Take one glance at the time sheets of a Louisiana state senator at his day job, and you would have to conclude he has some serious health problems. State Sen. Wesley Bishop, D-New Orleans, is employed full-time at Southern University of New Orleans as a vice chancellor of academic affairs. His $85,000 a year salary is paid for by taxpayers.
According to a Fox 8 Lee Zurik investigation, Bishop claimed he was sick 122 days at his SUNO job over the past two years. According to Bishop's own time sheets, his many sick days included a string of 11 straight weeks this spring, including all of April and May. Bishop claimed to be sick 79 days at his SUNO job this year and 43 days last year.
But Zurik discovered during the 122 days Bishop claimed he was sick for his SUNO job, taxpayers were also paying him for his second job at the Legislature. He was clearly double-dipping at taxpayers expense.
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“This is not an insignificant thing,” Tulane law professor Joel Friedman told Zurik. “This is theft, misappropriation of funds [by] saying you need money because you’re home sick. "
Friedman says at a minimum, Bishop should return the money he was paid but did not earn.
Zurik uncovered evidence including roll calls, video and photos proving Bishop was not ill and instead was getting paid as a legislator during the 122 days he claimed paid sick leave from his SUNO taxpayer-funded job. His bogus sick leave pay at SUNO amounted to nearly $40,000. That's money Bishop should have never been paid.
"It’s better than a third of the year,” CPA Patrick Lynch said of the sick leave. “That’s a problem, because Bishop was not sick. ”
Bishop not only claimed sick pay at his SUNO job while working at the Legislature, he also took several educational trips at taxpayer expense. Documents show during those trips, Bishop claimed on his SUNO time sheets education as the reason for his paid leave. But he was attending legislative conferences that had nothing to do with his job at SUNO. All totaled, FOX 8 found four trips totaling 10 days where Bishop took education leave for a legislative conference. That means Bishop may have been paid an additional $1,600 he did not earn.
“I mean, it’s being done by a state senator. How much worse can it get?” asked Friedman. "Essentially, SUNO paid Bishop thousands he did not earn."
Bishop would not agree to an interview with Zurik, so the Fox 8 reporter went to his SUNO office hoping to find the senator. After 30 minutes of waiting in the hall, an employee brought the FOX 8 crew into a conference room. A short time later, Bishop opened the door.
Lee Zurik: How do you take time off when in the Legislature?
Bishop: Take leave.
Zurik: What kind?
Bishop: Earned leave.
Zurik: Sick leave?
Bishop: Earned sick leave.
Zurik: How can you justify taking sick leave?
Bishop told Zurik he did not want to answer in a 30-second sound bite and said he first wanted to see Zurik's documentation, telling the reporter after that, he would be “happy to respond.”
Bishop, as of this writing, has not agreed to do an interview with Zurik, but in an email wrote Fox 8: “The leave requests that were submitted and approved for the periods in question were done so based upon Louisiana Attorney General’s Opinion 81-556 which allows for the use of earned accumulated leave during the legislative session by State Representative and/or State Senators.”
But the 1981 legal opinion Bishop is using as an excuse only allows for using accrued annual leave, not sick leave. It clearly doesn't allow an employee to call in sick for 122 days and go to another job and still get paid for it. Friedman calls Bishop’s justification for getting sick pay ridiculous.
In addition, SUNO policy and state law governing public universities only allows employees to use sick leave "because of illness or injury that prevents performance of usual duties, or medical, dental or optical consultation or treatment."
"Who’s working? Who’s looking? Who’s checking the accountability?” asked Friedman.
Email Dan Fagan at firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @DanFaganShow.