La. DA uses program to fund his foundation - Part 5

Image
Body

GUEST COLUMN

This is part 5 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.

Odom also saw staff using the gift cards for themselves, or for relatives. She says she first saw it before her first Christmas at the office in 2012. “At one point, [Barbara Adam] had her secretary load up a box of toys and put them in a separate room. I found out later that each box was for one of the probation officers to give to their grandchildren. I was like, I thought these were for needy families. Why are all these people in the office getting the toys? And then every year, it just got worse and more out of hand.”

Odom says one year Adam herself gave Odom a gift card and asked her to buy matching hat-and-glove sets, one each for a boy and a girl. “I went and got them and brought back the receipt. And then I watched her put them in a box, address it and send it to her grandkids in Texas.”

Odom says she tried to voice her concerns about what she had seen. “I was complaining. And I was complaining. And I was complaining. I told them, ‘I can’t do this anymore. This is the district attorney’s office. This is not the reason why we have this money. It’s supposed to go to needy families. It’s being abused.’ They wouldn’t listen.”

The final straw for Odom came in October 2015. “I was at my desk and Mr. DeRosier came in and he says, ‘I need $5,000 in cards — in gift cards.’ He wanted them in $1,000 denominations. One of the other secretaries said, ‘Oh, okay, I’ll check and see if we have that much.’ But then he repeated it in this tone that was like, ‘I’m not asking you, I’m telling you.’ And then he walked out of the office. When he left, two secretaries were discussing whether they even had that much on hand — and what they should tell them if they didn’t.”

The whole scene made her uncomfortable. “If he got the $5,000, there would have been no accounting for any of it. Again you have to understand, there was no way of knowing how much money was coming in and going out on these cards. They weren’t logged. No one tallied them up at the end of the day. Did we take in $20,000 and spend $2,000? What happened to the money left over? No one knew.”

That month, Odom and her husband wrote a letter to DeRosier laying out her objections to the gift cards. According to Odom, her husband later spoke on the phone about it with DeRosier.

When I asked DeRosier about the allegation that staff members used gift cards for themselves or their families, he replied, “That not only would surprise me, that would shock me.” But Odom and her husband made precisely that accusation to DeRosier.

In fact, it was shortly after Odom and her husband complained that DeRosier create DACAF. The main purpose of the organization is to collect and distribute the gift cards and money orders. It’s run out of the DA’s office, the address and phone number on its articles of incorporation are those of DeRosier’s office, and those articles list DeRosier as president of the foundation’s board. At the time it was formed, the majority of the board members were also full-time employees of the office.

According to the former staffers interviewed for this article, after Odom complained, DeRosier also ordered an audit of the gift cards. When I recently asked for a copy of the audit in a public records request, the public records custodian told me that no such audit exists. When I asked for records from the foundation, the custodian replied that the foundation is not part of the DA’s office, and therefore not subject to public records laws.≠

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.