10/8/2010Louisiana: Parish Officials Caught in Bogus Billing Scandal
Financial probe uncovers apparently bogus setup to pay traffic camera hearing officer in Jefferson Parish, Louisiana.
The Louisiana Legislative Auditor's investigation of the Jefferson Parish payroll wrapped up Wednesday, revealing that the parish's red light camera program was at the center of a scandal that drew the interest of federal investigators. Auditors concluded that former parish President Aaron Broussard and former parish attorney Tom Wilkinson likely violated payroll fraud statutes.
"We have audited certain transactions of the Jefferson Parish Government... to determine the propriety of certain financial transactions," Legislative Auditor Daryl G. Purpera explained.
Steve Mortillaro was hired on March 2008 as a part-time assistant parish attorney and was to be the traffic camera hearing officer. Broussard assigned him to defense work on a traffic camera lawsuit, but there is no evidence that he actually did any work at all. Mortillaro still pocketed $23,213 in public money.
"Because Mr. Mortillaro could not provide any documentation of his work for the parish, he may have been paid for work he did not perform," the audit stated.
Mortillaro denies having done anything wrong.
"I have spent much time researching and studying the parish laws relative to the red light cameras ordinance, preparing myself for the eventual call to become a hearing officer," Mortillaro wrote in a March 3 letter to parish President Steve Theriot.
Improprieties in the red light camera program drew the interest of federal authorities. On January 26, Jim Letten, US Attorney for the Eastern District of Louisiana, ordered the parish to preserve all of its records as part of a federal criminal grand jury investigation.
Interim Parish President Stephen Theriot suspended the red light camera program after documents revealed that Redflex paid 3.2 percent of its revenue from ticket proceeds to lobbyist Bryan Wagner, a former New Orleans city councilman, who shared the funds with the wife of District Judge Robert Murphy. Wagner was set to earn an estimated $90,000 a year from his cut of the photo tickets. Jay Morris Specter, 55, the lobbyist who hired Wagner on behalf of Redflex, is scheduled for release from an Atlanta halfway house on October 21 after having serving time for fraud at Edgefield Federal Correctional Institution in South Carolina.