ALEXANDRIA — The Rapides Parish District Attorney’s Office has recused itself from a criminal case involving a former employee and announced it hired a lawyer to attempt to recover the money the woman is accused of stealing.
District Attorney Phillip Terrell said in a statement that the office won’t be involved in the prosecution of the case against Margaruette M. Hilton Beard because “the DA's office is a victim of the alleged crimes, and many employees of the DA's office are witnesses, as they discovered the misappropriation.”
Instead, the case file was given to the Louisiana Attorney General's Office.
"I have been personally assured by the Attorney General (Jeff Landry) that the matter will be timely and vigorously prosecuted," Terrell said in the statement.
A Louisiana Legislative Auditor's investigation found that nearly $800,000 seized by law enforcement agencies between Jan. 1, 2009, and Oct. 31, 2015, was missing from the district attorney’s bank accounts. More than $250,000 from other sources, including grants, was deposited improperly into the asset forfeiture account.
“During our review, we found that the funds from other sources that were deposited into the asset forfeiture bank account were recorded on the asset forfeiture ledger, apparently to replace (or substitute for) funds that had been previously received by the District Attorney’s Office but not deposited,” the audit stated.
Beard, who was responsible for asset forfeiture funds, was placed on leave on Oct. 26, 2015, after it was pointed out that the money was missing. Louisiana State Police inspected Beard’s office, finding nearly $77,000 of seized cash that had not been deposited, according to the audit.
Beard was arrested in January and charged with felony theft, first-degree injuring of public records and malfeasance in office.
Terrell said this month the DA’s office retained counsel “to seek recovery of the taxpayers' money from the perpetrator.”
He didn’t respond to requests for further comment.
Victims of crime can sue the accused for damages resulting from the crime. Additionally, if someone is convicted of a crime, the punishment can include restitution.
Jeff Dion, director of the National Crime Victim Bar Association, told the Louisiana Record it’s preferred to wait until criminal proceedings have concluded before filing a civil suit, though sometimes it has to be filed before the criminal case is over.
“If a person is convicted of an intentional act, that’s going to be admissible in evidence or make them liable per se," Dion said. "States have laws that if you’re convicted of a crime, you’re liable for the underlying civil damages."
Other than that, the separate civil and criminal actions don’t really intersect, he said.
“Sometimes we’ve seen where the criminal case is sort of dragging along ... the civil case gets resolved first,” he said. “No matter what happens in the criminal case, the victim always (has) the right to file a civil lawsuit.”