A Houma recreation district cannot account for thousands of dollars in concession item sales over a three-year span, its chairman acknowledges.
Gary Beeson, chairman of Recreation District 2-3, said Friday that he will request that his board approve a forensic audit to determine the reason for discrepancies between concession deposits and records of its purchases of concession products.
A gap of more than $55,000 appears to exist between the dollars spent on Coca Cola products from 2015 through 2017 and the amount of bank deposits made from concession sales in that same period, according to records obtained by a community recreation district watchdog and then examined by The Times. Those same records are now being examined by the Terrebonne Parish Consolidated Government at the request of Parish President Gordon Dove. The Louisiana Legislative Auditor has been advised of the numbers and how they relate to audits already filed with its office for those years, but cannot confirm or deny whether an investigation is currently taking place.
Beeson acknowledges that there is a gap, which he said he was not aware of before it was brought to his attention by Jeff Motichek, a frequent critic of the district who lives and pays property taxes within its jurisdiction. Motichek also has children who engage in sports activities on the district’s fields.
“I don’t understand why it takes until now, until someone from the outside brings it to their attention, for something to be done,” Motichek said. “Also why has the Parish Council, which has always had oversight over these recreation districts and some of whose members are aware of these numbers, not taken a more direct role in seeking answers?”
The Council recently passed an ordinance affirming its control over recreation districts, whose members it appoints, and a recent opinion from Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry buttresses that action.
Now the parish’s administration is getting involved.
“WE ARE NOT ACCUSING”
Terrebonne CFO Kandace Maulden is currently reviewing spreadsheets and other records provided to her by Motichek. Parish President Gordon Dove said he is not only reviewing the practices of District 2-3, but that he is also seeking to learn about the day-to-day operations of the parish’s recreation department, an entity separate from the recreation district, but whose employees include board members from District 2-3.
“I have ordered a full overview of Rec District 2-3 on the concessions, a complete audit and review,” Dove said. “I am doing an audit not only of Rec 2-3 but also how our own recreation department. We are not accusing anyone, we are not saying anyone did anything wrong. We are going to find out ourselves and then report to the public. We need a complete overhaul and to look at the way we are operating.”
The accounting issue is not the first operational problem to dog the district, which is partnered with the parish for the construction of a multi-million dollar sports park. Last year one of its employees was accused of violating state ethics laws by accepting $20 cash payments to open up fields for travel-team softball practice, and for being paid on other occasions by teams for work he was already doing as a district employee.
The Times has confirmed that the Louisiana Board of Ethics Administration is investigating at least one matter concerning Recreation District 2-3 that has been brought to its attention. Other complaints have been lodged with the board, but confirmation could not be made on whether they are also being officially probed. The board has also received complaints about Recreation District 2-3 board members working for the parish’s recreation department, which may pose a conflict. The ethics board does not disclose its investigatory agenda unless and until a violation is found.
Beeson said in an interview that the concessions topic will be brought up Thursday night at the district’s monthly board meeting, along with other issues.
DOLLARS AND CENTS
This newest problem concerns two district locations, the Martin Luther King girls’ softball site and the Broadmoor baseball fields at K Street, where boys play baseball and girls play softball. At each location, snacks and soft drinks are served for a price. A district employee usually mans the concession stand.
Those two sites are the places where receipts from Coca Cola show that soft drinks are delivered.
In 2015, the district was billed $20,528 for 26,700 bottles or cans of soft drinks. At the posted field price of $2 per soda, that should have resulted in $53,400 in sales. But the concession deposits for that year only amounted to $28,122. That’s a gap of $25,278. The sales figure only takes into account the Coca Cola products, not nachos, candy bars or other snacks that are available at games and should be represented within the bank deposits.
In 2016 the pattern is similar. The district spent $16,233 for soft drinks. The $2 per drink retail price at the field should have fetched $43,704. But the concession bank deposit was only $28,048, leaving a $15,656 gap, also just relating to soft drinks.
In 2017 $20,857 was spent on soft drinks, 27,708 bottles were sold at $2 each, and the bank deposits totaled $39,527, leaving $15,889 unaccounted for.
During the same three-year period $106,908 was spent on concession items total, inclusive of the sodas. An accurate determination of the inventory relating to food items was not attempted due to various price differentials. That means there is no way to determine how the total of $95,707 deposited from concessions receipts that year checks out with inventory, as with the invoiced Coca Cola products.
The method of accounting for concession sales was discussed at last month’s District 2-3 meeting.
District employees sell items at the stands of the two sites. One employee, Ray LeCompte, collects the money from the sellers at closing time.
LeCompte said he compares the cash amount to the amount written on slips of paper kept by cash-takers. There are no receipts to speak of, he explained, since cash registers are not used. LeCompte said he takes the money home to his safe, waits until there is enough to deposit and then places it in the district’s bank account.
A bond guaranteeing LeCompte’s performance as a person who handles money has been on file since 1988, as the law requires, held by the Fidelity and Deposit Company of Maryland.
No other financial back-up is known to exist.
The Times attempted to contact LeCompte, but he did not return calls.
The district responded to numerous public records requests over the past several months, providing documents that included ledgers. But the results were the same regarding concession sales - nothing beyond the bank deposits totals confirm receipts, with no known financial control.
Dollars could have been stolen. They could have been misapplied. Inventory could have been directed elsewhere.
Councilman Darrin Guidry, whose version of the recreation district oversight ordinance was accepted and passed by the full council, has been monitoring Motichek’s records and has been working on plans for oversight execution. He approves of Beeson’s plan of bringing in outside auditors to address the concession discrepancies.
“I think that’s a very wise decision,” Guidry said.
MEETING COULD TELL
Beeson was notified of Motichek’s recent concerns about district practices in an e-mail, which he may address at The next Recreation Board 2-3 meeting, scheduled for 6 p.m. Thursday at the Southland field office, 121 Prevost Drive.
In addition to the costs and the receipt inventory of concessions, Motichek asked about the district’s book-keeping, which was a separate account in the ledgers, at least for a while.
“In 2017, when district practices began to come under scrutiny, the district changed this practice and began feathering concession purchases into various supply and material accounts, leaving only Coca-Cola, Texas Roadhouse, and Jackie’s Jambalaya in (that account),” Motichek wrote. “Can you explain why this was done?”
The question has not been answered yet, and an answer may have to wait until Beeson gets a green light from his board for an audit, and it is done, unless Doves probe gets completed first.