Terrebonne Parish Sheriff Jerry Larpenter has accused his predecessor, Vernon Bourgeois, of blatant misuse of taxpayer money.
The claim came Thursday when Larpenter showed the news media a sampling of approximately 40 vehicles he plans to unload.
The line-up includes fully-loaded, customized pick-up trucks and sports utility vehicles that had been designated for Bourgeois’ personal use. Larpenter estimated the total value of the vehicles to be more than $400,000.
“I’ve got one vehicle I drive,” Larpenter said. “[Bourgeois] had eight automobiles assigned to him.”
The centerpiece during a mid-day showing was a 38-foot 2010 Fountain fishing boat with an onboard cabin and powered by three Mercury 300 engines.
Larpenter said the vessel had been concealed inside the sheriff’s office motor pool garage. The boat has 40 hours logged, but Larpenter and others in his office said they do not know when or how it was used. The sheriff estimated the boat’s value at $300,000 and said neither the water patrol nor drug enforcement had used it in their work.
“[The boat] costs about $800 a day to operate,” Larpenter said. “Figure out 800 times 30 times 12 and that’s a lot of money a year.”
Larpenter said the fiberglass boat is inappropriate for work performed by the sheriff’s office.
“This boat is not conducive to the waterways and operations of the Terrebonne Parish Water Patrol,” Larpenter said. “We always operated with aluminum boats. This is a pleasure boat,”
The sheriff said he intends to put the motor vehicles and large recreational vessel up for sale. Larpenter said if he is unable to sell the items with local advertising, he will put them on eBay. Any money made would be placed in the sheriff’s office general fund.
Upon returning as sheriff on July 1, Larpenter called for a yet-to-be-started audit of the office for the past five years. He confirmed any purchase of what he called unnecessary items will be included in that audit.
“I’d rather not say anything right now,” Larpenter said when asked if his audit could result in litigation against Bourgeois. “I think the audit will show what it shows, whether it was wasteful spending or if there was anything criminal involved.”
Terrebonne Parish District Attorney Joseph Waltz said he knew the sheriff wanted an audit of his office, but had not discussed the matter with Larpenter.
“It would depend on what is found and what the sheriff wants to do [to determine] if I get involved,” Waitz said. “A lot depends on if any criminal charges are made or if it is just a conflict with personal use. A lot depends on what is understood [as an] allotment [of what a sheriff is entitled to have at his disposal].”
“Typically, the Legislative Auditor’s Office would review and send and findings to the Attorney General for further review and action,” Louisiana Attorney General James D. “Buddy” Caldwell spokesperson Amanda Larkins said in an email statement regarding procedures associated with Larpenter’s investigative audit.”However, any report of a suspected violation of the public bid law could originate with a complaint filed with either a district attorney or attorney general.”
Repeated calls made to Bourgeois were not answered.
“I think the public [needs to know],” Larpenter said.