KIRAN: Sheriff’s office launches investigation after 9News report into fundraiser meant for St. Jude’s Hospital

THE INVESTIGATORS: Councilman involved in St. Jude scam also involved in incident in 2012 involving forged signature

POINTE COUPEE PARISH, La. (WAFB) - The Pointe Coupee Parish Sheriff’s Office (PCSO) is leading an investigation into bank statements uncovered by the 9News Investigators appearing to show money raised for St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital may have been spent for personal uses by a councilman in Fordoche, La.

The money was raised through the Co-Ed’s for Corey and Cody Gueho annual fundraiser, which is partly organized by the Guehos’ cousin, Ronnie Bonaventure, who serves as a councilman for the Town of Fordoche.

The 9News Investigators found $26,000 was spent by Bonaventure for personal use, including mortgage payments and fees for his daughter’s dance classes. Since Bonaventure’s uncle, Fred Gueho, serves as police chief, Fordoche Mayor Teddy Gros requested PCSO’s involvement to prevent a conflict of interest.

Bonaventure has since provided the Gueho family with a check for nearly $29,000, which has been given to St. Jude’s Hospital.

Read more on the backstory of this investigation by clicking the link here.

Further reporting by the 9News Investigators into Bonaventure’s background shows he was linked to another situation in which he reportedly forged someone’s signature to get gas. However, that incident was never officially investigated, and one watchdog group says it may be too late to seek justice.

The incident occurred in July of 2012 when a man reportedly entered a convenience store in Fordoche asking for a log where town employees are required to mark purchases. The man allegedly received $25 worth of gas without signing the log as required, according to documents obtained by the 9News Investigators. The man also did not pay the cashier, according to the documents.

Surveillance video captured days later at that same store allegedly shows the man, who identified himself as a town councilman authorized for gas credit, getting another $25 worth of gas. This time, the man did sign for the gas, however, a town clerk who reviewed the log saw the initials “E.J.” on the log. The initials stand for Ernest Leonard, a maintenance worker for the town.

“As I watched the video, I saw Councilman Ronnie Bounaventure Jr. making the transaction,” the town clerk documented in a report. “I saw him initial the charge account.”

The report suggests Bonaventure simply copied the first initials he saw on the log rather than signing his own.

The 9News Investigators learned a deputy from the Pointe Coupee Parish Sheriff’s Office was alerted about the incident. That deputy came out to take a report about the incident. The deputy’s supervisor even signed off on the report. However, once the case was forwarded to another office to be investigated, it was never looked into.

Bonaventure eventually reimbursed the town.

“It got put under the table and it was $50 and we got our money back, but it was still malfeasance in office to me,” said Mayor Gros. "[Bonaventure] shouldn’t have got off.”

Gros says he still isn’t sure why Bonaventure allegedly forged the signature.

A member of one watchdog group says even if the 2012 incident was looked into today, it’s too late to seek justice under Louisiana law.

"Misdemeanor theft, you’re looking at possibly a malfeasance charge in there, potentially forgery, which would be another potential felony,” said Rafael Goyeneche of the Metropolitan Crime Commission. “You have two years to charge someone with a misdemeanor offense and you have four years to charge someone with a relative felony offense.”

Goyeneche is worried the St. Jude investigation is on track to end up the same way as the 2012 investigation given the appearance of conflicts and Bonaventure’s status as a councilman.

“Was [the 2012 incident] by accident or was it intentional? We’re not going to know the answer to that. I suspect if this had been any other citizen, [we] might have seen a different outcome in [the 2012] thing,” said Goyeneche.

After being made aware of these latest claims about the 2012 incident, Bonaventure’s attorney released the following statement to WAFB:

“The news media must be slow having to run a story about Mr. Bonaventure and something that happened 7 years ago. The issue 7 years ago was a mistake on the charge accounts and the Town of Fordoche did not pay what was allegedly charged. There was no wrongdoing by Mr. Bonaventure. This is obviously a political ploy to destroy Mr. Bonaventure’s reputation as a councilman. What a shame!!”

Fred Gueho was also contacted by the 9News Investigators about these claims. He said despite being the police chief, he had no involvement in the 2012 investigation and had no further comment.

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