CLINTON, LA (WAFB) - An ongoing 9News Investigation into the Town of Clinton saw another development Thursday.
Town aldermen called a special meeting and passed measures related to the four Chevy Tahoes the mayor and police chief leased without their approval in 2016. The leases were the subject of a 9News Investigation back in August and prompted a criminal investigation that parish and state authorities launched this week.
At the meeting, the aldermen ordered the police department to turn in the keys to each of the Tahoes, park them behind City Hall, and stop all use of the vehicles by September 21. They also directed the town administration to stop all payments on the leases.
Alderman Mark Kemp says each of the board’s motions were proposed on the advise of the town attorney.
WAFB’s investigation back in August uncovered the lease contract that showed Clinton mayor, Lori Bell, allocated tax revenue to pay for the SUVs at a total cost of more than $200,000. Also, a space on the lease requiring the town attorney’s signature was instead signed by Police Chief Fred Dunn.
Parish and state law enforcement authorities on Wednesday served the Clinton with two subpoenas as part of a criminal probe into the mayor’s office.
The recent 9News investigation into four vehicles that the mayor and police chief leased without board approval has been ongoing. Parish and state authorities served the subpoenas Thursday morning, hoping to gather evidence related to those vehicles as well as to allegations of illegal activity in the mayor’s court.
East Feliciana Sheriff’s Chief Deputy Greg Phares says the sheriff’s office and the Louisiana State Police’s Bureau of Investigations are handling the case.
“We served two subpoenas on the town officials this morning, and this is just a fact-finding tool that is used a lot in investigations,” Phares said.
One of the subpoenas states authorities are “investigating a complaint of malfeasance in which they have reasonable suspicion to believe the Mayor’s Court of the Town of Clinton has been operated in an irregular and potentially illegal manner.”
It goes on to describe allegations that Mayor Lori Bell has allowed the police chief to both preside over the mayor’s court and act as the prosecutor. It also alleges the Mayor’s Court is making defendants pay fees that exceed amounts allowed by law.
The other subpoena addresses the four Chevy Tahoes leased without board approval. It characterizes the case as a "complaint of malfeasance in office” in which investigators believe “employees of the Town of Clinton” entered into a contract of indebtedness in violation of state law.
“Sheriff Travis and our office have received a number of complaints from residents of Clinton and residents of the parish, and we thought it was necessary that we partner with State Police and look at these and just see how valid they are,” Phares said.
With the investigation just beginning, sheriff’s investigators are seeking to gather mostly financial records and other documents from the mayor’s office.
Calls to Mayor Bell were not immediately returned Wednesday.
The 9News Investigators will continue to follow this story and bring you any further developments as they surface.