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Jeanerette audit finds possible violations of state law

Aprill Foulcard
Jeanerette Mayor Aprill Foulcard

The Legislative Auditor released their investigative audit of Jeanerette last week, and it notes several possible violations of state law.

The audit indicates that at least one former employee has spoken with State Police about the items listed in the audit. We reached out to Troop I, and a spokesman verified that there is an open active investigation, separate from the auditor’s investigation.

To read the entire audit for yourself, click here.

Jeanerette’s mayor and city council don’t have any authority over city operations right now, since the state took over the city’s finances in January 2018. That extraordinary action followed years of financial disarray, with the city’s books so inadequate that accountants couldn’t even audit them for the past two years.

The audit findings, which do indicate Mayor Aprill Foulcard and at least two employees could have violated state law, were delivered to the 16th Judicial District Attorney’s Office, the document states. The reference to a state police investigation comes in an attachment, in which a former employee says she gave her full statement to State Police in September.

The audit’s findings state the following possible violations of state law:

  • City employees received $33,772 in utility payments between June 16, 2017,  and January 19, 2018, that was not deposited into the City’s bank account. If City employees failed to make deposits and retained City funds for themselves, they may have violated state law. In addition, the City’s utility clerks did not make daily deposits of utility collections as required by state law.
  • The City failed to pay federal and state government payroll taxes, totaling $182,308, and file required reports from October 2015 to March 2018. Mayor Aprill Foulcard told auditors that she assigned this responsibility to the City’s payroll clerk. The Mayor responded to an audit finding regarding payroll taxes in January 2016 that the City would report payroll taxes timely from that point forward. By failing to correct this problem and comply with federal and state payroll tax regulations, the Mayor and the City’s payroll clerk may have violated state law.
  • City records indicate that the City received at least $18,850 in witness fees from December 2016 to April 2018, payable to off-duty City police officers and deputy marshals for court appearances. State law requires the witness fees be paid to these law enforcement officers within 30 days, but the City’s records show that $8,300 of witness fees were not paid to the officers who earned them. Several law enforcement officers told us they discussed the witness fees with Mayor Foulcard and that the City Marshal sent a letter to the Mayor in March 2017; however, the witness fees remained unpaid at the time of our audit. In addition, after the payroll clerk’s employment was terminated, several undeposited witness fee checks were found in her desk. Because the Mayor and payroll clerk failed to pay required witness fees, they may have violated state law.

The audit seems to trace the financial chaos to the beginning of Foulcard’s term.

She took over the post in July 2013 after Mayor Timothy de’Clouet died. She was a council member and was appointed interim, and then was elected to the post in 2015. The city’s inability to produce a timely audit ceased that year; although the audit was due in December 2015 it wasn’t produced until November 2017. That’s the last audit that accountants have been able to produce using Jeanerette’s books.

Foulcard currently is facing felony charges in state court regarding her Jeanerette home health business, JABA Enterprises. In April, she was indicted along with her brother, sister, and mother on racketeering, Medicaid fraud and money laundering, charges that carry more than 140 years in prison. They’re accused of submitting bills to Medicaid for work that was never done.

In the Jeanerette audit, the auditors said they investigated complaints that city money was misappropriated, and started the investigation to look into those complaints, the audit states. To do that, auditors interviewed city employees and other people, looked at city documents and records, looked at documents and records from other agencies, and reviewed the laws that apply.

Among the findings:

Foulcard directed utility clerks to train other employees on the collection of utility payments, including police officers, tax collector, City’s employee for Housing and Urban Development grants, and the janitor.

The auditors looked at city and bank surveillance cameras, as well as a former employee’s bank account, to determine the employees’ movements on days that deposits weren’t made. In several cases, cash deposits were made to the employee’s account a day or two after a deposit was made – from which cash was missing. In one six-month period, the employee deposited more than $5,000 in cash to her bank account, the auditors found. Both the employees noted have been fired, the audit states.

The auditors found that the city was withholding state and federal income taxes from employees’ paychecks – but weren’t sending that on to the proper agencies. The city also wasn’t filing required reports to the state and federal government about taxes withheld. The city hasn’t paid employees’ federal taxes properly since October 2015, the auditors found, meaning $112,000 in taxes is owed. The state amount is around $70,000 auditors found. Foulcard allegedly told the auditors she didn’t know anything about the unpaid taxes until the state administrator took over in January – but the auditors listed numerous instances in which she was notified prior to that, and even a letter she wrote in 2016 promising to fix the problem.

The auditors talked to several law enforcement officers who should have been paid their witness fees – which are paid to Jeanerette by Parish Government when officers testify – but never got them. They learned that Foulcard had been approached by numerous officers, and that City Marshal Fernest Martin, who is also now acting Police Chief, had spoken to her several times and even sent her a letter. Although Foulcard said she didn’t recall ever talking to Martin, and denied seeing his letter, she did admit to knowing about the issue. Her failing to correct the problem may be a violation of state law, the audit states.

Throughout the audit, investigators indicate that Foulcard either denied knowing about the problems, or admitted knowing about the issues but claiming that she thought an employee (who no longer works for the city) had handled them. Her response to the audit continues in this vein, outlining the times she claims to have discussed the issues with the employee. She even goes so far as to accuse the employee of a deliberate plan.

“Based on the evidence provided by this investigation it is my opinion that (the former employee) intentionally did not perform some of her duties and responsibilities as a form of retaliation,” Foulcard writes. She adds that the woman wanted a job that someone else got, and “allegedly, (the former employee) was not pleased with the decision rendered, and I believe she refused to do some of her duties and responsibilities because of the decision rendered.”

The city’s fiscal administrator – the person appointed by the state to try to straighten things out – tells the auditors that he’s created procedures that should address the problems. He noted that the IRS has told him that the city owes almost $50,000 in penalties and fees for failing to pay taxes on time, and owes the state more than $22,000.

 

 

asimoneaux

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