Audit blasts JP non-profit, several politicians - FOX 8 WVUE New Orleans News, Weather, Sports

Audit blasts JP non-profit, several politicians

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GRETNA, La. - Investigators with the legislative auditor's office say a Jefferson Parish non-profit misspent tens of thousands of dollars, with much of the money going to friends and relatives of current and former politicians.

The non-profit Thompson Thibodeaux Community Development Corp. was set up to mentor young people and paint the homes of low- to moderate-income residents of Jefferson Parish, and got $1.37 million of public money. But a new legislative audit shows it only did work worth about one sixth that amount, or $190,000.

The audit blames the Jefferson Parish Council for failing to properly monitor the non-profit, formerly based on Lapalco Boulevard in Marrero. It also said the council had a direct hand in allocating money to the group, and that council members had relatives who benefited.

The audit shows that former Councilman Byron Lee voted 10 times to allocate $1.5 million to Thompson Thibodeaux, even though his brother-in-law was a contractor with the group.

"He was a board member for Thibodaux Thompson prior to election, but two months after he resigned from the board, he proposed motions to appropriate money to Thompson Thibodaux," said forensic auditor Brent McDonald.

The audit also says that former Sen. Derrick Shepherd and his stepmother got $56,000 from the non-profit after Shepherd helped the non-profit get state grants.

"In addition to that, $6,000 went to individuals who did campaign work for Derrick Shepherd," McDonald said.

The audit goes on to show that Councilman Mark Spears did private legal work for Thompson Thibodeaux while working as an assistant parish attorney before he was elected to the Parish Council. The audit found Spears allegedly used his parish computer for work for the non-profit in violation of parish policy.

Thompson Thibodaux is only the latest non-profit targeted by the legislative auditor, and that highlights a problem that state lawmakers are trying to get a handle on.

"The Legislature is looking at how we can require more stringent reporting from non-profits," said Sen J.P. Morrell, D-New Orleans, who said that most non-profits do good work.

But clearly there are problems. Legislative auditors also found that Faith Academy, a private school in Marrero affiliated with Thompson Thibodaux, misspent $240,000 for education and jobs programs aimed at mentoring young people who got very little benefit.

We called the number listed for Faith Academy and were told that it no longer exists. The person who answered said they were now called Faith Christian and had no comment on the audit.

We were told that Councilman Mark Spears was too busy to be interviewed today, but he issued a statement saying the audit is misleading. He also said there was nothing improper about his mother getting her house painted through the program, and that she went through the normal application process, though he admitted he made an inquiry on her behalf.

As for former Councilman Byron Lee, he issued a statement saying the audits are politically motivated and denied any wrongdoing.

Also, former Sen. Derrick Shepherd, who is now on supervised release after pleading guilty to money laundering five years ago, could not be reached.

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