9News Investigators: Former Maringouin police chief defends taking $31,000

9News Investigators: Former Maringouin police chief defends taking $31,000
Former Maringouin Police Chief John Simien (Source: WAFB)
Former Maringouin Police Chief John Simien (Source: WAFB)

MARINGOUIN, LA (WAFB) - The town of Maringouin in Iberville Parish is now responsible for paying back $31,000 that former Maringouin Police Chief John Simien received as supplemental pay.

"They showed me getting $31,000," said Simien.

Supplemental pay is up to $500 a month for officers who have completed the Peace Officer Standards and Training, known as P.O.S.T. certification, used to compensate law enforcement's low salaries.

An audit in February revealed that over a five-year period Simien was paid nearly $31,000 in supplemental pay, even though he did not qualify for it.

Simien asked to sit down with the 9News Investigators to explain why he thought he was supposed to get the monthly payments.

"Back in 2007, they grandfathered me in to get supplemental pay," said Simien. "It came down to the last paragraph."

Simien is referring to a letter from the Louisiana Commission on Law Enforcement. In Feb. 2007, the former chief applied inquiring whether he was a candidate for supplemental pay. The commission responded with a letter saying he had been grandfathered into P.O.S.T. but because he had a five-year break in his law enforcement career, he had to be accredited through an academy.

The second paragraph in that letter said "However, since you are currently the chief of police you are exempt from the above. It is your option whether or not you attend an academy."

"So me and everybody else figured I was eligible to draw it," said Simien.

The commission determines whether a candidate qualifies for supplemental pay. The State Department of Public Safety administers the payments once someone qualifies.

So when Simien applied to enroll with the State Department of Public Safety, based on the letter from the commission, he said he checked "Yes" to the question "Has employee been P.O.S.T. certified?"

Jill Boudreaux is the DPS undersecretary.

Boudreaux: We took that along with the certification from the mayor, and we began issuing supplemental pay in April 2007.
Kiran: Are there no checks and balances on the state's part though to double check what someone is saying on an application?
Boudreaux: Well, our checks and balance is that mayor or that higher governing body telling us that they know they're P.O.S.T. certified.

Simien showed the 9News Investigators that every month the former Maringouin mayor, John Overton Sr., signed off assuring Simien was qualified for supplemental pay.

"He signed the document every month along with me and the town clerk sending it into the state saying that it was okay," said Simien.

But Bob Wertz with the commission read that last paragraph with a different meaning.

"As the police chief, there's no requirement that he either be grandfathered in or be certified," said Wertz.

Wertz said according to their letter, Simien was not to receive supplemental pay, but the state admits the language was confusing.

Boudreaux: The language they used made it sound as though he was exempt from the post certification which was not the case.
Kiran: So is he at fault then if the language is confusing?
Boudreaux: We would really be at fault with that, and we have since worked with LCLE to clear that language up.

Boudreaux said they have now changed the wording on the letters to clearly say whether someone is eligible or not.

In 2010, three years after he started getting supplemental pay, Simien reapplied to the commission wondering about his status. The commission responded with another letter saying he needed to go through an academy in order to receive supplemental pay.

"I think the letter in 2010 merely restates the contents of the letter from 2007," said Wertz.

But despite that letter in 2010, the state continued to pay out. In total, the state paid Simien $31,000.

Then in 2012, Simien said there was an incident between him and former Mayor Overton, and he believes Overton reported him to the Inspector General's office.

"If you don't cater to the mayor, especially me, he was going to do something to hurt you one way or the other," said Simien.

The state then sent Simien a letter in 2012 saying they reviewed his 2007 application and found he was not P.O.S.T. certified reading "Therefore, your benefits will be terminated effective Sept. 30, 2012."

"There's no way in the world I can pay them back $31,000 now. I'm not working," said Simien.

The state has now sent an invoice for $31,000 to the Town of Maringouin.

Kiran: So do you actually think you're going to get the money from the town?
Boudreaux: We think we will.
Kiran: And if you don't?
Boudreaux: I can't really answer that.
Kiran: If you don't get the money, the state's basically out $31,000?
Boudreaux: Well, I think we will exhaust all legal remedies to get that money back

The invoice for $31,000 has now been turned over to legal for action because the state said the Town of Maringouin has not paid.  The 9News Investigators did reach out to the former Maringouin Mayor John Overton. He did not show up for our first interview and after that, he said he was on bed rest after an injury on the job and could not meet with us.

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