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Zurik: Sewerage and Water Board Special Agent suspended without pay amid investigation over detail work

Published: Dec. 10, 2021 at 4:55 PM CST
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NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - A senior special agent for the New Orleans Sewerage and Water Board has been suspended without pay after separate investigations by the Office of Inspector General and FOX 8 News questioned the employee’s use of the police detail program.

Leessa Augustine, a senior special agent for the Sewerage and Water Board and also a reserve officer for the New Orleans Police Department, was suspended without pay on November 19. Through her role, Augustine is allowed to work off-duty private police details.

According to the New Orleans Inspector General, on 65 different days, she double-dipped, getting paid twice. The Inspector General called the conduct a violation of the Louisiana Code of Ethics and possibly payroll fraud.

Records obtained by FOX 8 show Augustine regularly works details at the Downtown Development District and in the past has made about $50,000 a year working those details.

According to the Inspector General, Augustine worked some of the details while on the clock at the Sewerage and Water Board, getting paid for the detail and the shift at SWBNO.

“That is another example of some of these stories that your station has posted about police officers double-dipping, working for the city at the same time that they’re working for a private vendor earning extra money on the side,” Rafael Goyeneche with the Metropolitan Crime Commission, said.

The Office of Inspector General alleges on 65 different occasions, Augustine had a three-hour overlap where she received compensation for both jobs.

FOX 8 received a tip last month about Augustine and that the Inspector General had launched an investigation. We requested payroll and detail records on November 17. Two days later, Ghassan Korban, Executive Director at the Sewerage and Water Board of New Orleans, sent Augustine a letter, informing her of the ongoing inspector general investigation and placing her on emergency suspension as the investigation continues.

Goyeneche said whatever the inspector general finds in their report will be forwarded to local and possibly federal authorities.

“If they have evidence of a crime they have to make a referral,” Goyeneche said. “I would suspect that out of completeness, this matter has been sent to law enforcement bodies for review and consideration.

“We’re talking about felonies”

Rafael Goyeneche, Metropolitan Crime Commission

The letter to Augustine also alleges she falsified a W-2 tax document for an immediate family member and after an interview, the letter says Augustine admitted to crafting the document using a SWBNO computer.

The New Orleans Office of Inspector General has been in turmoil for a few years. The former head of the agency, Derry Harper resigned after complaints about a lack of productivity, but Goyeneche said now with a new interim leader, the office is starting to investigate fraud, waste and abuse -- and in this case paying close attention to the details.

“That office over the past year has generated and reformed and rehabilitated their reputation, certainly in circles that I move in law enforcement,” Goeyneche said. “I know I’ve made a number of referrals to that agency and have been impressed with the responsiveness.”

FOX 8 asked SWBNO for comment on this story and they would only confirm Augustine was suspended without pay effective November 19, two days after we initially asked for Augustine’s records from the department.

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