This is part 10 in a multi-part series about questionable behavior in Calcasieu Parish, reprinted from The Washington Post. The L.A.C.E. program is statewide and has been criticized and found to have many issues all across the state.
Despite all of this, in our phone call DeRosier continued to insist that the revenue his office generated from community service buyouts was well documented. I relayed to him what Newman had said — that she was specifically told to not run computer reports on that revenue, and asked him to explain how revenue was tracked. He replied: “My appreciation of the way it was accounted for was within each individual file. That’s all I can say.”
In other words, the only way to determine how much revenue the office has been bringing in from community service buyouts is to look in the individual case file of each person who purchased a gift card or money order, find the receipt for that purchase, and then add up all the receipts. This would require sorting through thousands of files. And for pretrial diversion, the files are kept for only three years.
“That is just absurd,” Deeley says. “Just terrible accounting. That isn’t how you track revenue.” There are also other problems with the spreadsheet of disbursements DeRosier provided. For example, the expenditures listed in the spreadsheet don’t match the expenditure figures on the foundation’s tax returns. The sum of the expenditures is also far short of what former staffers estimated the office took in from gift cards and money orders each year. Recall that according to Newman’s estimation of a typical day, the diversion office alone was taking in roughly $300,000 per year in community service buyouts. Another former staffer says Russ Haman once claimed it contained at least $200,000. Yet annual total expenditures in the spreadsheet range from just $24,000 in 2018 to $135,000 in 2016.
Even if every disbursement by the nonprofit were well-documented and closely audited, it would still amount to a pool of publiclyderived funds that DeRosier can direct as he sees fit, with little oversight or accountability. “Even if there’s no corruption, even if you like the way he’s spending the money, this is deeply problematic,” says Erin Murphy, who teaches ethics at New York University School of Law. “If you want to take money from people in these programs and spend it on, say, needy families, or children with cystic fibrosis, then do it publicly, within the organizational structures that exist. Here, the DA is funding his own pet causes with public money, but without any input from the public. How do we know he isn’t picking causes that benefit him personally or politically?”
To give just a few examples, DACAF has donated to a pit bull rescue foundation, to Xavier University and to the McNeese State University football and rodeo teams. It has given to the hunters’ conservation group Ducks Unlimited and to the Cajun French Music Association. He donated door prize money for meetings of his own misdemeanor probation officers and has donated thousands of dollars for various law enforcement conferences, including the Louisiana State Troopers convention, and a conference of state police chiefs.
Perhaps more controversially, the foundation has also given tens of thousands of dollars to churches and other religious organizations, some for explicitly religious activities. It gave $3,000 to support one church’s overseas missionary program, $2,000 to sponsor another church’s golf tournament fundraisers and $500 for a “prayer breakfast.” Since the nonprofit’s founding in late 2015, it has donated more than $21,000 to the Diocese of Lake Charles alone, including $2,000 toward a new sound system for one church, $663 for a freezer in another and $5,000 for “community services.” In 2016, the foundation gave $2,000 to support a Baptist tent revival.
Radley Balko blogs and reports on criminal justice, the drug war and civil liberties for The Washington Post. He was previously a senior writer and investigative reporter at the Huffington Post, and a reporter and senior editor for Reason magazine.