SHREVEPORT, LA (KSLA) - Members of the Shreveport media had no idea why they were called out to the Financial Crime Task Force Office in Shreveport Monday morning. Then at 8:30 am, authorities walked out four Shreveport contractors, all in handcuffs.
The media was then told by the Caddo Sheriff's Office to go to City Hall Annex for three more arrests. They would all turn out to be city inspectors for the Department of Community Development. The seven total arrests would be the culmination of a six-month investigation.
"We were curious about some of the things that were going on with one particular contractor. This led us to the Department of Community Development which led into the investigation," said Caddo Sheriff Steve Prator.
The Sheriff's Office found that four of the seven contractors who worked for a housing rehabilitation program within the department either did not have a contractor's license or lied on their application. "All four have not only been arrested for that, but defrauding the elderly and handicapped," said Prator.
In the past 18-months, Prator says the city paid these four contractors $1.6 million to fix eight homes of sick, impoverished and elderly people. He says the work was never completed and in some cases not done at all.
Prator says one contractor was paid $6,500 to install a new air conditioner for a blind woman. "They simply made a small repair and put a new sticker on it," he said.
Prator says another contractor was paid $5,000 to rewire an entire home. He says all the investigators found were new switches. The wiring was the same.
"They should have never worked for the department. The other checks and balances is the inspectors," he said.
Sheriff Prator says all three inspectors hired to sign off on the work the contractors where supposed to do, failed. "They gave excuses such as they were just lazy or weren't trained properly."
The Caddo Sheriff's Office only investigated this one program within the department, but he says it was spot on.
"Every rock we turned over was another problem that was illegal or illogical," he said.
Prator says the sheriff's office had to stop the bleeding, but it is still to be determined how deep the cut is.
The seven arrests could be just the tip of the iceberg for the Shreveport Department of Community Development. Prator says, "There is no telling what is going on with the millions and millions of dollars that flow into that office."
Sheriff Prator says the four contractors hired either did not have contractor's licenses or lied on their applications. Applications someone within the department approved.
"There may be other individuals identified who may come to law enforcement's attention as well," said Mayor Cedric Glover.
The three city inspectors whose job it was to sign off on the work done by these contractors have to answer to someone as well.
"The buck stops with me." said Glover.
Glover says he is ultimately responsible for everything that happens in city departments, then the responsibility goes to the department heads.
Director for the Department of Community Development, Bonnie Moore, said, "We do not tolerate any illegal activity and we will cooperate with The sheriff's office."
There are two supervisors under Moore who were supposed to oversee the inspectors work. "We are discussing all the avenues to correct what went wrong," said Moore.
The sheriff's office, an independent auditor for the city, the Inspector General's Office and the Department of Housing and Urban Development will all have a hand in what happens next.
"It seems to be a lack of oversight, supervision, and lack of management for the whole thing. How can so much be wrong with one program," said Prator.
Investigators will start within the Department of Community Development and work their way out.
"We are going to chase down just as vigorously as these law enforcement folks are doing right now and put us in a position to deliver the best outcome for the citizens of Shreveport," said Mayor Glover.