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|Ridgecrest's former clerk, former mayor targeted in audit report|
The Louisiana Legislative Auditor has determined that former Ridgecrest Town Clerk Dana DeLaughter may have violated state law by failing to deposit $56,679 in utility payments.
This allegation and others made in the 16-page report is being released as District Attorney Brad Burget prepares to call a grand jury into session to investigate Ridgecrest's finances.
The audit report says that from February-October 2011 DeLaughter "prepared and submitted financial statements to the board of aldermen which reflected what appears to be an intentional $27,814 overstatement in the Town's utility collections," and that from June 10, 2010 to February 4, 2011, DeLaughter "issued herself three extra payroll checks totaling $1,865."
Additionally, the report says former Mayor Kevin Graham may have violated state law when he "purchased equipment costing $4,055 that was not necessary for Town operations and admitted to using the equipment for personal purposes."
That equipment was a pump purchased through state grant funds. Graham told auditors that the pump was needed for operating lift stations, but Water Superintendent Paul Dillon told auditors he neither requested nor needed the pump and that it "has never been used for the lift stations."
Graham admitted to auditors that in July 2011 he used the pump to get his boat out of a lake, the report says.
The legislative audit was submitted to Ridgecrest Mayor Dwayne Sikes, a former alderman who was appointed mayor late last year, and the town council on May 30. The audit was initiated after the town's CPA -- Silas & Simmons -- could not render an opinion on the town's financial situation because of a lack of documenting records.
The town requested the audit and DeLaughter was placed on administrative leave and later terminated. Graham resigned in November.
DeLaughter served as town clerk from December 2008 until November 2011. The audit says she refused to meet with auditors on the advice of her attorney.
Additionally, property taxes from December 31, 2010, to March 9, 2012, totaling $2,244 may not have been collected, another violation of state law. The report says "no records were provided indicating that the Town has made any attempts to collect these unpaid taxes."
Current and former town employees reported to auditors that DeLaughter was responsible for processing bank deposits, recording payments and reviewing bank statements in the utility fund.
"We determined that this shortage was largely comprised of 179 groups/batches of payments recorded in the system for which there was no corresponding deposits in Town bank account," the report notes. "Because Ms. DeLaughter was primarily responsible for these tasks, it appears she intentionally recorded customer payments in the utility system that had not been deposited."
Once DeLaughter was placed on administrative leave on November 3, 2011, auditors reported that "the Town bank account revealed a significant difference in the amount of cash deposited before and after her termination. Cash deposited from January 1, 2010, through October 31, 2011, averaged $1,603 per month and increased by 177% to an average of $4,434 per month after Ms. DeLaughter was terminated."
Records also show, auditors report, that DeLaughter didn't pay $1,261 for utilities and that Graham and his father, Lonnie Graham, "did not timely pay the utility bills for their residences" for 17 months from April 2009 to September 2010.
In September 2010, Lonnie Graham paid past-due utility bills amounting to $1,563 for his and Kevin Graham's accounts, according to auditors, who reported:
"Lonnie Graham informed us that he did not pay the bills because he wanted to prove that Ms. DeLaughter was not doing her job of shutting off service for non-payment. He also states that he eventually paid the charges because his son, Kevin Graham, was coming up for election. By intentionally not paying for the services, Lonnie Graham may have violated state law."
Auditors indicated that town employees and others were interviewed as part of its investigation and that selected documents and records at town hall were examined. Documents were also gathered "from external parties."
The Legislative Auditor made nine recommendations to better manage its accounts.
In a letter, Sikes thanks the state for the audit and said recommended changes were being put in place. He wrote that the town has hired CPA Jeri Sue Tosspon "to compile Monthly Financial Reports, P&L Statements, Balance Sheets and General Ledger Reports."
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