Zurik: Audit suggests possible criminal investigation of former court clerk

FOX 8 Investigation found questionable spending during clerk’s final days in office

Zurik: Audit suggests possible criminal investigation of former court clerk

NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - An audit released by the First City Court suggests law enforcement should look into the actions of a former court clerk who is accused of writing questionable checks in his final days in office.

Timothy David Ray was clerk of the First City Court for less than seven months before losing a special election to the current clerk, Austin Badon. However, questions were raised after Ray’s spending during his final days in office.

The fraud examination report ordered by the judges of the City Court noted the current clerk, Austin Badon, noticed the irregularities during a checklist of the Louisiana Legislative Auditor’s Best Practice in Government Checklist for Newly Elected Officials.

During Badon’s initial look at the clerk’s records, he was informed that the clerk’s checking account was not under the watch of the office’s bookkeeper.

Using that account, the report said Ray wrote questionable checks for cabinet work, transportation of boxes and business cards.

The report found that Ray made a request with the Judicial Expense Fund to have a brochure printed about small claims case procedure, but was denied because they found the brochure to be a campaign advertisement.

“After JEF (Judicial Expense Fund) refused to approve payment of Invoice #0718-91, Mr Ray attempted to pay this same invoice with public funds from the Clerk’s checking account,"
-Fraud Examination Report

Tulane Law Professor Joel Friedman reviewed the report and said the findings are significant.

“This is the classic cover up,” Friedman said. “This is the misuse of public funds. It would be bad enough if he were bilking a private company and the owners of that company, but he’s bilking all of us. We’re the taxpayers. We’re paying for this, and he’s just throwing our money away then he’s hiding it.”

CABINET WORK

The report also questioned Ray’s check for new shelves for the clerk’s office. FOX 8 found that no shelving was done in the office, despite receipts showing claims of work being done.

The check was in the amount of nearly $5,000, written to Merlin Flores, Sr., a church pastor in Plaquemines Parish. FOX 8 reached out to Flores for explanation of the work that was done at the clerk’s office, but he had few details to provide.

Zurik: “What kind of cabinet work did you do for him?”

Flores: “His office.”

Zurik: “What did you do?”

Flores: “Give him some estimates.”

Zurik: “Anything else other than estimates?”

Flores: “No.”

Zurik: “So just estimates?”

Flores: “Yeah.”

The report noted how the invoice sent for the cabinet work appeared to be a template and not branded. They said the invoice said payment is due within thirty days, but payment was actually made three days before the invoice date. The address used on the invoice, returns to the address of the church where Flores is a pastor.

TRANSPORTATION OF FILES

Our investigation into Ray’s spending also looked at the transportation of files from the clerk’s office to a storage facility in Algiers.

The First City Court had a contract with a company that included how they would pick up records and transport them at no charge. However, Ray wrote a check to Morgan Jones for more than $5,000 to move the boxes.

The fraud investigators interviewed the clerk’s office staff who said “Mr. Ray had been informed” by the storage company “that the clerk’s office did not need to hire a person or business to transport the boxes.”

“It appears Mr. Ray knowingly utilized a third party at the cost of more than $5,000... to perform services which were readily available at no additional costs.”
-Fraud Examination Report

Tulane Law Professor Joel Friedman said what was uncovered is worse than mismanagement.

“This, I’m sure, was a very commonly known contract,” Friedman said. “All he would have had to do is ask anybody else. He’d been there long enough I’m sure he knew what the status quo was."

The fraud examination report noted how the balance of the clerk’s checking account dropped unexpectedly during Ray’s term. On April 25, 2018, the balance was $44,827.35, by November, the balance was $35,515.17. The decline, they noted, was compromised of three payments made during Ray’s two final weeks in office.

Ray’s payments of nearly $10,000 in his final two weeks is contrasted to records in the report that showed the account had just $3,465 in the previous eight years.

Ray did not respond to FOX 8′s request for a comment on the report. In our previous report he did release the following statement:

“During my term, each vendor disbursement was made pursuant to applicable law, written policies or longstanding practices. It is unfortunate that, after the election, my successor declined my offer to meet and become informed regarding the state of the Clerk’s Office. Yet, I have hope that our leaders will begin to put politics aside and work together for the betterment of our great city.”

TIMELINE OF QUESTIONABLE SPENDING

Copyright 2019 WVUE. All rights reserved.