Florida Parishes Juvie Center Update – 3/30/11

Florida Parishes Juvenile Justice Commission to hold special meeting to discuss theft case

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.

Juvenile justice board under fire; statement expected after commission meeting

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.

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