Baker school board employee accused of stealing thousands of taxpayer dollars

Baker school board employee accused of stealing thousands of taxpayer dollars

BAKER, LA (WAFB) - A school board employee, Emmitt Whitfield, 46, is accused of racking up thousands of dollars in charges, all at the taxpayer's expense. That's after he was arrested and released from prison for allegedly pawning off a Baker School District pole saw and pocketing the money.

"Disgusted. Completely disgusted because this was a man our children looked up to," said Baker School Board Member Doris Alexander.

Until Dec. 5th, Whitfield was a supervisor over the maintenance department for the Baker school system.

Whitfield was arrested earlier in Dec. for allegedly using the school district's credit card to buy a $450 saw which he then allegedly sold to a pawn shop.  That launched an investigation and now, Alexander said, that incident may be more of a pattern with a hefty price tag.

"Allegedly, washers and dryers have gotten on our card. There were lawnmowers, riding lawnmowers that we can't find and all of the equipment that was bought is not there. It's been either pawned or sold to persons in the community," said Alexander.

The 9News Investigators obtained an inner-agency letter. It's from Baker Superintendent Ulysses Joseph stating that Whitfield used the district's credit card for purchases at Home Depot and then resold those items or pawned them off.

"Please know that I secured keys, credit cards and the district's truck from Mr. Whitfield," said Joseph in the letter. "I have two staff members running an audit on the number of items bought as far back as we can go."

"This was larger in fact than they thought it was," said Alexander.

Alexander said that audit reveals the estimated total Whitfield allegedly racked up could reach $100,000.

"That's a lot of money. That's $100,000 that could have gone to teacher salaries," said Alexander. "Yes, this is taxpayer dollars."

Joseph declined an interview saying he did not want to compromise the investigation. That's also noted in the letter with his reasoning being that the Baker Police Department has launched an investigation. However, Baker Police Chief Mike Knaps said otherwise.

"No one from the school board office, including the superintendent, have contacted us about any further criminal investigation," said Chief Knaps.

Chief Knaps said they did investigate the first incident where Wittfield and his wife Queena are accused of selling the school district's saw, but his department's investigation into that case, is now closed.

We also found out that Whitfield used to work for the City of Baker, but was then pressured into resigning in 2005. Baker Mayor Harold Rideau said it was over a missing, brand new chainsaw. Two other city employees were fired over that incident, and Whitfield resigned.

When asked if Whitfield had any involving in stealing the chainsaw, Mayor Rideau said, "Based on the information we have, no, he did not have any involvement in that, but obviously was aware of what was going on."

From the City of Baker, Whitfield went to work with the school district and had been promoted to maintenance supervisor a few years ago. Amid the latest allegations, Whitfield resigned from the school system Dec. 5th, but the audit continues, and Alexander wants some answers.

"That's a lot of money," said Alexander. "We can't afford it. We definitely can't afford it. We can't afford it."

Alexander said especially from a man she said children look up to, and she doesn't want them to get the wrong message.

"You don't get an education and work for a living that you can steal for a living...that's not right," said Alexander.

The 9News Investigators went by the Whitfield's most recent known address and found a lock box on the front door. The home was vacant.

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