A whistleblower contends that the Orleans Parish Sheriff’s Office is overcharging the state by hundreds of thousands of dollars annually under a program that supplements deputies’ pay.
The state-funded Deputy Sheriff’s Supplemental Pay program gives deputies involved in jail security and law enforcement $500 per month, or $6,000 per year, above their base salaries. The former-deputy-turned-whistleblower said his analysis of an August payroll sheets suggests that as many as 51 of the people are ineligible for the supplement — including administrative assistants, accountants and Sheriff Marlin Gusman’s purchasing chief.
Gusman was not available to comment, but his spokesman Phil Stelly said the payments are proper. Many of the 51 employees do work in law enforcement, he said, and others are covered by an exception for longtime personnel.
In a budget analysis for the city’s 2014 budget hearings, Gusman projected that 465 commissioned deputies would receive nearly $2.8 million in supplemental pay from the state this year. A review of the payroll sheet calls into question 10 percent of that — about $300,000 a year.
The Lens learned of the possible violation from Bryan Collins, a former sheriff’s deputy who resigned from his job at the jail late last year after claiming the department retaliated against him for providing NOLA.com/The Times-Picayune with a photo of a blood-covered jail cell. Collins filed a federal free-speech lawsuit against the Sheriff’s Office Thursday.
Based on an August payroll report, Collins flagged 51 employees who he believes have wrongly received the $500 monthly supplement. He based that on their job titles and his knowledge of jail operations.
“Don’t get me wrong; a lot of these people are great people. Some of them I know; some of them I don’t,” he said. “If you want them to be paid more, then pay them more. I think it is wrong to manipulate and circumvent the rules of the program simply to accommodate these people.”
The Lens independently obtained the August payroll sheet from Gusman’s office to confirm the titles and payments of the people in question. The records provided by the Sheriff’s Office matched what Collins provided to The Lens.
We also reviewed the state law governing the supplemental pay fund. The law says employees who perform “purely clerical or non-enforcement duties” can’t get the extra pay. It explicitly prohibits supplemental pay for certain jobs, including cooks, maintenance staff, radio switchboard operators and clerical staff.
Collins approached The Lens with the tip in mid-January, but he didn’t provide supporting documentation until Jan. 23. Though Collins provided the tip in the middle of Gusman’s re-election campaign, he said his decision was not politically motivated.
He said his decision “has absolutely nothing to do with this week’s election. Although the timing may be suspect, my intention has never been to interfere or unduly influence anybody’s decision on anything.”
“These are things that are going on, and the public needs to be aware of it. We’re talking about taxpayer dollars, which this agency has a responsibility to properly manage.”
Bonus directed at deputies involved in law enforcement
The employees in question include accountants, kitchen staff, administrative staff, maintenance staff, a human resources administrator, the head of the Orleans Parish Sheriff’s Credit Union and Gusman’s chief purchasing officer, whose base salary before the supplement is close to $82,000.
Collins flagged eight employees identified in the payroll sheet as “communications deputies”; in fact they are switchboard operators, he said.
“The primary purpose of deputy state supplemental pay is to encourage and increase law enforcement personnel — not auto maintenance, administrators and accountants,” Collins said. “I know from my four years there that we never saw an accountant or someone from administration working in an enforcement position.”
Collins also contended that medical staff should not receive the extra pay because they don’t do security work. State law doesn’t specifically address that job category.
“If a fight breaks out, the nurse is not going to intervene. If they are deputy-certified and they are receiving Deputy Supplemental Pay, you would expect them to get involved,” he said. “Their primary responsibility is not enforcement.”
Collins did not provide specific reasons for including four names on the list, marking them only as “unknown assignment(s).” Two more are identified in both documents as being on a leave of absence, which does not preclude supplemental pay in some cases, such as medical or military leave.
A state body, the Deputy Sheriff’s Supplemental Pay Board, is supposed to review applications for the payments, and Gusman is required to submit monthly reports on all deputies receiving it. The state did not respond to The Lens’ requests for recent reports by publication time.
Sheriff’s spokesman says deputies have many duties
Stelly said three docket clerks on Collins’ list are eligible for the pay because they were grandfathered in under a provision that allows it for all deputies hired before March 31, 1986, as long as they’re commissioned law enforcement officers. All three were hired by the Orleans Parish Civil Sheriff before 1986, Stelly said. The payroll sheet lists their hire dates as May 3, 2010, which is when the civil and criminal sheriff’s offices were consolidated under Gusman.
As for the remaining 48 names, Stelly told The Lens in a written statement that many do perform law enforcement duties, despite their job titles.
“Some employees are not exclusively one thing or another. In these days of reduced staffing, deputies sometimes wear many hats and are called upon to perform security functions while at other times perhaps performing clerical or medical services,” Stelly said in the statement. “These employees’ duties, therefore are not ‘primarily purely clerical.’ ”
In a follow-up phone interview, Stelly defended other employees on Collins’ list.
“The person who is the cafeteria manager works directly with the inmates. Three-quarters of our kitchen workers are inmates,” he said. The only kitchen worker on the list is identified on the payroll sheet as a “cook”; state law expressly prohibits cooks from receiving the additional pay.
As for the accounting clerks, he said some work in close contact with inmates and receive officer training.
“There are some accounting people who deal with the collection of moneys from the ATM machines in the Intake and Processing Center.”
Regarding others, such as human-resources staff or the purchasing officer, Stelly pointed out that the state board is ultimately responsible for approving the pay.
“We didn’t do an individual analysis, but … the state determines eligibility here. It’s all dependent on the applications,” he said. The Lens requested all applications in the sheriff’s possession, but Stelly did not provide them by publication time.
The sheriff must file and sign an application for supplemental pay for each deputy. The form states, “New hires after March 31, 1986 must perform full-time direct law enforcement duties.” It then asks for a description of the deputy’s duties, with a percentage for each one. The monthly reports don’t provide the same level of detail.
Collins said the potential misuse of tax dollars isn’t the only problem. He pointed to the jail’s chronic security understaffing, an issue addressed in a recently adopted federal consent decree.
“If we have these gaps in security coverage,” he said, “why not have some of these people getting paid — supplemental pay for security — why not move some of them into enforcement to cover those gaps?”