BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - An audit released on Monday revealed the East Baton Rouge Parish Clerk of Court's Office spent tens of thousands dollars in public funds on meals, hotel stays, and other things. Meanwhile, the office was operating in the red.
Credit card receipts obtained by 9News show a trail of extravagant spending by the EBR Clerk of Court's Office. It showed transactions at places like Stroubes, Acme Oyster House, Parrain's, and Twin Peaks. The annual audit showed that EBR Clerk Doug Welborn's office spent $25,590 on 197 meals last year.
Receipts on file for the years 2014 and 2013 showed a similar pattern. In 2014, two clerk's office credit cards totaled more than $20,000 on dining. In 2013, more than $26,000.
The purchases were made on two of seven credit cards used by the EBR Clerk of Court's Office.
Meanwhile, the audit points out the office ran on a $1.3 million deficit last year and was $1.9 million in the hole the year before.
Tom Cole, first assistant Louisiana Legislative Auditor, said while there are no clear signs of fraud here, the amounts are excessive.
"Anytime you have those credit cards it always increases the risk of fraud and abuse," Cole said.
According to the audit for last year, the clerk spent an average of $102 per business day on dining at restaurants. The auditor recommends that "the clerk consider substantially reducing the amount of public funds expended on meals."
"Reasonableness, the way we characterize it, is that it should be for a public purpose and the benefit derived should be not disproportionate to the value of the funds that were expended," Cole said.
According to the audit, 86 receipts totaling $8,224 were missing. In response, Clerk Welborn said he believed the receipts were filed at one time but had since gone missing. He said he has since recovered all but 25 of those receipts to which his office has been refunded.
"I think maybe the clerk could have some of his meetings in his office during office hours rather than at a restaurant," Cole said.
Welborn stated in the audit that he has cut 15 positions from his office and did not replace three employees who retired last year. He said the retirement salaries alone should save his office $1.14 million.
The clerk reported he has also lowered the amount spent on meals, is maintaining documents on credit card use, and has reduced the number of office credit cards to two.
"In addition to the measures already in place, I have asked a team from the Legislative Auditor's office to work with us on a review of our procedures. We look forward to working with them toward the goal of ensuring that we are on a successful track for the future in serving the public," Welborn said.