The Rec 2-3 Audit: What it is and what it isn’t

Law enforcement officers are reviewing an audit report on a troubled Houma recreation district’s finances, to determine if it indicates violation of criminal laws, and if so, how to go about determining who might be responsible.

A cold reading of the special report on Recreation District 2-3 shows lack of oversight and absence of accountability. While it indicates that something is clearly wrong with accounting of concession dollars brought in over a three-year period, and indicates who was in charge of the cash, much more will be needed to determine criminal culpability.

Detectives began a preliminary examination of the report within days of its release by the Terrebonne Parish Consolidated Government. Parish Council members planned to discuss the report at their regular meeting Wednesday, after which formal requests to the parish sheriff and district attorney for investigation are likely. But as recently as Sunday, officials indicated their awareness.



“Me personally, I haven’t seen the facts, but my investigators are thoroughly looking for criminal wrong-doing,” said Terrebonne Sheriff Jerry Larpenter.

Asked if such investigations are inherently difficult, Larpenter had a ready response.

“No,” he said. “The evidence will speak for itself.”



How much evidence actually exists is an open question.

Key records routinely kept by similar boards or commissions simply did not exist.

An inventory of property owned by the district – attached to the report – is problematic. It shows an $18,000 tractor among missing items. Even after completion of the audit, district manager Brock Landry continued searching for items. A determination was made that the tractor listed in the inventory never existed. Two parts – a front-end loader and a mower, were not listed but had a cumulative value equal to that of the allegedly missing tractor.



The parts were found, attached to another tractor. Several other items remain unaccounted for, however.

Significant among items sought by auditors which could not be produced, in most cases because they do not exist, along with other irregularities.

· No concession stand policies were provided to auditors.



· No beginning and ending inventory records were provided.

· No inventory or concession sales breakdowns were provided

· No purchase orders, requisitions, receiving reports or other documentation on concession products were provided



· Nearly $2,400 worth of invoices for the district for Coca Cola products could not be traced to the general ledger.

· There was no documentation provided of which cash bank deposits related to concessions sales.



The problem, succinctly stated, is that the amount of money spent by the district over three years on concession items – food and soft drinks – exceeds the amount of money deposited in the district’s bank account. Returns of items were not made.

And there are no known back-up items to prove whether the problem occurred during sales of goods, when cash was turned over to former the former District Director for eventual deposits, or whether another problem such as theft of items has taken place.

What the current District 2-3 board wants clear in the minds of the public, is that the audit concerns itself with the prior board of directors, which is now disbanded, replaced by the nine-member board now in charge of operations.



The audit was performed by the accounting firm of Bourgeois Bennett, at the request of Parish President Gordon Dove, approved by the parish council. A similar audit is being performed concerning Terrebonne Parish Recreation District 11 but it is not yet complete.

“This has been going on for decades,” Dove said of inconsistencies. “We have to put something together to stop the bleeding. We will go after everyone and anyone responsible, if they are responsible for it. It doesn’t matter who it is, if taxpayer money is missing or goods are missing. Someone needs to be held accountable or someone needs to give us an explanation.”

NON-CREDIBLE LOSS

The former district manager – Ray LeCompte – said at a meeting of the former board that he routinely destroyed cash receipt tallies from concession stands. With no tallies, there is little or nothing to compare bank deposits with to independently determine accuracy. That information is crucial to determining whether money actually disappeared from concession tills – before or after accounting – and if so how much. LeCompte said that his tallies matched up to cash in the till, and therefore to the deposits he made.



Known so far independently is that concession revenue reported by the district in its regular audits released earlier this year was $22,301 less than the than the $118,005 spent for the years 2015, 2016 and 2017.

The amount of cash actually taken in for concessions, however, may have easily exceeded that $22,301 for the three-year period, interviews with officials reveals.

If that is the case, investigators will have to perform detailed interviews with concession workers as well as key figures like LeCompte to get closer to an answer. Bank account histories may be checked along with other evidence of misplaced cash, in relation to any person suspected of mishandling money. But scenarios other than theft of actual cash are possible. Soft drinks and other concession items could have been sold or gifted to individuals or organizations outside the district, by an employee or any other person with access, without proper authorization.



District residents who have investigated questions about concessions on their own are leery of District 2-3’s former board of directors, whom they maintain should have had ready answers to questions about finances. Former board president Gary Beeson has stated that he has no knowledge of the revenue problem, as have long time board members Ivy Bernard and Bobby Arceneaux.

Their entire board was dissolved by the Terrebonne Parish Council and replaced earlier this year with a nine-member board. It is that earlier board, critics maintain, whose members should have answers regarding losses that appear to have occurred.

Jeff Motichek, a Houma resident who has closely watched events unfold over the past year, said he is encouraged by law enforcement’s interest.



“I am hoping there will be a thorough investigation by law enforcement to clear the names of the innocent and determine what happened to our taxpayer dollars,” Motichek said. “There are innocent people here and they are being overlooked.”

INVESTIGATIONS MOVE AHEAD

Terrebonne Parish detectives are already deeply involved with an investigation of the parish’s own recreation department — a separate entity from the recreation boards — in connection with receipts from the 2017 Babe Ruth League tournament not being found. An agreement between District 2-3, the parish and the league itself provided for gate receipts to go to the parish. So far, no definitive record of those receipts has been located.

The Recreation District 2-3 investigation could result in criminal prosecution, if specific individuals are determined responsible for any losses. But there are no guarantees.



Likely at this point is that if criminal behavior is alleged, the Terrebonne Parish District Attorney will not be involved in the prosecution.

“I would send this to an outside agency to avoid any appearance of impropriety,” District Attorney Joe Waitz Jr. said. His choices would include the Louisiana Attorney General, as well as prosecutors in Lafourche, Assumption, St. Mary or other jurisdictions. Should the agency that takes on a conflict case determine that a prosecution is advised, or if a grand jury determines that sufficient evidence for prosecution exists, a case can still be brought in Terrebonne by that prosecutor.

Waitz’s early decision for recusal is in part based on District 2-3’s former chairman being the brother of the district attorney’s chief investigator. The connection has been a source of uncomfortable gossip within and without the Terrebonne courthouse.



Gary Beeson, the former chairman, has built a reputation over decades as a man who has sacrificed his time and energy for the betterment of Terrebonne residents, building and maintaining first-class recreation sites, like the Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard softball park and Houma’s skate park. Like other members of the former 2-3 board, however, he may need to answer detailed questions about record-keeping and other issues. None of those issues would necessarily indicate or involve criminal behavior. Nonetheless, Waitz wants to eliminate potential problems in advance.

A roadblock to prosecution, attorneys said in interviews, could be proof of criminal intent on the part of anyone involved with the former District 2-3 management. An important question would be where the line exists between general incompetence and criminal malfeasance.

OVERSIGHT WAS CRUCIAL

District 2-3 is one of eleven recreation districts in Terrebonne Parish. Originally created by the Louisiana legislature, recreation districts have traditionally been independent entities. Each has the power to levy its own taxes. In Terrebonne Parish members of the boards are chosen by parish council members and then confirmed. They receive no salaries but do get a per diem payment to cover expenses of getting to and from meetings.



District 2-2 is the largest district in the parish and is included within the lines of three parish council districts. The bulk of the district, however, is in District 6, represented by freshman councilman Darrin Guidry, who has taken a leading role in some recreation reform efforts. Most notably, he and Councilman John Navy presented ordinances affirming the council’s stewardship over recreation districts, including the ability to dismiss members of a district’s board with or without cause.

Guidry, elected to the council in 2016, is a former owner of The Times. He sold his interest in 2014 to Brian Rushing, the current owner of the paper and its related publications and is no longer involved in any aspect of the newspaper’s management or business.

Criticized by citizens who are bullish on recreation reform, Guidry has faced tough questions as to why he did not seek a law enforcement investigation after he learned about alleged financial problems at District 2-3 from constituents. Guidry said creating a process that would prevent further problems.



“In November of 2017 we passed oversight and put Rec 2-3 under oversight, so there was no fear that any impropriety would happen after that point,” Guidry said. “We put them under full oversight to make sure that we had control over the finances. Then there was the process of replacing the board, ending their terms and creating a new board, and that process took several months.”

COMPLEX PROCESS

Guidry maintains that merely turning over raw numbers concerning concessions would not have been an effective way of getting law enforcement’s attention or creating actual change. Guidry said he and Parish President Dove, with whom he worked closely on recreation board issues, agreed that a forensic audit would have to be done, and other council members easily passed the measure.

That could not have happened, he said, without an affirmation from Attorney General Jeff Landry that the council indeed has oversight. A question existed because of the recreation board scheme passed decades ago by the state legislature. Landry’s deputies found that because Terrebonne Parish eventually passed a home rule charter, all entities that would prior have been the domain of the state so far as local boards or commissions were to be overseen instead by the parish.



“We operated as fast as could be expected,” said Guidry, who last week assisted Brock Landry, the manager, with a double-checking of the audit’s equipment inventory.

Checks included sit-downs with local lawn equipment dealers who did business with the district, to get a better understanding of what items should have been in the inventory, or which might not have existed to begin with.

Guidry said the inclusion of an equipment inventory was made at his suggestion in the first place.



“Due to the cash nature and the lack of record-keeping from Rec 2-3 it would be difficult to find a smoking gun in the concession,” Guidry said. “However, I felt it possible that equipment went missing. If equipment showed up at somebody’s personal residence that would be a clear invitation to looking further.”

That hasn’t happened thus far.

Last week the new Recreation 2-3 board met, but the audit report was not on the agenda. Chairman Michael Bergeron said the report was received too late to be lawfully placed. A discussion is planned at their next meeting.



“We will follow the apporiate formal process that or legal counsel provides and work within all appropriate channels,” Bergeron said. “I know there are people who would like to see things go faster. Justice is not immediate, it takes time.”

Recreation issuesKARL GOMMEL | THE TIMES