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Legislative audit blasts spending at former lawmaker's school

A former New Orleans state representative disputes allegations that he misspent over $300,000 in FEMA dollars on his 9th ward church and school.

Leonard Lucas blames the discrepancy on a contractor and confusing FEMA rules.

He is a former state representative for New Orleans East who traded in the state seal for a church and school on St. Claude Avenue. It qualified for $854,000 in FEMA money to rebuild after Katrina.

"FEMA came back later and said not all of it qualifies, and we're reducing the amount of money that we're agreeing to pay you," said Legislative Auditor Daryl Purpera.

Now, Leonard Lucas is in trouble with the state legislative auditor who is out with a new report which says Lucas'  Light City Church and Christian Academy can't provide the needed documents to support the nearly $327,000 already spent.

"Light City had already incurred those debts, and there are funds due back to the state and FEMA," said Purpera.

The auditor says roughly a third of the money was for purchases of items like a stove, a camera, and cleaning supplies not covered by FEMA.

FEMA also found that part of the money, now being sought for reimbursement, was spent on items in a portion of New Light that can't be covered.

"FEMA says some of the things weren't eligible items. If the facility is being used 2/3rds for the school, and 1/3 for the church, FEMA is not going to pay the portion for the church," said Purpera.

In his response to the auditor, Lucas said part of the problem was having to deal with four different FEMA administrators and some vague rules.

Lucas' response to the legislative auditor says, "because we were misinformed, some things have not been reported properly."

The statement also says, "our plan is to provide additional eligible expenses to help offset this amount."

The report has been turned over to the U.S. Attorney and D.A., and the state plans to seek reimbursement.

"The Governor's Office of Homeland Security will be responsible for the state's perspective to recover the funds," said Purpera.

Meantime, Light City Church and Academy has been removed from FEMA's express pay system until further notice

The Governor's Office of Homeland Security said it, and FEMA provided Light City Church with extensive "education and training outreach opportunities" after Katrina but admits to being stretched to the limit at that time.

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