Former Louisiana Tax Commission Administrator Charles Abels may have been paid for hours he did not work last year, including for days when he was photographed playing golf, shopping or drinking by state authorities.
State Legislative Auditor Daryl Purpera’s office and Louisiana State Police investigated Abels over a one-week period from July 30, 2018 to Aug. 3, 2018 after receiving complaints about Abels’ activities during work.
Purpera outlined the investigation’s findings in an investigative audit released April 3.
Abels no longer works for the Tax Commission, according to a March 20 letter by Louisiana Tax Commission Chairman Lawrence Chehardy.
“Without reservation, LTC concurs in the findings and recommendations set forth therein,” Chehardy wrote. “You should be aware that Mr. Abels no longer is employed by LTC. Funds totaling $15,288.00 have been recovered and applied as reimbursement for unearned wages previously paid to him.”
During the one-week period in 2018, authorities conducted surveillance on Abels, observing his personal business outings in a silver Chevrolet Camaro during times when he was scheduled to work on the state’s time from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. The Camaro was a state rental vehicle.
“We compared our observations during this week to Mr. Abels’ time sheet and leave slips and found that Mr. Abels’ personal activities conflicted with the hours on his time sheet,” Purpera wrote.
According to Purpera’s report, Abels was paid $1,542 for some 30 hours he did not work and received reimbursement for fuel charges unrelated to his work.
“In addition, we concluded Mr. Abels may have been paid $14,841 in salary between February 23, 2017, and September 5, 2018, for 321 additional hours he did not work,” Purpera wrote.
For example, on July 30, 2018, Abels was seen leaving the Tax Commission’s office at 10 a.m. to go shopping at Wal-mart and Best Buy. Later, he drove to Hooters in Denham Springs and ate lunch and drank beer with someone there.
“Records obtained from Hooters indicate that Mr. Abels paid for six alcoholic beverages during his one hour, 10 minute lunch,” stated the audit. “At 12:44 p.m., Mr. Abels left Hooters and entered Interstate 12 east, away from Baton Rouge. Mr. Abels’ time sheet and leave slip for this day indicate that he worked from 8:00 a.m. until 12:00 p.m.”
On other days, Abels was photographed playing golf, making $80 in purchases of alcoholic beverages, shopping at men’s clothing stores, the Mall of Louisiana, or making purchases at pro golf shops.
Abels also failed to disclose services he provided through Ecogreen Consultants LLC, a private business.
“State law requires LTC employees to have approval from the Board to provide services to anyone other than LTC,” Purpera wrote. “While Mr. Abels completed a disclosure statement indicating he was not providing services or receiving payments, we found that he used his state email account to conduct business for Ecogreen during work hours.”