Zurik: Highest-paid cop in La. suspended after FOX 8 probe
BATON ROUGE, LA (WVUE) - State Police Superintendent Kevin Reeves has suspended three troopers and is investigating a fourth. They are suspected of abusing a ticket-writing agreement with many local parishes.
That details program has also been suspended, pending an internal review. It is known as LACE, which stands for "Local Agency Compensated Enforcement".
LACE allowed 44 parishes to hire troopers to write tickets on highways in those parishes. Those parishes include Orleans, St. Tammany, St. Charles, St. John, Ascension and Calcasieu.
FOX 8 spent months doing undercover surveillance, and found that some officers making huge paychecks from the LACE program actually weren't patrolling the roads. Hours after we showed State Police our findings, they launched a criminal investigation into the four troopers.
Among them is Trooper Daryl Thomas, who makes more money than any other law enforcer in Louisiana - more than any district attorney, police chief, the attorney general, even his boss, the superintendent of state police.
Last year taxpayers paid this trooper $240,000. But our undercover surveillance investigation, backed up by timesheets and traffic citations, shows Thomas may not have legally earned much of that money.
"I'm so fed up and sick," says Patrick Lynch, a CPA with Rogers, Lynch and Associates who comments frequently on cases of public impropriety.
"I'm outraged," says Tulane law professor Joel Friedman. "This is absolutely, as a matter of criminal law, theft."
Facebook photo of Daryl Thomas
For August 17, Thomas claims on his timesheet that he started work at 7:00 in morning. But our undercover camera spotted him leaving for work 2 and a half hours later, at 9:35. For 155 minutes, Thomas stayed at home while earning money from taxpayers.
"You should be patrolling or doing a patrol function," LSP Superintendent Kevin Reeves, when we asked him about the discrepancy.
We had an undercover camera at Thomas's house for 12 different work days over the past few months. We found, for those 12 days when Thomas claimed hours on his timesheet, he didn't work all of them:
- For September 4, Labor Day, Thomas billed taxpayers for 16 hours. The first six hours, he worked a ticket-writing overtime shift in St. Charles Parish. From noon to 10:00 pm, his timesheet shows, he worked his regular state police shift. But our undercover camera caught Thomas at home from 11:10 until 5:00 pm. Almost six hours of that work day, Thomas didn't work;
- The next day, September 5, Thomas's timesheet shows he worked until 10:00 pm. But he arrived home at 6:00 and stayed there until 9:12 - three of the last four hours of his shift, Thomas's car remained in his driveway;
- And on September 6, Thomas claims, he worked 6:00 am until 10:00 pm. But our surveillance unit spotted him arriving home at 9:26 am. He left at 12:43, but less than six hours later, he once again pulled into his driveway, and his car stayed there for three hours, until he left just after 9:00 pm. Of the 16 hours Thomas billed taxpayers that day, six of them, he remained in his house.
"You don't have to take a class in criminal law to know that you can't submit fraudulent timesheets," Friedman says.
"The allegations are very concerning," Col. Reeves says. "They're very troubling."
After we brought our findings to LSP, Supt. Reeves placed Thomas on administrative leave and launched a criminal investigation.
"We have to conduct an investigation here to see exactly what we're looking at with these troopers," he tells us. "What we've seen on the camera is of great concern."
Thomas has historically been the highest overtime earner in the state and has consistently ranked among the state's highest paid employees. The last two years, he's made $240,000. Each year, that included $147,000 in overtime.
The numbers are startling: that means Thomas billed taxpayers for, on average 83 hours of work a week.
"These are red flags that screaming to somebody to look into," Lynch insists.
Those overtime levels caught our attention seven years ago, when we asked then-LSP Supt. Mike Edmonson about Thomas's workload and overtime.
"Know him well, good trooper, very hard worker," Edmonson said in 2010. "I can assure you, every one of those hours he put down, he worked."
Edmonson guaranteed his work product then. Now, we have proof he may not have worked all the hours he claimed.
"You're committing payroll fraud and you're being paid like executives are being paid," Lynch says.
This is not the first time a question has been raised about Thomas's timesheets. 20 years ago, Thomas received a four-day suspension for a discrepancy on his timesheet. They caught him claiming work on his timesheet he never performed.
Lynch calls this a clear case of payroll fraud. "There's no doubt about it," he says.
Every day our surveillance camera spotted Thomas, he had discrepancies:
- August 8, 10:24 am, his car at home while his timesheet shows him working a seatbelt enforcement shift;
- August 18, he's home from 11:20 through much of the afternoon, even though he claims to work a 7:00 am to 3:00 pm shift;
- August 22, he arrives home at 7:57 pm and stayed there for the remaining three hours of his shift that ended at 11:00 pm;
- August 23, a 12-hour work day, but we found him at home for almost three hours of his shift;
- September 11, we found his car at home for three hours of his regular 10-hour shift.
"Going and staying at your house is unacceptable for anybody in Louisiana State Police while you're being paid," Col. Reeves tells us.
Daryl Thomas makes more than the vice president of the United States - a police officer who should be upholding the law, may be breaking the law himself.
"I'm outraged that I'm paying for work that is clearly, based on your reporting and that tremendous undercover work done by your staff," Friedman says. "It's blatant, it's obvious."
State Police told FOX 8 we couldn't interview Thomas. We sent him a letter asking for comment. That letter was delivered, but we haven't heard back.
Our State of Unrest investigation continues Thursday on FOX 8 News at 10.
Copyright 2017 WVUE. All rights reserved.