Concerted effort must be made in rec cases

From the bubbling cauldron of Houma’s recreation scandals now results a formal investigation by a law enforcement agency. Sheriff Jerry Larpenter has confirmed that his detectives are looking into how thousands and potentially tens of thousands of dollars were not — according to records reviewed so far — deposited into parish bank accounts in connection with last year’s Babe Ruth League tournament in Houma.

Disappeared gate receipts from the 2017 tournament, which were destined for the parish government’s coffers, cannot be divorced from other issues plaguing recreation in Houma. Irregularities in Terrebonne Recreation District 2-3 and District 11, as well as what appear to be lapses of judgement in the parish’s own recreation department, were what caused Parish President Gordon Dove to order audits that illuminated the admission receipt problem. Dove did the right thing in this case. Other problems, such as missing verification of concession sale money based on audits of product purchased by Recreation District 2-3, seems to have fallen into a black hole, and has gone unaddressed officially. The potential that the Legislative Auditor might take a closer look at that development exists. If indeed it is being done, then that office is not required to inform us or anyone else until a report is prepared.

There is a parallel between the gate receipts case under investigation by the Sheriff and the concession case that so far has not materialized, despite strong evidence that a problem exists. Both involve indications that receipts — in the form of cash — were never deposited into bank accounts.

In the matter of the Babe Ruth tournament gate receipts questions, eventually, were asked. When civil government could reach no further, law enforcement got involved at the parish government’s request. The involvement of law enforcement began with a request from Dove, who has command and control of the Terrebonne Recreation Department, to the District Attorney. The District Attorney then forwarded the matter to the Sheriff.

In the case of unaccounted-for concession receipts in District 2-3, there was no initial request to the District Attorney and therefore no request for law enforcement to investigate. This is not the fault of Dove, who has limited responsibility regarding the recreation district. The District Attorney does have control over what cases he may wish to examine, and ample evidence of the need for a prosecutor’s eyes to be on District 2-3 and their concession issues exists. But no such examination is known to have occurred. The high dollar value of soft drinks purchased from a distributor neither being returned to that distributor nor being realized in sales is an indicator that either the money paid for soft drinks or the soft drinks themselves — a more likely scenario — went somewhere else. We do not pretend to know, nor do we wish to speculate as to how these deduced scenarios might have occurred. Certainly, no explanation has ever been given.

Since The Times made public the District 2-3 discrepancies, the entire District 2-3 board has been replaced. This does not negate the importance of determining what happened to thousands of dollars in either soft drink receipts or soft drinks over a period of years. The money paid for those soft drinks came from the pockets of taxpayers living or otherwise owning property within the confines of District 2-3. They deserve an explanation.

Meanwhile, we shall closely watch developments of the TPR investigation and continue to report what we learn. The people of Terrebonne Parish deserve a detailed and thorough investigation. We have no doubt that Sheriff Larpenter’s deputies will provide this. What prosecutors will choose to do if probable cause is determined has yet to be seen.