The Investigators: Maintenance supervisor for Baker School System arrested

9News Investigators: Maintenance supervisor for Baker School System arrested

BAKER, LA (WAFB) - Police said some of the hundreds of items, from disco balls to lawnmowers, missing from the Baker School System were pawned and others were possibly sold on the street, while Emmitt Whitfield, the man accused of taking the items, has now been arrested a second time.

"I'm innocent," Whitfield said as officers walked him to a police car to take him to prison. "That's it."

Whitfield was arrested late last week on charges of felony theft and unauthorized use of an access card. The arrest warrant stated that Whitfield "purchased a gross amount of items without proper authorization. These items were never given to or used by the Baker School District." The Baker School System is made up of six schools.

"Only thing I bought was for the schools, what the school needed," Whitfield said.

So, you didn't buy 116 air conditioners?

"No. Well, I didn't keep count of how much stuff I bought," he answered.

Whitfield was the maintenance supervisor for the Baker School System until school district leaders said he was given the option to resign in lieu of being fired last December. That was after police said a saw that Whitfield purchased on the Baker School System credit card was pawned. Whitfield was authorized to use that card. The incident made Baker Superintendent Ulysses Joseph launch an internal audit of all purchases on the credit card.

Lt. Greg Brown with the Baker Police Department is also investigating the case.

"We are looking at at least 717 items," Brown said. "It's not accounted for and we don't know where he put it and what he's doing with it."

A request was made for a list of all purchases made on that credit card dating back to 2012. The review shows 25 items were bought in 2012 for a total of $399.40. In 2013, it jumped to 439 items at $45,875.09 and last year, 604 things were bought at $86,589.82.

"Nobody noticed it and you're going to do a little bit more because each year it starts increasing," said a Baker teacher, who spoke to the 9News Investigators on the condition of protecting her identity.

She said the ceilings are falling in some Baker classrooms. There is mold and asbestos, not enough computers or teachers and salaries are low.

"With $132,000, it can do a lot for the children," the teacher added.

There are pages and pages of purchases, including those 116 air conditioners bought for $50,416.52.

Why does the school system need 116 air conditioners?

"They don't," said Superintendent Ulysses Joseph.

So, are you saying that a lot of this stuff or some of this stuff, he didn't buy it for the school system?

"I can't say who he bought it for, but certainly, he didn't buy 116 for the school system," Joseph replied.

Some of the other purchases include:

• 21 lawnmowers at $5,619.00

• 15 pressure washers for $5,065.00

• 20 outdoor blowers costing $2,943.54

• 69 outdoor trimmers for $15,929.62

There is one instance that stands out. On March 12, 2014, records show Whitfield bought two trimmers at $219.95 each. The same day, he went back to the same store and bought two more trimmers. This time, they were at $599.95 each.

"Unfortunately, we do use trimmers to edge with, but we don't need the number that's in there," Joseph explained.

Documents show $6,730 was spent on 20 generators.

"Generators, and we haven't had any air and heat in over nine years," said the teacher.

Documents also show $4,897.80 was spent on 110 folding tables.

"They don't go on that many picnics. They don't have that many functions at schools to have folding tables. My God," the teacher added.

There were even two disco balls costing $39.94.

Why does the school system need disco balls?

"We don't," Joseph said.

A turkey fryer?

"Certainly don't need a turkey fryer," Joseph answered.

Joseph said per policy, Whitfield was required to fill out a purchase or work order prior to buying anything. He said in some cases, he did, but not always.

Were you buying these items at the direction of the superintendent?

"Yeah. Some of them. I used to call him and tell him what needed to be bought. I used to tell him, 'I'm going to put in a work order,' and when I receive the work order, I go get the part and put it in what they needed," Whitfield said.

Was he coming to you asking permission, 'Can I buy all this?' How was he doing this?

"No. We would have caught it right away and had an opportunity to do something about it if he was doing that. Some of these things were done in secrecy," Joseph replied.

Why is the superintendent saying this stuff is unaccounted for then?

"I don't know. Maybe he needs to go around checking the school and looking around and see," Whitfield said.

As the superintendent, do you not watch over the spending?

"I do, as best as I can. Yes," Joseph answered.

If you watch over it, none of this caught your eye?

"Well, we have a lot of other folks who are responsible for that," Joseph said.

And again, it caught no one's eye?

"Not at that particular time," Joseph responded.

The Baker Police Department is still investigating, including checking more pawn shops for the hundreds of items that cannot be found. Meanwhile, the superintendent said the policies have now changed. People will have to get pre-approval before they can buy things for the district and all purchases must have a work or purchase order.

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