Government Retired’s Fund Administrator Living High on the Hog on Taxpayer Money

Jaw-dropping spending found in retirement board’s records

Written by: Lee Zurik, Chief Investigative Reporter
Contributor: Tom Wright, Investigative Producer

NEW ORLEANS (WVUE-TV)

A state lawmaker says the legislative auditor will open an investigation into a public retirement board, following our findings of inappropriate spending there.

“All I see is liquor right now,” says Rick Franzo of the group Concerned Citizens of St. Tammany, looking over one of the receipts we uncovered. “Well, somebody’s living the good life.”

This is a statewide retirement board, one that touches nearly every parish in Louisiana.

The Municipal Employees Retirement System, or MERS, manages retirement accounts for many of the cities in this state, including Slidell, Mandeville, Covington and Bogalusa on the North Shore, and also Gretna, Lafitte, Hammond and Thibodaux – the list is long. Their executive director, Bob Rust, runs the system. He earns $215,476 a year, and also has a public credit card.

“Boy, and they spend money,” Franzo comments. “They’re not afraid to spend the dollars. I could see that those were big dollars – everything is big dollars.”

On September 15, 2013, Rust took a group to Palace Café in New Orleans. Two credit card charges totaled $1,546.63. The party drank well, ordering Makers Mark, Tanqueray and tonic, a Cosmopolitan and Grey Goose. All totaled they ordered two bottles of wine, an additional seven glasses of wine and 23 mixed drinks.

“If these are public funds – and I believe they are – then they cannot be used in the manner that these funds are being used,” says Loyola law professor Dane Ciolino.

Ciolino points to several opinions written by the state attorney general on alcohol and the use of public funds. “There is no ambiguity about that,” he says. “If funds are public funds, they can’t be used for alcohol.”

“The people that are putting into these retirement programs, they should be screaming livid, because that’s money coming out of their pockets,” Franzo says. “It’s also money coming out of the taxpayers’ pockets.”

As we analyzed Rust’s credit card spending, our focus turned to a series of trips. April 2012, Rust spent Easter Sunday at the Marriott Grand Hotel in Point Clear, Alabama. He paid for two rooms, both under his name, paid for meals, gas and a rental car. The total, $3642.51, was charged to his public credit card.

Records show Rust said it was to plan an educational conference. Each summer, the retirement system does hold a conference at the Grand Hotel to train board members, usually in late June or July. Rust is saying he went there nearly two months earlier to plan the conference – over an Easter weekend.

One year earlier, in 2011, Rust took two conference planning trips. Records show the first was to Sandestin, Florida over Easter weekend. The trip included a $1,200 room, meals at the Marlin Grill and Bistro Bijoux.

One of the documents shows this was for “educational conference planning.” But remember, that yearly educational conference he apparently was planning for is in Point Clear, Alabama, not Sandestin – which is 128 miles away.

And another trip, Memorial Day 2014, Rust used public funds to once again pay for a Point Clear trip. He writes on the receipts that this was for a MERS conference.

But the questionable trips and pricey meals have Franzo, a North Shore taxpayer, outraged. He says the members of the system, current and future retirees, should feel the same about a public employee in control of their future, their retirement.

“They should all be quite upset by it,” Franzo says. “This is their money. This is their future. This is their retirement money.”

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3 Responses to “Government Retired’s Fund Administrator Living High on the Hog on Taxpayer Money”

  1. HellIsStillHot Says:

    “Plan an educational conference”? really.
    Well, Thanks to this I am all educated now: I learned that this guy and his minions are robbing taxpayers and state employees blind and so far they have been getting away with it.

  2. Oldermann Says:

    High on the hog. Pulled pork or tenderloin?

  3. ettaB Says:

    Chief Investigative Reporter, Investigative Producer why do not the Monroe press have these titles working here?

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