The Louisiana Legislative Auditor is examining the latest financial audit of the Orleans Parish Sheriff’s Office conducted by Albert “Joey” Richard, who has served as Sheriff Marlin Gusman’s campaign treasurer for years.
Friday, Ed Quatrevaux, inspector general for the city of New Orleans, filed a complaint with the Louisiana Board of Ethics against Richard for conflict of interest in those audits.
Richard’s firm has checked the Sheriff’s Office books since 2004, right after Gusman was elected. The legislative auditor is examining only the 2012 audit, however.
Richard has served as Gusman’s campaign treasurer since 2000, when Gusman ran for City Council. That’s the same year Richard joined Postlethwaite & Netterville. He also made a $2,500 contribution to Gusman’s 2000 campaign.
Former Sheriff Charles Foti also had his auditor file his campaign filings, but Foti said he wasn’t his campaign treasurer. James LaPorte, managing director of Ericksen Krentel & LaPorte, filed the reports from least 1998 until 2003. His firm audited the Sheriff’s Office during that time.
LaPorte also contributed to Foti’s campaign — about $3,000 from 1998 to 2002, according to campaign disclosures.
However, Foti told The Lens that LaPorte played “no role whatsoever” in his campaign. “All he did, as any CPA would do, was prepare filings.” Foti said he acted as his own treasurer.
LaPorte didn’t return phone calls seeking comment on his work for the sheriff.
Gusman’s campaign filings also show that lawyer Allen Usry, whose firm represents the Sheriff’s Office, was the chairman of his 2006 campaign for criminal sheriff. Since taking office after a special election in 2004, Gusman has paid Usry, Weeks and Mathews a flat fee of $65,000 every two weeks — $130,000 per month — regardless of the amount of work the firm has performed, a recent investigation by Fox 8 News found.
Quatrevaux said he learned of Richard’s role as Gusman’s campaign treasurer from The Lens’ coverage of a July 24 federal court hearing regarding a consent decree for Orleans Parish Prison.
Over the course of the two-day hearing, Harry Rosenberg, attorney for the city, revealed several inconsistencies in the sheriff’s financial reports and Richard’s audits. One section of the 2012 audit stated that $3.8 million was paid out in legal judgments and settlements. The sheriff’s records put those expenses at just $200,000.
In his letter to Kathleen Allen at the Louisiana Ethics Administration Program, Quatrevaux wrote that “Mr. Richard has a financial incentive to provide positive audit reports for Sheriff Gusman so that Sheriff Gusman will continue being re-elected.”
Louisiana Legislative Auditor Daryl Purpera said it does seem unusual for a campaign official to audit the sheriff’s books.
However, Purpera said there is nothing to indicate that Postlethwaite & Netterville’s audits were performed in a manner inconsistent with government auditing standards. He complimented the firm and said it is cooperating with its inquiry.
Quatrevaux, however, wrote in his letter that Richard has failed to comply with a federal standard that requires an auditor to decline work if some kind of connection would impair his independence from the agency he’s auditing.
“I understand what Ed [Quatrevaux] is saying,” Purpera said. “It’s hard to see from the outside how the campaign finance chairman can also be the lead auditor. But the standards say that you have to document how independence is established, and we are reviewing whether that has been done.”
Richard also audits the city, which is fighting the sheriff over how much jail reforms should cost and who should pay for them. The Lens asked Quatrevaux if that posed a conflict for Richard.
“It’s an interesting argument. I’m not sure it would rise to that in this case,” he said. “I’ll say this. Public agencies have a tendency to use the same auditors over and over. It’s a bad tendency. … Audit firms should be switched out every three to five years.”
Quatrevaux said his office isn’t considering another complaint on that issue.
Staff reporter Charles Maldonado contributed to this article.
This story was changed after publication to state exactly what The Lens asked Quatrevaux and how he responded.