NEW ORLEANS – A recently released report by the Legislative Auditor’s Office alleges Orleans Parish Sheriff Marlin Gusman filed for and received, over the years, more than $1 million in undeserved supplemental pay for 56 deputies who did not qualify under state statutes for the extra $500 monthly payments.
The report details other allegations, including: a parish deputy who broke state and federal laws when he operated a private investigator service; numerous examples of double-dipping by deputies receiving departmental pay while simultaneously working private security events; and failure to follow the public bidding process for detention center renovations.
A rankled Gusman believes the audit is the conclusion of a two-and-a-half-year witch hunt by the agency to find something wrong in his department. He responded by filing a lawsuit in the 19th Judicial Court District in Baton Rouge, alleging both legislative auditors and the state treasury office wrongly interpreted the law, resulting in 38 deputies missing their entitled supplemental pay since February.
Speaking in his State of the Sheriff’s Office address, Gusman said, “We’re going to let the courts decide.”
At issue is state statute wording that provides extra pay for full-time deputies not engaged solely in clerical or administrative work. In short, the state expects a deputy to be engaged in active law enforcement duties in order to collect supplemental pay.
According to the audit, the Supplemental Pay Board looks at a single criterion when determining whether or not a deputy qualifies. All three board members told auditors that, “The main factor in determining a deputy’s eligibility was whether 50 percent or more of the deputy’s duties consisted of law enforcement duties.”
More specifically to the Orleans Parish Sheriff’s Office, board members stated, “An OPSO deputy had to spend at least 50 percent of their time on duties directly related to interacting with and supervising prison inmates in order to be eligible for state supplemental pay.”
Legislative auditors believe 56 deputies who collected more than $1 million did not regularly interact enough with inmates to qualify for supplemental pay.
Gusman thinks auditors have overstepped their bounds. He contends Louisiana law is unclear about exactly who should receive the extra benefit and who should not. His lawsuit states that only the Supplemental Pay Board can make that determination.
A dark cloud already hangs over the sheriff’s office following the resignation on Monday of Chief Deputy Gerald “Jerry” Ursin, who quit in the face of an FBI investigation into deputies’ off-duty activities. Criminal charges have already been filed against Roy Austin, a former sheriff’s office colonel.
Austin allegedly used his private security company to bill local businesses for shifts deputies didn’t actually work. This resulted in at least $83,000 in bogus charges, investigators claim.
Gusman has gone on the offensive in recent days. In addition to the lawsuit filing, he has refused requests to resign and outlined a department restructuring that will include hiring a chief financial officer, as well as a chief deputy to supervise the jail.
The legislative audit commenced in the wake of allegations by a former deputy who resigned in 2013.