BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - East Baton Rouge Parish District Attorney Hillar Moore says he will review an audit by the legislative auditor into the East Baton Rouge Parish Council on Aging (COA), and there could be criminal charges filed based on the audit's findings.
"We made mistakes. They pointed out our mistakes correctly. We're a better agency for it and will be a better agency going forward," said Council on Aging's attorney, Murphy Foster.
An 82-page audit, released Monday, May 8 by the Louisiana Legislative Auditor, points out six different findings. Four of them have to do with a political campaign, Support Our Seniors (SOS), which was created in 2016 to help push a tax for the COA.
The first was that some COA management and staff participated in political activities during work hours.
"As a not for profit organization, they're not supposed to be engaged in political activities," said Roger Harris, director over investigative audits at the Louisiana Legislative Auditor's Office.
Foster says those employees are not classified as civil service, but Harris says that has nothing to do with it. Instead, Harris says they're violating their own council's policy.
Other findings include the council donating funds to SOS and using public funds to pay SOS expenses, such as creating a special edition magazine with all the money going to the campaign.
"This particular issue that came out contained only advertisements for people that were running for public office and they ended up generating $12,330 from those," said Harris. "They're using public funds to do political activities, which is in violation of both what the constitution says and state law says."
The audit also found COA allowed SOS to use its postage permit, which is half the cost that a political organization would have to pay.
Two unrelated alleged violations the audit uncovered included the council receiving $12,585 in FEMA reimbursements for employees who may have been ineligible and there is no documentation for 57 charges (total of $3,612) on the council's credit card. Any charges on that card have to be accounted for, according to Harris.
"Taking on the tax was certainly something new for the Council of Aging and they had never been in a political arena. Did they make mistakes? Yes, they did. Have we attempted to correct those mistakes and have transparency with the public with your dollars? Yes, we have," said Rep. C. Denise Marcelle.
"We have received the audit from the Legislative Auditor on the Council on Aging. We have previously met with them to discuss their preliminary findings. We will review the completed report and the responses from the COA, as well as any other information that is available or presented to us," said Moore. "The report is comprehensive and will take some time to thoroughly review. Our review is limited to any potential criminal charges and not to any potential non-criminal campaign or ethics related charges. My office is also in communication with the US Attorney, State Inspector General, and Attorney General's office. We will discuss this matter with each of these offices as well."
The council held a special meeting last week to make changes to their policies based on the audit's findings.