I-Team: Company credit card use - KSLA News 12 Shreveport, Louisiana News Weather & Sports

I-Team: Company credit card use

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The 9News I-Team has learned that new information is being reviewed by the State Inspector General's Office in its probe of the Baton Rouge Gas Utility District One.

The wider investigation is the result of questions raised by the I-Team.  The investigators will now be looking into how employees of Utility District One used company credit cards.

Former Board President Greg Carroll says that issue came up about a year ago when he and other board members started asking about potentially questionable purchases over a three-year period.  Carroll says they got a big surprise.

"I found out in June of 2012 that there were three credit cards at gas utility," said Carroll. "At that point the board asked me to write a letter to turn in the credit cards."

Months after the letter was sent, Carroll was removed from the board by Baton Rouge Councilman Trae Welch, who occasionally oversees and advises the board.  But not before Carroll and others went to the State Inspector General's Office and told investigators about what they said were several questionable uses of gas utility money.

"Been a lot of misuse of citizen's funds," said Carroll.

Among the newest allegations: that employees used a gas utility credit card to take a 2009 trip to a casino in Marksville, as a reward for extra work on a special project.

"We worked many long hours on the conversion and we were told that we should go to Marksville and have fun for the weekend," said "Georgia," who we will not identify.

Documents show three people took the trip - office manager Arlene Norwood, human resources manager Phyllis Simms and Georgia.

Georgia says she grew concerned when a gas utility district credit card was used to pay for things, and that's when she decided to go home.

"You're getting paid time-and-a-half already, and I just feel that's enough," she said. "I mean, I haven't worked anywhere that you got to go on a trip just because you worked hard for so many hours and was able to go on a trip with a company credit card."

The I-Team asked for the credit card receipts for that trip, but received very little info.  There is some documentation for a "training" trip to Marksville for that time period, but it involves another employee who was not part of that group.

There are two other trips taken in 2009 by Simms and Norwood.  They were listed as "training" sessions and involved employees going to Las Vegas and California, with a stop at Disneyland.

"The board was just told that Arlene and Phyllis were going to Las Vegas for a seminar," said Georgia.

The I-Team reviewed documents for those trips and found:

Flight $250
The Caesar's Hotel $448
A buffet in Las Vegas $126
The Caesar's Mesa Grill $169
And the Caesar's Cypress Street Marketplace $42
The Disney Resort $617

The documents the I-Team received did not contain any explanation as to what those charges were for or who spent the money.  Simms says both of the trips were approved by former management.  Carroll says that while he was on the board, they did approve some trips, especially for training, but that the lack of information provided when he and others started asking questions raised some flags.

"This is public funds. You need approval from the board, we felt. So as a board, we made them get approval from us to go to these classes and schools. We never knew what they spent," said Carroll.

As part of our review, we asked for the gas utility district's policies regarding the use of its credit cards and the names associated with all expenses.

Simms writes that no such policies were in place at the time, but were put into effect within the past few months.  We also asked both Simms and Norwood for interviews, but have not heard back from them.  Norwood left the gas utility district months ago.

Nevertheless, the issues of no receipts for things bought with company credit cards and the lack of supporting documentation now have the attention of investigators, one of whom told the I-Team, those issues would definitely qualify as red flags.

The investigation of the gas utility district has been continuing for almost a year.  Initial findings by investigators that Carroll and others had violated the state's open meetings law led to their being forced off the board.  Meanwhile, the Inspector General's investigation is ongoing.

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