Misuse of BP grant money and government-issued credit cards at the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries are at the heart of an ongoing criminal investigation into a potential misappropriation of public funds during the tenure of Secretary Robert Barham — and arrests could be in the offing, according to online reports.
Current LDWF Secretary Charlie Melancon, who was appointed to the post by Gov. John Bel Edwards earlier this year, wrote a letter dated July 1 to Legislative Auditor Daryl Purpera revealing that audits indicated “there may have been misappropriation of public funds or assets by the previous administration of this agency,” according to a New Orleans-based website.
Barham now works in the Office of State Parks and confirmed the investigation, but he told NOLA.com there was no criminal element to it and said he had not been approached by the inspector general or anyone from the East Baton Rouge District Attorney’s Office, who also received a letter from Melancon detailing the alleged misuse of funds.
“It was more about accounting and how we did time sheets, policies on uniforms and that sort of thing,” Barham told NOLA.com. “There was no criminal discussion.”
However, The Advocate in Baton Rouge reported the probe was first reported by the political newsletter LaPolitics, which cited unnamed sources saying that a public report from the inspector general and the legislative auditor is expected “in the coming weeks” and that officials in the department would “be shocked” if there aren’t arrests.
Two whistleblowers allegedly came forward with allegations on how the department spent a $8.6 million seafood testing grant awarded by BP after the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill, according to The Advocate.
LaPolitics also reported that “contracts and possible nepotism” are being investigated, as is improper purchases of clothing and other personal items with state money, according to The Advocate.
Toby Gascon, Melancon’s chief of staff, told The Advocate that current secretary ordered a full review of spending with state-billed credit cards when he took office and instituted a new system of checks and balances to guard against improper purchases.
State auditor Purpera told the newspaper he expected a full report from a team of auditors within two months.