LLA Investigation Finds Webster Fire Chief Misspent over $25K
Written by Special to KBEF on February 17, 2020
An investigative audit by the Louisiana Legislative Auditor (LLA) has found that former Webster Parish Fire District No. 11 (Springhill) Fire Chief Billy Rasberry, Jr. allegedly misspent over $25,000, including $24,430 in excess compensation to himself. This investigation was launched after the LLA was contacted by the Webster Parish Sheriff’s Office with information that former District Fire Chief Billy Rasberry appeared to have used public funds for his personal benefit. The district has also failed to submit an annual review of their financial statements for fiscal years ending December 31, 2015; December 31, 2016; December 31, 2017; and December 31, 2018.
In the LLA report that was released on Wednesday, February 12, 2020, the investigation found three violations. Those violations are titled “Former Fire Chief Paid Himself Excess Compensation”, “Former Fire Chief Purchased Auto Parts for Personal Use”, and “Dual Office Holding”.
Rasberry became the full-time fire chief in Springhill in September 2012, making a salary of $38,000 per year ($731 per week). According to the report, Rasberry was not required to maintain or turn in time sheets. Because of this, there is no documentation on when he worked regular hours, overtime hours, or extra duty. “From January 16, 2017 to March 8, 2019, former Webster Parish Fire Protection District No. 11 (District) Fire Chief Billy Rasberry, Jr. paid himself $24,430 in excess compensation,” the report stated. “Mr. Rasberry’s excess compensation included overtime and extra duty payments totaling $16,930 without adequate documentation to support the extra hours and $7,500 from a pay increase that does not appear to have been authorized by the Board of Commissioners (Board).” The pay raise took place in August of 2018. District records show that this excess pay came in the form of 24 checks, which were issued and signed by Rasberry himself.
Although the current Board Secretary and bookkeeper said that it’s the District’s practice to have payroll checks signed by the Board secretary and a Board member, Rasberry said that while he was doing payroll, he was the only person that had to sign the checks. “He [Rasberry] stated that he was the only signor on payroll checks because it was tough to track down an additional person to sign checks,” the investigation report stated.
The report also shows that Rasberry spent $1,769 on auto parts for his personal vehicles using the department’s vendor account at a local auto parts store. The purchases included a transmission for $1,620 and miscellaneous filters and oil. In addition, these purchases were made using the department’s tax exempt status. “In addition, because Mr. Rasberry purchased auto parts using the District’s tax exempt status, he failed to pay sales taxes totaling at least $185 on the personal purchases.”
Rasberry maintained the full-time fire chief position from September 2012 to March 2019. During that time, records show that he was also a full-time deputy sheriff with the Webster Parish Sheriff’s Office from July 3, 2017 to February 27, 2018. By holding two full-time positions, Rasberry violated Louisiana Revised Statute 42:63(E). “State law prohibits a full-time local government employee from holding a second full-time local government position. By holding full-time positions with the District and the Sheriff’s department, Mr. Rasberry may have violated state law,” the report stated.
In a response letter to the LLA from John D. & Eric G. Johnson Law Firm, LLC on behalf of Rasberry, Rasberry stated that these three findings are the results of miscommunications and poor documentation. “I am writing in response to the draft of your investigative audit report on Webster Parish Fire Protection District No. 11-Springhill,” the response letter stated. “I believe that there are a few factual errors in the report that I may be able to clear up with this response. ”
Rasberry confirmed that he received overtime payments and that he did not realize that as a salaried employee, he was not eligible for overtime. “Mr. Rasberry does submit that he only payed himself for overtime hours which he actually worked and did not charge said fire district for overtime hours which were not worked,” the letter stated. Rasberry said that this was on-going and that there should be documentation that the board was aware of what was going on. “According to Mr. Rasberry, the Fire District Board approved bills and payroll at every meeting. Furthermore, according to Mr. Rasberry, 911 has the report to document all after-hours time and Kathy Burrow has all records for payroll,” the letter continued.
Regarding the pay raise, Rasberry said it was authorized at a July 2018 board meeting and it should be reflected in the minutes. “Mr. Rasberry also believes that there exists a recording of the meeting made by him on his cell phone which he was using at the time. Said cell phone is currently in the possession of the Webster Parish Sheriffs Office,” the letter stated.
According to Rasberry, the auto parts that were purchased and paid for by the department was just mistake. Rasberry asked an employee of the fire district to pick up the parts. The employee told the auto parts store that Rasberry was going to pay for the parts personally, but the store accidentally billed the department. “This was simply an oversight on his part, and there was no intent to defraud the Fire District in any way, since the parts were intended to be used in one or more personal vehicles. Mr. Rasberry is more than happy to reimburse the fire district for these items,” the letter stated.
Also according to Rasberry, it was his understanding that he could be both a full-time deputy and a full-time fire chief. “He never believed that he had any type of dual office holding issue because Sheriff Gary Sexton, who administered his oath of office, swearing him in to be a deputy, was well aware of his position as Fire Chief,” the letter stated.
In a letter from the Webster Parish Fire Protection District 11 Board of Commissioners, signed by President Daniel J. Barnard and current Fire Chief Michael Morse, the board expressed their appreciation to the LLA and the Webster Parish Sheriff’s Office for their guidance and assistance in this investigation. “The Board is making plans to implement all recommendations brought forth during this investigation,” their letter stated. The letter also stated that the board has reviewed and agreed with all three findings, and that new policies and procedures will be put in place to ensure this doesn’t happen again.
The complete investigation audit is public record and has been forwarded to the District Attorney for the 26th Judicial District of Louisiana and others as required by law.
The complete report can be found at the link below: