Mayor Vern Breland

Sterlington officials could be summoned to testify before a Ouachita Parish grand jury in light of a recent audit that knocked the town for the expenditure of restricted funds and the use of an illegal ticket quota system among officers, the district attorney says.

Fourth Judicial District Attorney Steve Tew told The Ouachita Citizen last month that Sterlington Police Chief Barry Bonner’s use of a ticket quota system and town officials’ suspected misappropriation of funds had drawn his office’s attention.

“I’ll look at all of it,” said Tew, referring to the ticket quota and questionable fund expenditures. “We may grand jury it.”

The matters were on his list of priorities, Tew indicated, pointing to a note on his desk that said, “Sterlington audit.”

Illegal use

of bond proceeds

A finding in the audit of Sterlington’s finances for the fiscal year ending Dec. 31, 2016 revealed that Sterlington officials had used cash from two restricted, or dedicated, trust funds to cover unauthorized expenditures. Sterlington officials raided the two restricted funds for cash because of cash shortages in other funds, according to the audit.

The audit was prepared by Huffman & Soignier, a Monroe certified public accounting firm. The audit by Huffman & Soignier detailed several findings that concerned unlawful financial activity.

Since the release of the audit, Sterlington Mayor Vern Breland and the Sterlington Town Council decided not to hire Huffman & Soignier again, breaking a pattern of several years. Instead, the Town Council acted in early December to hire Bosch & Statham, a Ruston CPA firm, to handle this year’s financial audit. Jeff Maxwell Jr., a financial advisor for Sterlington, said the switch was made because “we wanted someone who would be good for us in the long term.”

The 2016 audit outlined two unlawful expenditures using revenues generated by the sale of bonded indebtedness: $216,396 from the sewer system trust fund and $105,884 from the water system trust fund.

The audit indicated the bond proceeds were from a $5-million issuance of bonded indebtedness water treatment facility purchases, construction and improvements as well as a $1.2-million of issuance of bonded indebtedness for sewer system purchases, construction and improvements.

State law says bond proceeds in such trust funds shall not be spent for any purpose outside the scope of the issuance of bonded indebtedness.

Illegal ticket quota

The 2016 audit also dinged Sterlington in a finding stemming from a February 2017 report published by The Ouachita Citizen concerning Barry Bonner’s practice, as police chief, of expecting the town’s police officers to satisfy quotas for the number of traffic tickets they wrote.

State law says that “no police department may require or suggest that a law enforcement officer is required or expected to issue a predetermined or specified number of any type or combination of types of traffic citations within a specified period.”

Though Bonner acknowledged he delivered memos outlining how many citations were needed on each shift, he summed up his errors as a “poor choice of words.”

He defended the use of the ticket quota system as the use of “goals” to ensure enough revenues were raised for Sterlington’s coffers.

Fines and citations represent the second largest source of revenue for Sterlington, behind sales tax revenues.

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