The Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries is evaluating legal options against two former employees after an investigative audit revealed almost $20,000 worth of missing fishing and sports equipment purchased in the wake of the 2010 BP oil spill had been either found in their possession or offered for sale on Facebook.
The June 7 report issued by Louisiana Legislative Auditor Daryl Purpera implicates Eric Newman and Monique Savoy, who left the Department in January, 2014, for the missing equipment, as well as for having an improper relationship with several vendors who were seeking a financial relationship with the Department while the two worked on a fish tissue sampling team in Venice after the spill.
According to the report, almost $55,000 in equipment turned up missing from LDWF’s camp in Venice after the pair — who eventually married and started a charter fishing business — resigned from the Department in 2014. Of that total, $19,762 in equipment was eventually found in their possession, or was determined to have been sold online by Savoy.
Newman, Savoy and the rest of the Venice team in charge of seafood sampling after the oil spill bought $677,585 worth of merchandise on state credit cards, with Newman and Savoy making more than $475,000 of those purchases, the report states.
Several fishing reels and other items that were missing from LDWF’s inventory wound up for sale on Savoy’s Facebook page in early 2014 shortly after she left the Department, according to the audit:
• “On October 18, 2010, Mr. Newman purchased four Okuma Makaira 50WII reels for $1,260 ($315 per reel) using his LDWF credit card. Records and statements from LDWF employees indicate that LDWF no longer has these four reels. On March 21, 2016, Ms. Savoy offered four Okuma Makaira 50WII “never have been used” reels for sale on her personal Facebook page for $500 per reel.
• “On September 10, 2011, Mr. Newman purchased a Kristal 640 Kite Reel for $650 using his LDWF credit card. Records and statements from LDWF employees indicate that LDWF is not in possession of this reel. On February 4, 2016, and again on March 21, 2016, Ms. Savoy offered to sell a “never used” Kristal 640 Kite reel on her personal Facebook page for $500.
• “On February 2, 2011, LDWF purchased two Kristal XL621 12 Volt reels for $2,598 ($1,299 per reel). Records and statements from LDWF employees indicate that LDWF is not in possession of these reels. On February 4, 2016, and again on March 21, 2016, Ms. Savoy offered to sell two Kristal XL621 12 Volt reels on her personal Facebook page for $1,100 each.”
In August of 2016, the Louisiana Department of Justice’s Bureau of Investigation executed a search warrant at the couple’s home in Covington and at their camp in Venice, where more than $14,000 worth of state property missing from LDWF’s camp was located, including fishing rods and reels, Yeti coolers, a spear gun and external hard drives, according to the report:
• “Rods and Reels: LBI seized 50 rods and reels with an approximate value of $12,222 that appear to match the make and model of rods and reels we previously identified as missing. Most of these rods and reels were found in a storage building at the Newman’s camp in Venice, Louisiana, which contained hundreds of rods and reels.
• “Blue Mako Oceanic Pro spear gun: A blue Mako Oceanic Pro spear gun was found at the Newmans’ home on August 11, 2016. On October 5, 2010, Mr. Newman used his LDWF credit card to purchase a blue Mako Oceanic Pro spear gun for $311. One of the Venice camp team members told us that he saw Mr. Newman remove spear guns from the storage room at the Venice camp and take them to Mr. Newman’s personal vehicle early one morning in December 2013 (the month before Mr. Newman resigned).
• “External Storage Devices: LBI discovered seven external hard drives at the Newmans’ residence, including three that match the descriptions of external hard drives purchased with LDWF funds totaling $284. One such hard drive was labeled “LDWF Videos.” According to an LDWF Biologist, former Office of Fisheries Assistant Secretary Randy Pausina wanted Mr. Newman and Ms. Savoy to take pictures and videos while fishing for future LDWF promotions. The Biologist stated that Ms. Savoy kept these pictures and videos on an external hard drive that could not be located after Ms. Savoy left LDWF. The drive labeled “LDWF Videos” the LBI seized from the Newmans’ residence contained eight folders (named Artificial Reef, Artificial Reef HD, Hatchery, Hatchery HD, Marine Lab, Saltwater Series, Saltwater Series HD, and Satelitte Tagging). These folders contained 55 multimedia files created while the Newmans were employed by LDWF.
“Yeti Coolers: LBI found four Yeti coolers at the Newman’s residence and camp that matched the color and model of four missing Yeti coolers that were purchased with LDWF funds totaling $1,521. During the BP Tissue Sampling Program, the Venice team used $8,016 in LDWF funds to purchase 25 Yeti coolers. The Biologist Manager emailed the Director of Fisheries Management on January 7, 2014 (two days after Mr. Newman and Ms. Savoy left LDWF), that all of the Yeti coolers were gone from the Venice camp. Two of those coolers were subsequently located, leaving the whereabouts of the remaining 23 unknown.”
Aside from the missing equipment, the audit also uncovered alleged improper relationships between Newman and Savoy with vendors seeking to do business with the Department.
One case noted in the report involved a Venice camp rented by the LDWF for 30 months while the Department conducted the seafood sampling. On Sept. 13, 2011, the Department signed a lease with Oorah Sporting Club, LLC for $8,750 per month for 30 months.
In the report, “LDWF emails indicate that Mr. Newman initiated contact between LDWF officials (to prepare the lease agreement) and Oorah representatives. Bank records indicate that after this lease was executed, Oorah issued a check in the amount of $1,350 to Mr. Newman on December 28, 2011, which was deposited into his personal bank account. This check appears to have been signed by D.J. DeBlanc. According to the Louisiana Secretary of State’s website, Daniel DeBlanc is Oorah’s manager.
“When questioned about this check Mr. DeBlanc responded via email ‘...my bank records go back to 2012. I don't remember what it was for. At that time we were making improvements to the camp at the request of WLF such as adding a tack room, deck, pressure washer etc. Could possibly be related.’”
Additionally, auditors found out Newman was involved in the selection of a contractor for the design of promotional materials and website IT services. Email records between Newman and Brant Crenshaw, a representative of Bloodydecks, LLC, indicate Newman assisted the company in obtaining business with the Department, during which time he was treated to a trip to Puerto Vallarta, Mexico in which he purchased more than $5,000 of fishing supplies for the excursion with his state-issued credit card, according to the report.
• October 20, 2011 – Bloodydecks Representative Brant Crenshaw emailed Mr. Newman: “Sign up for this...I pick the winners ...aftco-guy-harvey-giveaway”
October 31, 2011 – Mr. Newman emailed Mr. Crenshaw: “Did I win the AFTCO contest!!!”
– Mr. Creshaw replied to Mr. Newman: “not yet...lol....i think Mo (Savoy) should win instead :)”
– Mr. Newman replied to Mr. Creshaw: “That works!”
– Mr. Creshaw replied to Mr. Newman: “figured.”
• November 1, 2011 – Mr. Creshaw emailed Mr. Newman a proposal for Bloodydecks to provide advertising services for LDWF: “Hey Man: Let me know if you have any questions regarding the proposal. There are a lot of moving parts and we need to create a bunch of content as well as web developmental issues. This will help us when we talk about doing your site and will not only give us a jump start, but also a taste of what we can do for you guys. Trust me, we want to work with you and will not disappoint. That's not our program....we go above and beyond, to a fault....you have my word on that. Fun aside, I take business very personal and stand behind everything I say or do. If there is ever a problem, I'm the guy that'll get it handled. I really think we can start something great.....and that's not just sales BS. I consider you a friend, and like you, I tell it like it is. Let me know what you need and we'll make it happen.”
• November 3, 2011 – Mr. Crenshaw emailed Mr. Newman: “What do you know....Mo won. :) Have you had a chance to look at the proposal?”
– Mr. Crenshaw posted on the Bloodydecks website: – Week Three Winner is: Monique Savoy Congrats .... you've just won $100 worth of AFTCO gear. Nice work and thanks for entering.
• January 19, 2012 – Mr. Crenshaw emailed Mr. Newman regarding a trip to Puerto Vallarta, Mexico: “I hope you can make the trip. It's a great group of guys...all you have to do is get there. We will all be arriving about 2 pm on Feb 26th. Boarding the boat that afternoon...fish all day the 27th and 28th. Most guys are departing on the 29th. I'm leaving the morning of the 1st, so if you stayed that night I can show you around PV. Your choice. Here's the latest report from the boat we are fishing.. Get ur a** there.”
– Mr. Crenshaw emailed then-LDWF Undersecretary Randy Pausina and copied Mr. Newman: “Hey Guys: Hope the holidays treated you well. When you get the opportunity, I'd like to revisit the program we discussed before the new year and get something going in 2012. I've attached the proposal for your review. With this program we can reach hundreds of thousands active outdoorsmen, as well as develop incredible media promoting Louisiana sportfishing. Let me know if you have any questions or concerns. We'd love to get started. We'll make this really simple on you guys....once we get the "go ahead" we'll take the ball and roll. WE are results oriented and stand behind our work. This proposal outlines a starting point for us and will easily transition into future web development projects that should be handled by a team with outdoor experience. We have a history of creating products that appeal to fishermen and outdoorsmen. We will provide a product that you can be proud of.”
February 3, 2012 – Mr. Newman purchased his airline tickets to Puerto Vallarta, Mexico with his personal credit card.
• February 6, 2012– Mr. Crenshaw included Mr. Newman on an email indicating the fishing supplies that would be needed for the trip.
• February 13, 2012 thru February 24, 2012 – Mr. Newman purchased $5,246 of fishing supplies (which included some of the items Mr. Crenshaw noted) on his state purchasing card. It should be noted that LDWF only obtained tissue samples for testing on two days in February 2012, both of which were prior to Mr. Newman’s purchases. Records indicate that the trip to Puerto Vallarta, Mexico was from February 26, 2012 to March 1, 2012.
May 31, 2012 – Bloodydecks President Ali Hussainy emailed Mr. Newman: “Media Kit Purposal (sic)– See Attached! Let me know if you need any changes. Thanks for all the help buddy.” This email included a proposal in which Bloodydecks would create a design template for LDWF marketing materials (logo, full-color presentation folder with business card and DVD holder, and literature about LDWF) for $18,500.
June 5, 2012 – Mr. Newman forwarded Mr. Hussainy’s May 31, 2012 email to Mr. Pausina who forwarded the email to another other LDWF administrative staff member.
• On July 15, 2012, LDWF paid Bloodydecks $18,500 for marketing materials. “We spoke with Mr. Hussainy regarding Bloodydecks’ relationship with Mr. Newman and the trip to Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. Mr. Hussainy indicated that the trip was to celebrate Mr. Crenshaw’s birthday, and the attendees paid cash for their share of the expenses. Mr. Hussainy further indicated that Ms. Savoy likely won the online contest on her own merit.”
The audit also alleges Newman and Savoy had an improper relationship with the fishing equipment company Shimano in which both parties benefitted.
“LDWF purchasing records indicate that the Venice team purchased at least 225 rods and reels for the BP Tissue Sampling Program. This included 155 (69%) Shimano rods and reels purchased for a total of $43,724. Some of these purchases were made directly from Shimano, while others were made through other vendors. We previously discovered that 92 of the 155 Shimano rods and reels purchased (59%) are no longer in LDWF’s possession. This does not take into account any equipment that may have been donated to LDWF by Shimano.
“Mr. Newman and Ms. Savoy also purchased $21,201 of other equipment and clothing from Shimano on their state purchasing cards from June 22, 2012 to December 9, 2013.
Email records obtained from the LDWF email server indicated that Mr. Newman used his LDWF email account to solicit Shimano representatives for product testing, frequently expressing that he only fished with Shimano gear. On April 25, 2012, Mr. Newman sent an email to a Shimano representative indicating that the Shimano “guys” have an open invite to go offshore with him to put satellite tags on fish. This representative indicated that he would be in the Venice area from May 8-16, 2012, for an event and would like to speak with Mr. Newman regarding field testing. Mr. Newman’s LDWF emails indicate that he and Ms. Savoy hosted Shimano representatives at LDWF’s Venice camp. On May 24, 2012, Mr. Newman sent an email to a Shimano representative offering to test Shimano’s clothing. The Shimano representative replied the same day and indicated that she would send Mr. Newman and Ms. Savoy new clothing “as soon as they hit the warehouse.” In a follow-up email on May 31, 2012, Mr. Newman provided the Shimano representative with shoe and clothing sizes for himself and Ms. Savoy.
“From June 7, 2012 to July 18, 2013, Mr. Newman and Ms. Savoy appeared in 23 photos featured on Shimano’s Facebook page. These posts showcase Mr. Newman and Ms. Savoy fishing with Shimano products and displaying the fish they caught. Shimano also featured
Mr. Newman and Ms. Savoy in an online video fishing with Shimano gear. According to an LDWF Biologist, this video was taken from an LDWF vessel.
“While we were unable to determine if Mr. Newman and Ms. Savoy received monetary compensation from Shimano while employed with LDWF, social media postings indicate that they received publicity from Shimano. We believe this publicity to have been invaluable to Mr. Newman and Ms. Savoy, as they are now owners of a charter fishing business. It should be noted that Ms. Savoy listed Shimano as an employer on her Facebook page but did not indicate the dates of employment. We attempted, by phone and email, to speak with Shimano representatives to discuss this relationship, but our attempts went unanswered.”
In the wake of the audit report, the legislative auditor recommended four steps for the Department:
“(1) Consult with legal counsel to determine the appropriate legal actions that should be taken, including recovery of the missing equipment and/or restitution;
(2) evaluate its fixed asset policy for high risk items and ensure that all high risk items are properly tagged and inventoried;
(3) restrict the number of state purchasing card holders to only team supervisors or leaders and properly train all state credit card holders on policies and procedures; and
(4) ensure that all employees are properly trained regarding state ethics and governmental laws.”
On May 19, in a letter to Purpera, LDWF Sec. Jack Montoucet said the Department had reviewed the report and was addressing the auditor’s recommendations.
To see a copy of the full audit report, click here.