Water bill payment theft lands Franklinton clerk in prison
Published 8:54 am Monday, August 17, 2015
A longtime clerk for the town of Franklinton pled guilty Monday, Aug. 10, to five charges related to the embezzlement of water bill payments totaling nearly $23,000, which was estimated by a one-year audit. As part of the plea agreement, imposed by Judge Richard Swartz, Freeman, 39, will spend three years in prison.
Her full sentence and charges were:
• For theft over $1,500, 10 years in prison (seven of them suspended) and five years of probation;
• For conspiracy to commit theft, five years in prison (all suspended) and five years of probation;
• For first-degree injuring public records, five years in prison (all suspended) and five years of probation;
• For conspiracy to commit first degree injuring public records, two years in prison (both suspended) and five years of probation; and
• For malfeasance in office, five years in prison (all suspended) and five years of probation.
A complaint to the state legislative auditor about irregular billing and payment accountability at Franklinton’s Water Department prompted an audit of the agency last year. The audit determined that Carmen Freeman and a co-worker did not follow proper billing procedures and misappropriated $22,929. Both women admitted to auditors that they “borrowed” from customer utility collections for their own personal gain.
The Louisiana State Police conducted an investigation. The town clerk examined records back to 2011 and found that the two employees would send duplicate bills to cash-paying customers and re-collect from the same customers. The town ultimately had to wipe all debt collections from the customers at an estimated loss of about $250,000. The women also altered bills to charge customers more than was actually owed, and they presumably pocketed the rest.
Swartz ordered Freeman to pay restitution as a term of probation, but the amount will be set at a future hearing. Her co-worker is scheduled to go to trial in September.