ZURIK: Timesheets show highly-paid Kenner official claimed to be in two places at once

Updated: Feb. 9, 2022 at 10:01 PM CST
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JEFFERSON PARISH (WVUE) - In the months following Hurricane Ida, the City of Kenner paid Deputy Chief Administrative Officer Chad Pitfield $86,000 in disaster pay. He was one of a select group of Kenner employees that continued to get disaster pay months after the storm.

Authorities in other hard-hit areas stopped disaster payments far earlier than Kenner. However, Kenner Mayor Ben Zahn defended the payments, saying his employees worked long hours in tough conditions. He suggested that no other parish or city had an employee with the work ethic of his Deputy CAO. The extended disaster payments, along with his salary, netted Pitfield a total of nearly $230,000 in 2021.

When asked if he believed Pitfield worked all the hours he said he did, Zahn responded, “Absolutely. I mean, the people that surrounded myself [with] and my administration that I’ve chosen, I trust what they’re turning in is absolutely correct.”

But FOX 8′s review of records shows that might be incorrect. We reviewed timesheets and other documentation submitted by Pitfield last year and found multiple cases where Pitfield claimed to be in two places at once.

In addition to working for Kenner, Pitfield also volunteers as a reserve deputy for the Jefferson Parish Sheriff’s Office.

On Oct. 22, City of Kenner records show Pitfield worked a 14-hour day, from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. He claimed to be assessing streets for debris collection. However, on that same day, reserve timesheets show he spent four hours, from 12 p.m. to 4 p.m., at the district attorney’s office, preparing for a trial.

“If I was living in the city of Kenner, and I’m paying taxes in Kenner to operate the city of Kenner’s government, I’m saying ‘who’s watching the store here?’ This is money just going out the door because nobody is paying attention,” said Tulane Law Professor Joel Friedman.

On Nov. 15, Pitfield’s timesheets from Jefferson Parish show he spent four hours in Block 2 Training for his reserve commitment. His timesheets show he started that class at 8 a.m. But Kenner timesheets show, during that same four-hour block, Pitfield reviewed debris reports and did street assessments. The documentation shows Pitfield claiming he was in two places at once.

“The Block 2 Training is something specific at our academy. He would have had an appointment for that. We’ve verified that he completed that training. So he was here at 8 a.m. to do that training on that particular date,” said Jefferson Parish Sheriff Joe Lopinto. “So, you shouldn’t have a conflict of those times, between his Kenner time and that.”

When FOX 8 interviewed Zahn, we wanted to show him the findings.

Zurik: “Does it concern you if that’s the case?”

Zahn: “It would absolutely concern me, but I don’t think, I have not seen something that’s contrary to what I believe. So, if you have something to show to us, that would be a different story.”

Zurik: “I mean, I can show it to you.”

Zahn: “Have you shown it to the sheriff?”

Zurik: “I have not yet.”

Zahn: “Okay. Well, I’d rather the sheriff weigh in on that first because that’s bringing the sheriff of Jefferson Parish into it and JPSO. So I’d like to see what he says first.”

ZURIK INVESTIGATIONS

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When FOX 8 asked Sheriff Joe Lopinto about the findings, he said, “It’s like anything, human beings can make mistakes, you know, I look for a pattern, right? And so, if there’s a pattern where we have several times that … you know, look like double-dipping, there’s an issue. You know, is that date, right? I know that I get dates wrong in my calendar all the time when I’m plugging them into my phone. That’s something that he’s got to address. I mean, it’s not something that should be overlooked by any means. But there’s certainly a conflict on the papers.”

Matching Pitfield’s timesheets to his Jefferson Parish records revealed even more irregularities.

Pitfield has a swipe card for access to some Jefferson Parish sheriff buildings. On Nov. 26, Pitfield’s swipe card was used to enter the academy parking gate at 2:16 p.m. But Kenner records show the city paid him for work during the same time.

To help justify and track FEMA reimbursements following Hurricane Ida, Kenner had employees fill out ICS 214 forms. The employees sign off on the accuracy of each one. The Chief Financial Officer for the City of Kenner, Elizabeth Herring, told us the forms are submitted each day and said she’s confident the forms are accurate.

The reserve duties for JPSO allow Pitfield to work paid details. On Nov. 7, he worked a detail at Lafreniere Park from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m. But his Kenner records show he did street and streetlight assessments during that entire detail.

On Nov. 21, Pitfield worked another detail at the park from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m. At the same time, he claimed to be reviewing debris plans and maps for the City of Kenner.

One day after FOX 8 raised questions with Zahn about the overlapping times, Kenner sent an email saying the forms had a clerical error as to the date. It said corrections were made and the changes had been signed off on.

An unnamed person crossed out Nov. 7 and replaced it with Nov. 3. And Nov. 21 was changed to Nov. 25.

That means instead of working for Kenner on Nov. 21, Pitfield alleged he worked for five hours on Thanksgiving night, during the entire Saints game.

Tulane Law Professor Joel Friedman was skeptical about the changes.

“That’s more than coincidental Lee. You know what they say. if it quacks like a duck, and it walks like a duck, it probably is a duck,” said Friedman.

The questions about Pitfield’s schedule don’t stop with Kenner. FOX 8 found irregularities with some of his paid details and his Jefferson Parish swipe card.

On Nov. 14, Pitfield worked a detail at Lafreniere Park from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m. However, at 7:53 p.m., his swipe card was used at a sheriff’s office gate in the 3300 block of Metairie Road, five miles away.

FOX 8 also found an example from before Ida. On July 25, Pitfield again worked the 6 p.m. to 10 p.m. detail at Lafreniere Park. But the last hour of his shift, his swipe card was used at the front door of the Jefferson Parish Sheriff’s Office.

Days after FOX 8 started asking questions, Pitfield resigned from his JPSO duties. That resignation is effective at the end of this week.

Friedman says this story raises questions about what Kenner received for the $86,000 in disaster pay that Pitfield collected.

“There’s no accountability here,” said Friedman, “I’ll bet there’s nobody in the CFO’s office that actually looks at these things. They just get them, and they pay. Because if they looked at them, they’d say, ‘gee, he wrote down on September 19th that he did this. He wasn’t here doing that.’ But they don’t.”

Pitfield stopped receiving disaster pay the day after the first story aired on FOX 8.

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