Zurik: Four of LSP’s top-earners suspended as LACE probe unfolds
BATON ROUGE, LA (WVUE) - Four state troopers were paid a premium of your money, and our evidence suggests they did not deserve it.
Three of the four are among the highest-paid employees in Louisiana. Each makes about $200,000 or more every year. But our undercover surveillance investigation found they may not be earning much of that money.
On July 21, we parked an undercover surveillance unit outside the home of Trooper Byron Sims. That day, he claimed to work what's called a LACE shift. But Sims may be illegally earning taxpayer money.
"It's troubling what I've seen on here," says State Police Superintendent Kevin Reeves. "The evidence that you've presented us is compelling. And obviously there are questions that need to be answered by our agency."
LACE is short for "Local Agency Compensated Enforcement" details. Local and parish governments contract with State Police to have troopers write tickets on highways in that jurisdiction. The locals pay the overtime and mileage of the trooper; they get to keep the ticket money.
At least 44 parishes across Louisiana hire LACE details, including St. Tammany, St. John, St. Charles, Orleans, Terrebonne, Tangipahoa and Plaquemines in our area.
Sims claimed to have worked that 12-hour LACE shift in St. Charles Parish. On his timesheet, he noted working 6:00 AM until 1800 hours - State Police use military time, so that's 6:00 PM. But our undercover surveillance unit caught Sims arriving back home at 3:08, three hours before his shift ended - and he never went back to work. Sims wrote his last ticket that day at 13:08, or 1:08 in the afternoon.
Col. Reeves confirms these troopers are paid by the hour, and any time noted on the timesheets should be hours actually worked. LACE contracts specifically say troopers will be paid by the hour.
We had a surveillance unit on Sims for five different Fridays. Each day he arrived home early, well before the end of his LACE shift:
- August 4: Sims worked a LACE shift in St. John Parish until 6:00 PM. We spotted his car arriving home around 1:30;
- August 18: his St. Charles Parish LACE detail ended at 6:00 PM, but we found his car at his Orleans Parish home at 12:55;
- August 25: another detail in St. John Parish, but his car back was home at 1:47, 4 hours and 15 minutes before the end of his shift;
- September 8: another St. John Parish LACE detail. Sims arrives home for good just after 1:00; he earned taxpayer dollars for the remaining five hours of his shift.
Last year, Sims made $199,141, $81,310 of that overtime earned through this LACE program.
Another trooper made even more. Last year, taxpayers paid Eric Curlee $207,133. He earned $106,169 in overtime, much of that from the LACE program:
- August 16: Curlee worked a four-hour LACE shift in St. Charles Parish from 4:00 to 8:00 PM. But our undercover camera caught him leaving his house at 5:37, 97 minutes into his shift;
- August 21: Curlee worked a 5:00-9:00 PM LACE shift in St. Charles Parish. He left his house at 5:35 and arrived back home at 8:43.
"I think that we need to look at that," Col. Reeves tells us. "And this brings up some interesting questions and some dilemmas that we have, concerning our LACE program and our overall operations."
The superintendent says he's suspending the LACE program, pending an investigation into the operations. "I think that we need to go back, as I said before, and evaluate the whole process and see where we're at, how we're doing our business, what we're doing and if we need to make any necessary changes, from top to bottom," Reeves says.
He's launched a criminal investigation and placed Curlee and Sims on administrative leave.
"What kind of confidence can you have in your law enforcement officials when they are openly, blatantly and intentionally violating the law?" wonders Joel Friedman, law professor at Tulane and a frequent critic of public corruption and waste.
The criminal investigation also includes Trooper Daryl Thomas, whom we showed you Wednesday night. Thomas earns more than any other law enforcer in the state, $240,000 - and much of his overtime earnings come from LACE:
- August 23: Thomas worked LACE in St. Charles Parish from 7:00 to 11:00 AM. But he arrived back home at 8:25 AM. That morning he only wrote one LACE ticket;
- September 4: Thomas showed up at his house about one hour before his LACE shift ended. That day he didn't write one ticket during his six-hour shift;
- September 6: Thomas worked about half of his six-hour LACE shift;
- September 7, Thomas's car arrived at home for the last 80 minutes of his LACE shift.
Our undercover surveillance also tracked Trooper Shawn Boyd. On August 8, Boyd returned home just after 5:00 PM. But his Orleans Parish LACE shift didn't end until 6:00 PM. Boyd wrote his last ticket that day at 3:10.
Two years ago, LSP suspended Boyd for four weeks without pay. They found Boyd didn't work LACE details claimed on his timesheet.
But there's more. Our investigation has taken most of this year to complete. We've had to do undercover work, request timesheets and tickets, to see if our surveillance produced any findings. We started requesting records on these four troopers over the summer.
State Police tells us, when a record is requested of a specific trooper, they notify that trooper as a courtesy. So, according to State Police, these troopers were aware of our investigation.
Yet our undercover surveillance still caught them, possibly breaking the law.
State Police document listing 2016 earnings; the Total Gross column includes regular salary, overtime and K-Time.
The names and numbers stick out on the State Police payroll report - the three highest-paid employees, Daryl Thomas, Eric Curlee and Byron Sims. And our extensive investigation has found that all three may have improperly earned your money.
"If this evidence is true, that they were not working those hours, and they reported those hours and they sought and obtained remuneration for those hours, this is theft," Friedman tells us, "period, end of story. You don't have to be a genius to know that. That's theft; they should be prosecuted."
Trooper Shawn Boyd has not been placed on administrative leave. Right now, we're told he's out on another type of leave. If that leave ends before the criminal investigation concludes, Boyd will be suspended.
State Police said we couldn't talk to any of the four troopers for comment. We sent each one a letter; they received them, but haven't responded.
Our State of Unrest investigation resumes Friday night on FOX 8 News at 10.
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