(WAFB) - Four state troopers were paid a premium of your money, and evidence uncovered in our hidden camera reports suggests they did not deserve it.
The series of investigative reports entitled "State of Unrest" is airing on WAFB and other Raycom Media television stations across Louisiana. Investigative Reporter Lee Zurik, based at WVUE in New Orleans, is the reporter on the series.
Three of the four state troopers are among the highest paid employees in Louisiana. Each makes about $200,000 or more every year, but our undercover surveillance investigation found they may not be earning much of that money.
On July 21, we parked an undercover surveillance unit outside of the home of Trooper Byron Sims. That day, he claimed to work what's called a LACE shift, but Sims may be illegally earning taxpayer money.
"It's troubling what I've seen on here," said State Police Superintendent Kevin Reeves. "The evidence that you've presented us is compelling, and obviously there are questions that need to be answered by our agency."
LACE is short for Local Agency Compensated Enforcement details. Local and parish governments contract with state police to have troopers write tickets on highways in that jurisdiction. The locals pay the overtime and mileage of the trooper; they get to keep the ticket money. At least 44 parishes across Louisiana hire LACE details.
Sims claimed to have worked that 12-hour LACE shift in St. Charles Parish. On his timesheet, he noted working from 6 a.m. until 1800 hours. LSP uses military time, so that's 6 p.m. But our undercover surveillance unit caught Sims arriving back home at 3:08 p.m., three hours before his shift ended, and he never went back to work. Sims wrote his last ticket that day at 13:08, or 1:08 p.m.
Col. Reeves confirms these troopers are paid by the hour, and any time noted on the timesheets should be hours actually worked. LACE contracts specifically say troopers will be paid by the hour.
We had a surveillance unit on Sims for five different Fridays. Each day, he arrived home early, well before the end of his LACE shift.
- August 4: Sims worked a LACE shift in St. John Parish until 6 p.m. We spotted his car arriving home around 1:30 p.m.
- August 18: His St. Charles Parish LACE detail ended at 6 p.m., but we found his car at his Orleans Parish home at 12:55 p.m.
- August 25: Another detail in St. John Parish, but his car back was home at 1:47 p.m., 4 hours and 15 minutes before the end of his shift
- September 8: Another St. John Parish LACE detail. Sims arrives home for good just after 1 p.m.. He earned taxpayer dollars for the remaining five hours of his shift
Last year, Sims made $199,141 with $81,310 of that overtime earned through this LACE program.
Another trooper made even more. Last year, taxpayers paid Eric Curlee $207,133. He earned $106,169 in overtime, much of that from the LACE program.
- August 16: Curlee worked a 4-hour LACE shift in St. Charles Parish from 4 to 8 p.m. But our undercover camera caught him leaving his house at 5:37 p.m., 97 minutes into his shift
- August 21: Curlee worked a 5 to 9 p.m. LACE shift in St. Charles Parish. He left his house at 5:35 p.m. and arrived back home at 8:43 p.m.
"I think that we need to look at that," Col. Reeves tells us. "And this brings up some interesting questions and some dilemmas that we have, concerning our LACE program and our overall operations."
The superintendent says he's suspending the LACE program, pending an investigation into the operations. "I think that we need to go back, as I said before, and evaluate the whole process and see where we're at, how we're doing our business, what we're doing, and if we need to make any necessary changes, from top to bottom," Reeves said.
He's launched a criminal investigation and placed Curlee and Sims on administrative leave.
"What kind of confidence can you have in your law enforcement officials when they are openly, blatantly, and intentionally violating the law," asked Joel Friedman, law professor at Tulane and a frequent critic of public corruption and waste.
The criminal investigation also includes Trooper Daryl Thomas, who our report focused on Wednesday night, earns more than any other law enforcer in the state: $240,000. And much of his overtime earnings come from LACE.
- August 23: Thomas worked LACE in St. Charles Parish from 7 to 11 a.m. But he arrived back home at 8:25 a.m. That morning, he only wrote one LACE ticket
- September 4: Thomas showed up at his house about one hour before his LACE shift ended. That day, he didn't write one ticket during his 6-hour shift
- September 6: Thomas worked about half of his 6-hour LACE shift
- September 7: Thomas' car arrived at home for the last 80 minutes of his LACE shift
Our undercover surveillance also tracked Trooper Shawn Boyd. On August 8, Boyd returned home just after 5 p.m., but his Orleans Parish LACE shift didn't end until 6 p.m. Boyd wrote his last ticket that day at 3:10 p.m.
Two years ago, LSP suspended Boyd for four weeks without pay. They found Boyd didn't work LACE details claimed on his timesheet.
But there's more. Our investigation has taken most of this year to complete. We've had to do undercover work and request timesheets and tickets to see if our surveillance produced any findings. We started requesting records on these four troopers over the summer.
LSP tells us when a record is requested for a specific trooper, they notify that trooper as a courtesy. So according to LSP, these troopers were aware of our investigation. Yet our undercover surveillance still caught them possibly breaking the law.
The names and numbers stick out on the LSP payroll report: the three highest paid employees, Daryl Thomas, Eric Curlee, and Byron Sims. And our extensive investigation has found that all three may have improperly earned your money.
"If this evidence is true, that they were not working those hours and they reported those hours and they sought and obtained remuneration for those hours, this is theft," Friedman tells us, "Period, end of story. You don't have to be a genius to know that. That's theft. They should be prosecuted."
Trooper Boyd has not been placed on administrative leave. Right now, we're told he's out on another type of leave. If that leave ends before the criminal investigation concludes, Boyd will be suspended.
LSP said we couldn't talk to any of the four troopers for comment. We sent each one a letter. They received them, but have not responded.
Our State of Unrest investigation resumes Monday night on WAFB 9News at 10.