Friday, May 24, 2024

Louisiana audit shows government employee received unemployment benefits while continuing to work

by BIZ Magazine

By Victor Skinner | The Center Square contributor

A secretary with the Washington Parish Fire Protection District No. 7 received unemployment insurance during the pandemic while continuing to work for the government, according to the Louisiana Legislative Auditor.

Louisiana Legislative Auditor Mike Waguespack issued an audit report for the Washington Parish Fire Protection District No. 7 last week that details the unemployment issue, as well as a potential ethics violation involving an employee who also contracted with District 7 for lawn care services.

The report alleges District 7 Secretary Theresa Glenn was paid $28,490 in unemployment benefits from April 13, 2020 to August 4, 2021, claiming she was laid off in March 2020 due to COVID-19.

“However, records we reviewed and witnesses we spoke to indicate Ms. Glenn continued to work for District 7, but was not paid wages from District 7. However, District 7 records further show Ms. Glenn resumed receiving her regular wages in July 2020, but continued to certify for and draw unemployment benefits for nearly 13 more months, until August 4, 2021,” according to the report.

“It appears District 7 Board of Commissioners President Sidney Warner, Jr. and Board Secretary Donna Phillips knew Ms. Glenn applied for unemployment benefits, supposedly to save District 7 money, and that Ms. Glenn continued to work for District 7 while receiving unemployment benefits.”

Glenn, who had worked as a part-time secretary since August 2009, was responsible for preparing checks, payroll and performing other accounting functions. She did not issue herself paychecks from March 30, 2020 to July 5, 2020, but on July 6, 2020, auditors allege she began completing timesheets and issuing herself paychecks, which she continued through August 4, 2021.

“In addition, we found that Ms. Glenn’s time sheets/paychecks for the pay periods July 6, 2020 through October 11, 2020, included her hours worked, as well as 145 PTO hours previously worked by Ms. Glenn during the period she claimed to have been furloughed (March 30, 2020 to July 5, 2020),” according to the report.

Warner and Phillips, Glenn’s supervisor, told auditors the board did not vote to lay off Glenn and that she continued to work while on unemployment.

“Mr. Warner stated Ms. Glenn told him she would track her hours to receive compensatory time or deferred hours, and that Ms. Glenn, Ms. Phillips, and everyone knew that she would be reimbursed for those hours,” according to the report.

Phillips alleged she did not realize Glenn received unemployment benefits and District 7 wages and did not check her time sheets before signing Glenn’s payroll checks. Glenn told auditors she recorded hours she worked while supposedly furloughed to be paid out later and PTO hours on her time sheets were for credits for previously worked hours.

The District 7 audit also details $11,687 in payments to Elegant Landscaping between April 5, 2018 and November 18, 2020. The business is owned by then employee Charles Wise, a part-time firefighter until October 2020, when Wise joined the board.

Wise told auditors he believed ethics laws that prohibit contracting with employees applied only to full-time employees.

An attorney for District 7 responded to the LLA audit findings last week in a letter that did not address allegations against Glenn.

“The only material fact that appears to need correction is that the Board of Directors for the Washington Parish Fire Protection District No. 7 sought legal advice from Mr. (Richard) Watts, legal counsel for WPFD #7 at the time, regarding the hiring of Charles Wise … for lawn care services,” attorney James Knight wrote to Waguespack.

“The Board of Directors was advised that there would not be any ethics violation because Charles Wise had no access to the money for the fire department and had no decision-making power or influence at that time.”

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