- Associated Press - Wednesday, May 28, 2014

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) - A new state audit shows Pearl River Mayor James Lavigne and two other town officials allegedly used public resources for personal gain.

The Legislative Auditor’s report released Monday prompted the six-term mayor to issue a 10-page response, saying the audit is a political attack.

The New Orleans Advocate reports (https://bit.ly/1tL3AMr) Lavigne, Town Clerk Diane Bennett and Police Chief Bennie Raynor were singled out in the report, which looked at spending from December 2011 to July 2013.

Auditors detailed problems in 10 areas, including using public money to buy equipment for private use, using town funds to buy items in an effort to dodge paying state sales taxes and using employee labor to do private work on public time.

The report also points to eight extra payroll checks issued to Bennett from March 30, 2012, to Aug. 30, 2013, that totaled nearly $8,000. She was allowed to cash in unused vacation time, which the audit said violates a town ordinance as well as state law. Records show instances where she was absent from work but no leave was deducted, and cases in which she was paid extra money for meetings, including some that were held during regular business hours.

The auditors also questioned nearly $30,000 in Christmas bonuses that went to employees and officials - an improper expenditure that the audit said was falsely recorded in budgets and financial statements as clothing allowances.

Lavigne response mostly defends Pearl River itself - which he called the most progressive town in St. Tammany Parish. He also trumpeted his public service, saying he is on duty “24/7/365 1/4.”

He attacked Concerned Citizens of St. Tammany, the watchdog group whose complaints prompted the audit, and Pearl River Councilwoman Katherine Walsh, who he says wants to be mayor.

“I may not be best record-keeper in the world. I am a better welder, inspector, town crew manager and forward-looking town leader,” he said, while promising to do a better job of turning in receipts.

The audit shows Lavigne made 106 charges totaling $18,293 on his town credit card, but the town lacked documentation to back up 101 of them, totaling $13,036.


Information from: The New Orleans Advocate, https://www.neworleansadvocate.com

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