Former drug cop boss pleads guilty to theft
A former Terrebonne Parish lawman admired by peers for giving his all to public service pleaded guilty to a federal judge Wednesday, in response to an accusation that defrauded the government of overtime in connection with a crime-fighting grant.
Darrell Stewart, who until April was commanding officer of Sheriff Jerry Larpenter’s narcotics division, pleaded guilty to a single count of theft of government funds totaling $15,925.
Kenneth Polite, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of New Orleans, said the theft was in connection with Stewart’s participation in a multi-jurisdictional narcotics task force from 2009 through 2012, paid for by two federal grants.
“Stewart claimed and approved his own overtime from the two grants,” a statement from Polite’s office drawn from court papers said. “The Federal Bureau of Investigation began to look into the billing and discovered through documents and interviews that Stewart occasionally claimed overtime for the two federal grants at the same time that he was working private security details. There were other instances where Stewart claimed federal overtime hours from the grants but he did not actually participate in the narcotics enforcement work.”
According to Polite, Stewart faces a sentence of up to 10 years in prison, up to $250,000 in fines and up to three years of federal probation. U.S. District Judge Ivan L.R. Lemelle set sentencing on Sept. 7.
Stewart rose up the ranks of the TPSO from patrol to the detective division, then worked and eventually ran the narcotics division during Larpenter’s first administrations. The time covered by the grants in question was during the administration of former sheriff Vernon Bourgeois. When Larpenter assumed office again in 2012 he notified federal and state authorities of allegations he had received about abuse of overtime by Stewart and another deputy, who has not at this point been charged.
At the time he resigned from the TPSO, Stewart held the rank of major.
The Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Grant Assistance program, funded by the federal government and administered by the state, was in this case used to pay for drug enforcement activities.
As part of his duties, Stewart administered the grants at the local level, approving overtime and ordering equipment related to approved projects. According to court papers, Stewart claimed program overtime for hours that were the same as those during which he had worked extra-details, for which he was compensated. Additionally, hours claimed by Stewart were not consistent with his work as an administrator, but which would appear to have been consistent with an officer working out in the field.
“The FBI uncovered numerous instances where the only person who billed for law enforcement overtime on the federal grants on a particular day was Stewart, who did not participate in any law enforcement duties on that day, and this was not the purpose of the federal grant,” the court papers read.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Edward Rivera handled the case for the Justice Department.
Since Stewart’s departure from the sheriff’s office, another supervisor, Capt. Terry Daigre, now heads up the narcotics division. Previously, Daigre was chief of patrol.