NEW ORLEANS, LA (WVUE) - Sheriff Marlin Gusman opened up for the first time Tuesday after a scathing legislative audit was released, criticizing the Orleans Parish Sheriff's Office. The sheriff also used the opportunity to tout what he believes is progress being made at the city's jail.
Gusman said he wasn't aware two of his former top aides were allegedly tied to a security detail business that prosecutors allege billed companies for security work by off-duty officers who never actually showed up to provide any services.
When questioned, Gusman said, "We have a zero tolerance, for any illegal activities and there's no place for it, period."
Roy Austin, a former colonel with the OPSO, was charged by federal prosecutors in connection with the allegations and is expected to cooperate. He owned the detail company. A state legislative audit released Monday tied Chief Deputy Jerry Ursin to the detail work. He resigned from the sheriff's office Monday afternoon.
"He expressed regret and he gave me his resignation and that was it," Gusman said.
When Gusman was pressed, over why Ursin expressed regret, he replied, "I can't really say anything more."
One of the sheriff's many public relations representatives then ended the questions.
Before speaking to reporters, Gusman addressed a group gathered at the Beacon Light church to discuss progress being made at the jail.
"We've been in this consent decree now for about two years," he said. "When we started off, we had zero substantial compliance. Today, we have 10 areas of substantial compliance."
The sheriff also pointed to fewer incidents of violence and a reduced inmate population. Yet he said progress is outweighed by low salaries for deputies.
"It's not enough when you have 47 percent attrition. It's not enough when you cannot keep and attract qualified people to do this very important work," Gusman said.
Which is why he believes it's imperative to get more money from the City of New Orleans.
The report from the legislative auditor also said the sheriff's office used more than $1 million in state money to beef up pay for 56 clerical employees in possible violation of state law. Gusman said the state supplemental pay board is in charge of making those determinations and his attorneys have challenged that assertion.