City of Opelousas employee arrested in theft of checks www.privateofficer.com
Racheal St. Romain, 29, of Opelousas, was arrested and charged Monday with three counts of theft (less than $500 each), 11 counts of felony theft (more than $500 each), monetary instrument abuse and malfeasance in office.
“The bank alerted us about some irregularities with the
account. And then, we of course, call the police, and it was found that an employee was indeed misappropriating funds,” Mayor Don Cravins said.
OPD was alerted and began investigating last week, OPD spokesman Sgt. Jody White said. The total of all checks allegedly illegally deposited was $11,941.60, according to a news release.
St. Romain has been placed on paid administrative leave until her employment status can go before the Opelousas Board of Aldermen. The next regular meeting is set for July 10.
Alderman Reggie Tatum found the fact that St. Romain allegedly had been stealing from the city for a year the most
disturbing. It appeared that she began taking checks in May 2011, Cravins said.
Tatum said he understood that at least some of the checks were written for vendors, and Romain signed them over to herself. He questioned why no one noticed what was happening.
“It shouldn’t have been possible,” Tatum said. “If we’re talking a period of a week or two weeks, maybe, but we’re talking about over a year. So, vendors had to be complaining that they weren’t receiving their checks. My next question is, did we just write another check? Because that’s what I think happened.”
St. Romain has been employed in the city’s accounts payable department, part of the executive department, for five and a half years, according to OPD.
She was a clerk, Cravins said. Her supervisor was City Clerk Karen Frank, who did not return a phone call requesting comment. Cravins was unsure whether anyone else would be reprimanded
We don’t have all of the information, yet. If we find that someone else should have caught it, or should have known, we’ll do whatever’s necessary,” Cravins said.
The news comes a year after an investigation by the Louisiana Legislative Auditor showed that two other city employees allegedly were stealing from the city for years.
Then-city employee and Opelousas Housing Authority board member Mike Levier allegedly was paid for time he did not work, and Supervisor of Public Works Leonard Hammond allegedly held onto cash collected from the city’s sale of scrap metal.
“As we find it, we deal with it. We’re going to deal with it in whatever manner is appropriate,” Cravins said. “The only way we can deal with that is we catch them, we try to prosecute them and we fire them. That’s the process. It is what it is.”
The city also has been criticized in legislative and independent audits for poor internal controls, not having a full-time qualified accountant on staff, failing to properly document receipts, deposits and purchase orders. It had plans to tighten its controls and improve record keeping, but that does not appear to have happened.
“There’s no checks and balances,” Tatum said. “If this is happening, how can we trust anything else? What else is wrong? We should go through this stuff with a fine-toothed comb, because it’s very possible that this is only the tip of the iceberg.”