ZURIK: Kenner audit accuses former official of double-dipping, cover-up
JEFFERSON PARISH (WVUE) - An internal audit performed by the City of Kenner backs up the findings of a FOX 8 investigation into the city’s former Deputy Chief Administrative Officer Chad Pitfield.
The audit says he double-dipped and falsified two public documents. Kenner started looking into Pitfield’s timesheets following a series of FOX 8 investigations.
“It confirms what you reported and what we understood from the records that you uncovered,” said Tulane law professor Joel Friedman when FOX 8 showed him the results of the audit.
FOX 8 had to sue the city of Kenner to receive documents related to post-Ida disaster payments made to Pitfield. FOX 8 won the lawsuit and discovered Pitfield made more than $86,000 in disaster pay in four months, which was a clear violation of Kenner’s policy. Pitfield was fired after the resulting investigations began to air.
However, as FOX 8 dug deeper into the records, more discrepancies were revealed. Pitfield also worked as a reserve deputy for the Jefferson Parish Sheriff’s Office. In his reserve post, he worked paid details for the Jefferson Parish Sheriff’s Office.
FOX 8 found two days where Pitfield worked a paid detail but also earned disaster pay during those same hours.
On Nov. 7, 2021, Kenner records show Pitfield worked from 5 p.m. to 11 p.m., doing street and streetlight assessments. For that work, Pitfield received extra disaster pay from Kenner. However, that same night, he also worked a paid detail for JPSO from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m.
When Fox 8 started asking questions about the four-hour overlap, Pitfield made some changes. On February 1, 2022, he sent an email to Kenner’s Chief Administrative Officer and Chief Financial Officer, noting he put the incorrect date when he first reported which hours and days he worked. In the change, he claimed he worked on Nov. 3, but marked Nov. 7 by mistake. Pitfield initialed the changes.
The same thing happened on Nov. 21. FOX 8 found Pitfield double-dipped, but he later changed his timesheet. This time, he said instead of working Nov. 21, he worked Nov. 25, which was Thanksgiving night during the Saints game.
Kenner’s internal audit concluded that Pitfield falsified both documents. The audit cites a Jan. 21, 2022, email in which an employee noted that Pitfield didn’t work on Nov. 3 or Nov. 25. In the email, it says Pitfield claimed he took leave on Nov. 3 and didn’t work because of Thanksgiving on Nov. 25.
The audit also included a handwritten note from Pitfield stating that Nov. 25 was a holiday, and he put down no hours.
The audit concludes that Pitfield falsified two public documents by changing the original dates, to try to cover up that he double-dipped.
“To me, there’s no doubt, from the recording that he made himself … that he was off on those days and that he intentionally recreated or falsified those original documents to avoid being accused of double-dipping purely for the purpose of avoiding criminal liability. To me, it’s open and shut,” said Friedman.
Kenner Mayor Ben Zahn initially praised Pitfield when FOX 8 asked about his timesheets, saying he “absolutely” believed Pitfield worked all the hours he said he did. However, following FOX 8′s investigations, Zahn decided to suspend Pitfield, then fire him.
“You have a mayor saying that this is one of the greatest employees has ever had,” said Friedman. “If this is one of the greatest employees, what does that say about the judgment of the mayor?”
Friedman went on to add that Kenner leaders are now obligated to turn the audit over to the proper authorities. “They believe that one of their high-ranking officials committed a criminal act of falsification. Also, I believe payroll fraud. If they do not report that information that they have to the authorities … they are impeding criminal investigation; they might even be considered an accessory after the fact, which is also a crime.”
Pitfield is also under federal investigation. The city of Kenner recently received a subpoena for his records.
Kenner’s audit also found a third instance of double-dipping, not reported by FOX 8. It says on Dec. 7, Pitfield claimed to be working for Kenner from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. It notes on that same night, he worked a paid detail for the JPSO at Lafreniere Park from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m.
Pitfield resigned from his JPSO duties shortly after FOX 8′s initial investigations.
Pitfield’s attorney Brian Capitelli issued a statement that says, “Chad Pitfield worked tirelessly seven days a week for months in the Hurricane Ida recovery effort to assist the citizens of Kenner. After a full investigation, the Mayor now contends that three days were incorrect. This is nothing more than a Hail Mary by the Mayor in an attempt to save his political career.”
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