Remember this one where the Louisiana Legislative Auditor (LLA) admitted that they don’t look for fraud?
Archive for the ‘Payroll Fraud’ Category
AMITE — The state Attorney General’s Office has raised to nearly $2 million the amount of money a former recording secretary is alleged to have stolen from the Florida Parishes Juvenile Justice Commission.
Bickford already faced felony counts of theft and forgery for allegedly taking more than $1 million between July 1, 2007, and Nov. 17, 2010, according to the bill of information.
Bickford is alleged to have operated a scheme by which falsified invoices for a court-reporting service she created were submitted to the Florida Parishes Juvenile Justice Commission.
When those invoices were paid, Bickford deposited the checks into her own account, according to charges filed against her.
The Florida Parishes Juvenile Justice Commission is the governing body over the Florida Parishes Juvenile Justice District.
The district’s primary responsibility is to oversee the Florida Parishes Juvenile Detention Center, which houses juvenile offenders from Livingston, St. Helena, Tangipahoa, St. Tammany and Washington parishes.
Bickford also served as executive assistant to District Attorney Scott Perrilloux for 14 years prior to her arrest.
NEW IBERIA — The state Attorney General’s Office has deemed complaints of wrongdoing made by Iberia Parish President Errol “Romo” Romero against District Attorney Phil Haney as being “totally without merit.”
The attorney general, in a letter this week detailing the outcome of the investigation, also issued a warning about “careless or unsubstantiated allegations.”
Romero responded in a statement Wednesday that he “couldn’t disagree more with the Attorney General’s findings and his failure to see, or acknowledge, the improper acts being committed by DA Haney and his office.”
Romero had asked for an investigation into the legality of Iberia Parish government paying health insurance for employees of the District Attorney’s Office and into whether its employees tried to coerce people to vote against Romero when he was running for office last year.
The Louisiana Attorney General’s Office has moved to recuse all eight judges of 21st Judicial District Court from hearing the case of Brenda Bickford, accused of stealing more than $1 million from the Florida Parishes Juvenile Detention District.
Bickford, who was District Attorney Scott Perrilloux’s administrative assistant, likely had close working relationships with employees of the 21st Judicial District, the motion argues.
The motion notes that the judges of the Florida Parishes Juvenile Detention District appoint two of the eight commissioners who govern the Florida Parishes Juvenile Detention District.
Brenda Bickford, former executive secretary for the 21st Judicial District Attorney’s office and recording secretary for the Florida Parishes Juvenile Justice Commission, pleaded not guilty Thursday to allegedly embezzling over $1 million from the commission from 2007 to 2011.
Assistant Attorney General David Caldwell said after the arraignment that he has not heard whether the 21st Judicial District judges plan to recuse themselves from hearing the case. Caldwell said he would not be surprised if that matter did not eventually come up, but he has as yet not had a discussion with them on the matter.
Should all district judges recuse themselves, an ad hoc judge would be appointed to hear the case, he said.
Asked if there may be accomplices in connection with the alleged embezzlement, Caldwell said the investigation is ongoing. The attorney general’s office wants to determine how much money was taken, where it went and if any can be recovered.
Bickford, 60, of 42107 Perkins Nickens Road, Hammond, was arrested March 21 and bonded out of parish jail the same day on $70,000 bond.
The affidavit issued by the attorney general after her arrest states that Bickford served as recording secretary of the Florida Parishes Juvenile Justice Commission for 16 years. The checks she allegedly forged against the commission account were deposited to her bank account.
The alleged scheme was uncovered when, at the Jan. 2 quarterly meeting of the commission’s board of directors, board attorney John Feduccia of Hammond noticed that the item “legal fees” on the annual audit by the accounting firm of Hannis T. Bourgeois appeared to be unusually large. The audit was for the period of July 1, 2009, to June 30, 2010.
The Florida Parishes Juvenile Justice Commission is negotiating with Hancock Bank to be reimbursed for a portion of the more than $1 million the board’s secretary is accused of stealing by forging checks.
The bank has not yet agreed to any compensation, but commission attorney John Feduccia said it appeared the body, which oversees the Florida Parishes Juvenile Detention Center in Tangipahoa Parish, would be able to recoup at least some of the money 60-year-old Brenda Bickford is accused of taking during the past four years.
“I believe we can reach some kind of accommodation with the bank,” Feduccia said.
Bickford was arrested in March and accused of forging at least 204 checks from the commission’s Hancock Bank account. The money went into an account controlled by a fake company, B&B Court Reporting services.
The theft was discovered after Feduccia noticed that a financial audit of the commission recorded more than $280,000 in legal costs, a figure that he said was far too large.
21st Judicial District Attorney Scott Perrilloux said last night that he has found no evidence of wrong-doing in his office by his former secretary Brenda Bickford, who is charged with embezzling over $1 million from the Florida Parishes Juvenile Justice Commision where she was also a secretary.
Perrilloux said Bickford was one of his best employees, and she never handled any of the funds in the DA’s office.
His comments came as crime victims were remembered and their families were honored in annual ceremonies at the Amite Community Center Thursday evening for Crime Victims Awareness Week.
State Attorney General Buddy Caldwell said over the weekend that the State Legislative Auditor will soon begin a thorough review of the records at the Florida Parishes Juvenille Justice Commission in Robert.
Caldwell said his office will spearhead the investigation.
Three weeks ago the former secretary of the Juvenile Justice Commission was arrested for allegedly embezzling over a million dollars in public funds. Sources close to the investigation say the funds in question came from court-assessed fines and fees levied for the facility, not the 3-mill tax assessed in a 5-parish area for the center.
Amazingly, the board that oversees the center had no insurance to cover the losses, so the $1 million that is missing over the past four years may never be repaid.
But Caldwell said investigators will try to locate any assets that could be recovered and that will include civil action. There is no statute of limitations on fraud and none for a civil lawsuit.
Also, the Attorney General said there was a possibility that the seven members of the Juvenile Justice Commission might be personally liable for the missing money. The chairman of the board, Peggy Hoover, had to sign every check, and the board should have at least required liability insurance as a good business practice. And Caldwell said investigators would examine the possibility that Bickford had an accomplice.
Caldwell said the same team of white-collar crime specialists who convicted the Chaucers will lead the Detention Center probe.
Speaking of the Chaucers, the Ponchatoula couple who pled guilty in a $16 million Ponzi scheme, Caldwell said his office would continue to seek restitution for the investor victims.
While it may not seem likely, the Attorney General said that investigators would continue to look for assets that could be used to reimburse the roughly 200 victims.
See also video of interview at link.
The commission that oversees the Florida Parishes Juvenile Detention Center pledged to overhaul its policies and add new protections for its funds during its first meeting since one of its employees was arrested for allegedly stealing more than $1 million over four years.
The Florida Parishes Juvenile Justice Commission Thursday approved hiring an accountant to manage its finances, setting in motion a process to bring in experts to review its professional standards and internal controls and seeking bids for insurance that would reimburse the board in the case of future dishonesty by its employees.
The commission’s first step Thursday was to split the duties formerly assigned to Bickford, who resigned a week before her arrest, in two. The commission will hire a new secretary to take minutes at meetings and approved an $800 per month contract with CPA Phil Hebert of Hammond to handle the financial responsibilities Bickford’s job entailed.
A committee made up of three members of the board will also review prior audits of the commission to determine the total extent of Bickford’s alleged theft and see if it should have been caught during the auditing process. Investigators from the state Attorney General’s Office, which is investigating the case, only looked at four years worth of records because earlier thefts would fall outside the statute of limitations.
No one will resign from the Florida Parishes Juvenile Justice Commission, but the group will institute reforms to ensure incidents like the recent alleged embezzlement of over $1 million never happens again, the commission said at a special meeting Thursday.
Three area officials had called for the resignation of the commission members and director in the wake of the state attorney general’s arrest last week of Brenda Bickford, the commission’s recording secretary of 16 years.
Bickford resigned her post effective March 16.
The commission met in an hour-long executive session Thursday to discuss the situation and determine a course of action.
# Bickford will be replaced as recording secretary, but the secretary’s duties will be limited. In the future, the recording secretary will be responsible only for taking and preparing the minutes for the commission, while accountant Phil Hebert of Ponchatoula will be put in charge of overseeing all the board’s finances to ensure things are being handled properly.
# The board appointed members Forbes and Wood to a new subcommittee to investigate and analyze the commission’s financial audit and the circumstances surrounding it to try to determine exactly what happened.
# Board attorney John Feduccia will have the authority to hire a certified public accountant on contract to analyze the board’s policies and procedures and make recommendations for any changes the CPA feels may be needed.
# Feduccia will have the authority to hire two professionals to review the board’s procedures for retaining and using other professionals and make any suggestions the board may need in those areas.
# The board will get quotes from bonding companies and purchase a surety bond to cover anyone handling money for the board. The bond may also be used to cover all the commission members, Duke said.
The Florida Parishes Juvenile Justice Commission will hold a special meeting Thursday to discuss the alleged theft of more than $1 million by a commission employee.
A news release from the commission said the panel will convene at 6 p.m. and consider a request to go into executive session “to discuss investigative proceedings regarding the allegations of misconduct of Brenda C. Bickford.”
Public comment will be limited to 5 minutes per person wishing to address the commission.
The center is located at 28528 U.S. 190 just inside Tangipahoa Parish.
By Don Ellzey
Wednesday, March 30, 2011 12:07 PM CDT
The Florida Parishes Juvenile Justice Commission is scheduled to meet in special session at 5 p.m. Thursday in connection with the alleged embezzlement of over $1 million from the board by the former recording secretary.
A statement is expected after the meeting as to what action, if any, the board will take concerning the matter, Director Tom Jarlock of the Florida Parishes Juvenile Detention Center said Tuesday.
The Juvenile Justice Commission has oversight over the detention center, located east of Robert near the St. Tammany Parish line off U.S. 190.
The Office of the State Attorney General arrested Brenda Bickford of Hammond last week for the alleged embezzlement of over $1 million from the commission. Bickford served as the commission’s recording secretary for the past 16 years.
Some public officials, including Slidell City Judge Jim Lamz and state representatives Kevin Pearson and Greg Cromer have called for the commission and the director to resign. Pearson said in comments last week that the commission should have had a surety bond to cover those handling the agency’s funds.
Commission member K. Lyn Easley of Denham Springs said Tuesday that board members have been advised by board attorney John Feduccia of Hammond not to comment on the case. Easley said Feduccia told board members that all information would come through him.
However, The Daily Star’s efforts to reach Feduccia Tuesday were unsuccessful.
Commission members are Chairwoman Peggy G. Hoover of Denham Springs, appointed by the 21st Judicial District judges; Ronald D. Bell Jr., Franklinton, appointed by the 22nd Judicial District judges; Judge Salvadore Mule’, Folsom, appointed by the 22nd Judicial District judges; Easley, appointed by Denham Springs and Hammond City Court judges; Richard Wood, Mandeville, appointed by the 22nd Judicial District Attorney; David Merlin Duke, Bogalusa, appointed by the Bogalusa and Slidell city court judges; Paul Johnson, Amite, appointed by the 21st Judicial District judges and Michael B. Forbes, Hammond, appointed by the 21st Judicial District Attorney.
The AG’s report says Feduccia discovered the discrepancies in the commission audit report that led to Bickford’s arrest.
The allegations against Bickford cover the period from July, 2007, to February, 2011, although an attorney for the AG’s office said investigators will go further back to try to determine if any money was taken prior to 2007.
The statute of limitations for the allegations against Bickford cover only four years.
The Legislative audit made by the firm of Hannis T. Bourgeois, CPA, shows a steady increase in the “legal” fund of the professional services category. It was from the legal fund that the money was allegedly embezzled.
According to the AG’s arrest report, Feduccia was personally hiring and paying the court reporters. During a review of the annual audit at the Jan. 12 commission meeting, Feduccia said he noticed that the item “legal fees” reflected on the audit appeared to be unusually large and he undertook an investigation into the underlying causes for the large amounts reflected in that category, the report says.
Audits conducted by the Bourgeois firm beginning in June, 2001, show a steady increase in the “legal fees” budget up until about the time of Bickford’s arrest.
In 2001, the commission budgeted $37,382 for legal fees; 2002, $71,387; 2003, $92,819; 2004, $147,496; 2005, $203,681; 2006, $238,644; 2007, $239,328 and 2008, $351,902. The budgeted amount for 2009 showed a slight decrease to $307,672.
For purposes of prosecution, the allegations against Bickford took place from July 1, 2007 to about Feb. 3, 2011.
The allegations are:
# One count of theft over $1 million.
# One count of forgery.
# One count of filing or maintaining false public records.
# One count of malfeasance.
Calls for the resignation of officials who oversee the Florida Parishes Juvenile Detention Center increased Monday with Slidell’s City Court judge demanding the president of the facility’s board step down in the wake of revelations that an employee had stolen more than $1 million over the course of four years.
Judge James “Jim” Lamz, in a scathing letter released to the media Monday, said the scandal had caused him to “lose faith” in Peggy Hoover, president of the Florida Parishes Juvenile Justice Commission.
Lamz also called on the state Attorney General’s Office, which is leading the Bickford investigation, to broaden the scope of its probe to ensure the board is accurately reporting and using revenue it collects.
“What I find particularly galling is that apparently the Commission was so flush that Ms. Hoover, the president of the commission, never missed the loss of a quarter millions dollars allegedly taken from the budget in each of the past four years, perhaps longer,” Lamz said in a statement.