a restraining order, Abels' wife said he has a history of violence, drug and alcohol abuse and carries a gun and knife. 

Abels served one term as the tax assessor for Livingston Parish, losing his seat to Assessor Jeff Taylor in 1999. He resigned from office shortly before the end of his term in 2000 amid a scandal involving a DWI — the fourth time he had been arrested and accused of driving while intoxicated — that he tried to cover up, according to media reports. 

After several years as tax commission administrator, Abels faced allegations in 2015 that he had authorized a falsified public record allowing the commission to reduce the assessed value of a St. Francisville golf course. Abels blamed the incident on a clerical error. 

Follow Lea Skene on Twitter, @lea_skene.