For nearly a year, the Bienville Parish Sheriff's Office put Gibsland public officials under a microscope, looking into a misuse of funds. Their investigation culminated in a 7-hour raid Wednesday at the Gibsland Town Hall.
Witnesses say authorities could be seen coming in out of the Town Hall on Main Street hauling out boxes of documents and other items as authorities served a search warrant at the building.
Sheriff John Ballance says its investigation was prompted by the findings by state auditors that records were missing. The warrant came after the town allegedly failed to turn over the requested records. "We decided the best way to get all the records we needed was to get a search warrant on city hall this morning," said Ballance.
We tracked down Mayor Odell Key to ask him about it, but he only commented briefly. "People are lying, saying I'm going to jail, I just don't have anything to say," Key.
Ballance says that thousands of dollars are missing from the town's coffers, and that the town owes the IRS $80,000.00 in payroll and other taxes. Ballance says money was taken out of employee paychecks but never made it to their destination.
Mayor Pro Tem and Alderman Marketris Jones claims the financial problems began when Odell Key took office again in 2011. "Mayor Key to me doesn't have any respect for the law, one thing he likes to say it's his way or no way," said Jones and adds around 2011, the alderman began noticing unexplainable large cash transfers from the town account.
Jones notified authorities, leading to several investigations. "Yes I do think there is a mis-use of public funds," said Jones. But with no paper trail, investigators say it's difficult to find where the missing money went. But Sheriff Ballance is determined to find answers. "We've got people on one side saying, and people on the other side saying another thing. somewhere in the middle we hope we are going to get the truth."
The Louisiana Attorney General's Office is assisting in the investigation.
State investigative auditors have also been investigating the town's internal operations. In an audit released in February of this year, they cited several findings including several state law violations.
Odell confirms there was a search warrant executed at the town hall, but denies any wrongdoing, calling the allegations, "all lies."