High-ranking La. state worker photographed golfing, shopping on the clock

Abels on course at The Island Golf Course in Plaquemine, LA  08/02/18
Abels on course at The Island Golf Course in Plaquemine, LA 08/02/18
Updated: Apr. 8, 2019 at 12:30 PM CDT
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BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - Photographs were made public Monday of a former high-ranking Louisiana state employee visiting a spa, playing golf, shopping for clothes and running personal errands in his state-rented Chevy Camaro at the same time auditors say he was supposed to be at work.

The photographs and the embarrassing details related to them were part of a report that the Louisiana Legislative Auditor’s Office publicly released Monday connected to the actions of former Louisiana Tax Commission head Charles Abels.

Abels, 51, resigned in February after being arrested for malfeasance in office related to the investigation.

During a surveillance by Louisiana State Police over five consecutive days, investigators say Abels only spent only two hours in his office despite turning in a timesheet where he claimed he had worked 32 hours and took eight hours of annual leave.

One of the photographs police took while secretly trailing him shows Abels wearing shorts inside the pro shop at Santa Maria Golf Course in Baton Rouge where he purchased items and paid his green fees. Later that week, he was photographed playing at two other golf courses during working hours.

Police say they also observed Abels driving his state-rented vehicle after he and a companion had consumed beers at Hooters in Denham Springs.

On another day, while auditors say Abels was on the clock, police say they spotted Abels shopping and visiting a spa. “Mr. Abels then drove to Men’s Wearhouse and the Mall of Louisiana,” the surveillance notes said. “After leaving the mall, Mr. Abels drove to a spa in Walker, where he remained for one hour and five minutes.”

Investigators said they began looking into Abels after getting tips that he was not showing up for work despite being paid.

While police only trailed Abels for a five-day period in 2018, auditors reviewed his actions going back to February 2017.

“We concluded Mr. Abels may have been paid $14,841 in salary between February 23, 2017 and September 5, 2018 for 321 additional hours he did not work,” auditors said in their report.

Auditors say the state only allows for rental of “compact or intermediate-sized vehicles” and that Abels personally paid the fees to upgrade to a Chevy Camaro.

The rental vehicle was part of his compensation package for his job.

The Louisiana Tax Commission says it has recovered $15,288.00 from Abels.

Tax Commission Chairman Lawrence Chehardy provided the agency’s written management response to the audit. “Internal controls over employee time and attendance, leave usage, work locations, rental vehicles, travel reimbursements and conference attendance have been implemented,” Chehardy wrote to auditors.

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