NEW ORLEANS, LA (WVUE) - As the state deals with a massive budget shortfall, FOX 8 uncovers millions in taxpayer dollars paid for items that were reported missing or stolen. The items include everything from a golf cart, to a merry-go-round to a prison whirlpool.
We obtained a list of what the state calls "unlocated property" - items purchased by state agencies with your money. Documents show in 2015, more than $12 million worth of that property was reported missing. In 2016, nearly $7 million, and in just the first two months of this year, over $1.4 million.
State Rep. Cameron Henry, R-Metairie, had a strong reaction when we showed him what our investigation uncovered,
"It's embarrassing," said Henry. "These might seem like small items, (but) it goes to a bigger picture of taking care of the taxpayer dollars," said Henry.
Louisiana Legislative Auditor Daryl Purpera is concerned by our findings.
"I think the taxpayers should do what we're doing, I think they should insist that their public servants do track the property," said Purpera.
Purpera says state policy dictates that anything bought with state money for $1,000 or more should be tagged and recorded. Then each year, state agencies are supposed to take inventory to make sure those items are accounted for. If the item isn't located after three years, it drops off the list. He says some agencies are doing a good job of that while others aren't.
"Every agency has a lot of property, so it's important to maintain it. It seems to be a recurring theme in audit reports. The Recovery School District we have reported for 10 years in a row that they have not properly managed their property," said Purpera.
Since 2014, the Recovery School District has reported nearly $6 million worth of missing state property, including a softball pitching machine.
At the Louisiana Superdome, a nacho food car went missing in 2016, as well as nearly $3,000 worth of vinyl love seats.
And the Department of Corrections reported it lost nearly $40,000 worth of cows. Also, on the agency's unlocated property list, a $1,500 horse named "Front Barn Black," listed on the unlocated property list as "Sexy Black," and a nearly $11,000 whirlpool.
"It's breathtaking that the Department of Corrections would need a whirlpool in the first place. It's even more shocking that somehow they were able to misplace it. I don't understand how that's possible," said Henry.
"I think you know a lot of the property that we see as unlocated that's really what happened, it got surplused, it was moved to a different location and now they can't go back and find it where it's supposed to be," said Purpera.
We reached out to the Recovery School District about this story. In a statement, a spokesperson referenced the Louisiana Legislative Auditor's audit of RSD'S property that was released last year:
• Over 89% of the items reported as unlocated in this audit were items identified as unlocated in previous audits. These are not newly unlocated items but things from prior years.
• Nearly all (95%) of currently unlocated assets are IT systems that were purchased prior to 2010 and are beyond their useful life and would be fully depreciated for accounting purposes to a value of $0.
• Over the past two years the RSD has removed over 6,000 unwanted/aged computers with an acquisition cost of over $7 million to the state to reduce the potential for future unlocated assets
• Last year the RSD enforced new accountability measures and sent Notices of Concern and/or Improper Management to four charter schools and will continue this practice.
As for items missing at the Superdome, Alan Freeman, SMG general mananger of the Mercedes-Benz Superdome and Smoothie King Center gave us this statement:
"Each year an inventory of State owned moveable assets is performed by the SMG staff, and later verified by the State Department of Property Management. It is commonplace for certain items, such as production and food service equipment, to be moved between our venues to accommodate the wide-range of events that take place on our campus. Consequently, inventory identification tags sometimes fall off of items during movement, which makes it difficult to identify them. However, "missing" items are often located after the audit is completed. For example, of the 11 items reported missing in 2016, five of them were subsequently located. We operate a large campus with more than 2,000 inventory items valued over $6 million. The amount of unlocated inventory in question represents less than 1% of our total inventory, well within the State's allowances, and since 2005 (the first year the audit was conducted by the State) our operation has received an unqualified audit report from the State of Louisiana."
We also reached out to the Department of Corrections, a spokesman had this response to our questions regarding the missing cows, whirlpool and horse:
"Prison Enterprises has approximately 3,500 head of cattle grazing on state prisons across Louisiana. At Louisiana State Penitentiary, the cattle graze across more than 18,000 acres of land, which includes property along the Mississippi River, and the Tunica Hills woods. Over the course of three years, a total of 35 cattle were unaccounted for (2014 – 6, 2015 - 19, 2016 – 10). During a recent routine review and analysis of the inventory count and paperwork, Prison Enterprises relocated two of the unlocated cattle. Each fall, the cattle are rounded up and inventoried. It's not uncommon for some of these cattle to stay in the woods during the count, or perish or become victims of wild animals over the course of the year. It's also not uncommon for cattle missed in a previous count to be rounded up and counted during the next fall count.
"Over the past several years, the Department has improved upon its methodology of inventorying of its cattle. The Department now uses electronic radio ear tags to provide a more accurate count of the herd. The Department has also replaced its two catch pens at Angola, with one better catch pen. The catch pen is used to gather, count and vaccinate the cattle herd. The Department follows Louisiana Property Assistance Agency (LPAA) guidelines by branding and tagging each head of livestock. LPAA officials are invited each year to view and participate in each fall count. The next cattle count is scheduled for September 2017.
"The whirlpool remains at the old Forcht-Wade Correctional Center, which closed in 2012 due to budget cuts. The therapeutic whirlpool was built into the structure of the facility's skilled nursing unit and used in the physical therapy of offenders. The whirlpool remains at the site, which belongs to Caddo Parish.
"The Percheron was a brood mare named Front Barn Black, and not Sexy Black. In an effort to determine the whereabouts of Font Barn Black, in February 2016, DPS&C researched inventory and documentation regarding the mare. After a thorough review, it was determined the horse most likely died in 2006, and was inadvertently not documented in the property management system. If the horse were still alive today, it would be more than 30 years of age, exceeding the life expectancy."