Auditors looking for missing WPSO funds

Published 8:36 am Friday, November 2, 2012

By Heath Allen

WDSU Northshore Reporter

Washington Parish Sheriff Randy Seal has been in office only about four months, and he said now he and his staff are trying to climb out of a $2.6 million hole.

Basically, the office was bankrupt.

Seal wasted no time after he took office bringing in a team of auditors and accountants to find out where the department’s money is now and how it was spent when outgoing Sheriff Robert Crowe held office.

“I’ve seen bad accounting. I’ve seen worse accounting, and now I’ve seen the Washington Parish Sheriff’s Office accounting,” said local CPA Michael Burris. “This might be the worst experience of my career.”

Some things grabbed the auditors’ attention right off the bat, like so called “mail box deputies.”

“Mail box deputies is where you go every month and get your check out of the mail box, and you do nothing,” Seal said. “We have found some of that.”

The sheriff said his office was forced to borrow a little over a million dollars coming in just to make payroll and operate the department.

There’s an outstanding million dollar FEMA loan, and there’s about a half million dollars of federal grant money still unaccounted for, money that pays the salaries of nine employees.

The justice department has frozen those accounts.

“All the grant money is frozen, therefore the sheriff is paying out of pocket for those nine people, their salaries and so forth. I’m hopeful we can get those funds unfrozen,” said Bill Parsons, the new grant manager.

Seal said his predecessor sold off as many 25 police units, the command center, a couple of boats and generators to try and balance the department budget.

He said he’s been relying on other agencies to help him replenish his patrol fleet, with these vehicles donated or sold to the WPSO by other law enforcement agencies across Louisiana.

Even the legislative auditor has been in to do its own audit, Seal said. And right now the sheriff isn’t ruling out possible criminal wrongdoing.

“We feel that, like the least (it) might be malfeasance, just not taking care of his business,” Seal said.

Crowe, reached by telephone Thursday afternoon, said his office did the best it could with what it had.

“As the money dwindled, we had to make cuts. We worked closely with our own auditors. I was told we did a very good job,” he said.

But the new sheriff and the auditors agree, it could take two years to get the Washington Parish Sheriff’s Offices financial house in order.

Calls to the former sheriff’s audit firm were not returned as of presstime.

WDSU Channel 6 is a news partner with The Daily News and Pontchartrain Newspapers.