Legislative Auditor: LDWF misspent BP oil spill money

Unnecessary cameras, iPads purchased; more than 100 rods and reels, equipment missing

A preliminary draft of the state auditor’s report — which hasn’t been made public yet — reveals some Gulf oil spill money intended to ensure Louisiana-caught fish were safe for consumption after the BP disaster instead purchased unnecessary boats, iPads, cameras and fishing gear.

According to The Advocate in Baton Rouge, the auditor’s findings indicate the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries’ safety program was so mismanaged, it couldn’t even declare if fish were good to eat.

Auditors found widespread financial issues across the department, including questionable purchases, spending with little oversight and missing fishing equipment, guns and drones that belong to the state.

“Overall, our procedures identified a lack of management oversight over LDWF funds and operations,” Legislative Auditor Daryl Purpera’s office says in the draft report, which notes the findings are subject to further review and revision.

The audit examined spending from 2010 through 2015, when Robert Barham was secretary of the department.

Testing of fish out of Venice especially came under scrutiny, where about $3 million was spent from December 2010 through August 2014, according to The Advocate.

According to the report, the Venice sampling team spent $2.3 million of the BP money for boats, fishing and water sports equipment, vehicles, groceries and other items that auditors said “appear excessive.”

For example, $18,000 in cameras and camera equipment were bought though photos weren’t required for the fish testing and a department biologist said photos were never taken for the sampling, the draft report says.

It also cites $8,000 spent on computers and iPads not used in testing work and says at least $55,000 in property bought for the Venice team is missing, including more than 100 fishing rods and reels, coolers and other sporting equipment.

Current LDWF Secretary Charlie Melancon confirmed receipt of the draft, and said the department was fully cooperating with the auditor, but could not comment until the document is released to the public.