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Theft, malfeasance accusations plague Louisiana school official

Defense attorneys understand clearing a Baton Rouge client's case isn't just about overcoming criminal charges. The chances of finding new employment are very poor following a conviction for a job-related financial crime. A damaged or destroyed reputation saps the life out of family, social and business standings and can lead to personal financial ruin.

A high-ranking member of the Louisiana Board of Elementary and Secondary Education is in trouble. A grand jury will hear the DeSoto Parish district attorney's argument that the elected BESE official kept state reimbursements that were not rightfully his.

The charge is felony theft, a white collar crime with potential penalties of up to 10 years in prison and a $3,000 fine. The prosecutor also wants to add a malfeasance in office charge, based on a state auditor's December report, tacking on more prison time and fines.

The audit said the defendant's received more than $13,000 from BESE for job-linked travel costs between 2009 and 2012. No reimbursements apparently were necessary since the school board member, then a superintendent in DeSoto Parish, used the school system's credit card for travel expenses.

The allegation states the defendant never paid DeSoto Parish the money he was reimbursed by BESE. Since the audit, the state has asked the school official to pay back the money.

The auditor also said the BESE member cost the school district more than $10,000 when he canceled a work vehicle lease. The Shreveport defendant reportedly terminated the car lease early and personally purchased the car at a deeply discounted price.

The financial report also questioned the defendant's dramatic hike in pay. There was a discrepancy between the board member's employment contract terms and raises that took his salary to more than $240,000.

A misunderstanding over an accounting error is not a crime. Prosecutors must prove a defendant intentionally misused an employer's money for personal benefit.

Source: The Advocate, "BESE member under scrutiny" Will Sentell, Jan. 06, 2014

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