- Associated Press - Monday, June 12, 2017

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) - Louisiana auditors looking for $55,000 in missing state-owned fishing equipment say they believe they found many of the items with two former state workers, according to an investigative report released Monday.

The missing equipment - including high-end coolers, rods and reels, binoculars, a paddle board and spear guns - was bought by the Department of Wildlife and Fisheries using money from BP PLC after the massive 2010 Gulf Coast oil spill. The money was supposed to pay for seafood safety testing.

In a November report, Legislative Auditor Daryl Purpera’s office questioned whether many of the equipment purchases were needed for the fish-testing program. On Monday, the office released a second audit outlining efforts to track the BP-financed missing items.

Auditors say the equipment couldn’t be located after two former Wildlife and Fisheries employees, Eric Newman and Monique Savoy, left the office in January 2014. The employees, who are married, had items totaling $19,762 that matched descriptions of the missing equipment in their possession or offered for sale online, the audit says.

The audit says the workers may have violated state law in keeping the state-owned equipment for personal use, and in also taking gifts from vendors who worked with the Department of Wildlife and Fisheries.

Newman’s lawyer couldn’t be reached Monday for comment about the audit. It wasn’t immediately clear if Savoy has an attorney. Wildlife and Fisheries Secretary Jack Montoucet, who wasn’t at the department when the equipment went missing, said in a written response to the audit that he was evaluating “all legal options” to recover the missing property.

Newman oversaw the fish-testing operations based in the Plaquemines Parish community of Venice. The November audit found insufficient sampling of fish, excessive spending and missing property. The sampling team spent the equivalent of $2,796 per tested fish, Purpera’s office says.

In response to the earlier audit, Newman’s lawyer Vincent Wynne said missing equipment was “subject to breakage or lost during the work,” and there wasn’t a way to track which items may have broken or been lost amid the fish testing. He defended the team’s work, saying the health department found the seafood was safe.

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