BATON ROUGE — One year after a state audit accused former Louisiana Veterans Affairs Secretary David LaCerte of flawed bookkeeping and bad hiring practices, LaCerte is suing the state's inspector general and executive auditor for defamation.
The lawsuit was filed in the 19th Judicial District Court.
State investigators accused LaCerte last year of mismanaging the agency that cares for veterans and of exaggerating his military record.
LaCerte began working for the department in June 2010 and became secretary of veterans affairs in 2014. He resigned in October 2015 during a record-keeping scandal in his department.
In 2016, Legislative Auditor Daryl Purpera and the state’s Inspector General Stephen Street released a scathing audit that accused LaCerte of giving a state contract to a classmate, mismanaging funds and not reporting criminal activity against veterans that may have taken place at veteran homes.
“We believe the attacks on Mr. LaCerte’s credibility were clearly not within the scope of the duties of either the IG’s office nor of the LLA,” Jill Craft, LaCerte’s attorney, told the Louisiana Record. “We are still unclear why the offices felt it necessary to go to such great lengths to try and smear Mr. LaCerte and his service to our country. Mr. LaCerte served our country with honor and distinction. Mr. LaCerte adamantly denies the charges against him and brought this lawsuit to vindicate his name and reputation. He feels very confident in his case and seeks only justice – whatever shape or form justice takes in this case.”
The complaint alleges that the joint investigation report released by Purpera and Street on Feb. 1, 2016, contains, “false, defamatory, slanderous and libelous statements disseminated by defendants to the public and in the media, including television stations throughout Louisiana and to the print media, falsely accusing LaCerte of improper and illegal travel reimbursement, improper organizational practices, improper illegal pay practices, improper hiring practices, falsifying public records, to-wit LaCerte’s military service record. LaCerte further shows that the false statements contained in the document were made with actual malice and/or reckless indifference to the truth.”
Jenifer Schaye, general counsel to Purpera, said that the report is true.
“There was no malice or intent on the part of Street or Purpera," she said. "The audit report speaks for itself.”
Schaye said LaCerte had a chance to respond to the report a year ago.
“When they write an audit report, they gave him a chance to read it and respond to it, even in writing," she said. "He had a chance to come forward at that time if he had a complaint."
Because it is a tort case, Schaye said Purpera will be defended by outside counsel.
In the complaint, LaCerte alleges that, due to the actions of Street and Purpera, he is seeking damages for
harm to his name and reputation, loss of standing in the community, humiliation and embarrassment, loss of earning capacity, lost wages and benefits, impairment of his right to engage in his chosen occupation, severe emotional distress, medical expenses and more.
LaCerte has requested a jury trial.