Ousted CFO says he was fired by Sheriff Hutson after questioning OPSO’s Carnival hotel spending

Published: Mar. 28, 2023 at 8:47 PM CDT
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NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - Four high-ranking administrators have been ousted from Orleans Parish Sheriff Susan Hutson’s office, though one not immediately and none for reasons made clear Tuesday (March 28) by the sheriff.

Hutson, who campaigned on pledges that she would bring greater transparency to the office, issued an opaque two-paragraph statement about “organizational restructuring” on Tuesday, without mentioning by name any of the four officials departing.

But an attorney for Chief Financial Officer David Trautenberg confirmed to Fox 8 that Hutson terminated the employment of his client. Others being removed from the administration include assistant sheriff Pearlina Thomas, chief legal counsel Graham Bosworth and assistant sheriff Kristen Morales, sources told Fox 8.

Trautenberg’s attorney Kevin Vogeltanz said Tuesday night that his client is entitled to state whistleblower protection and was fired for launching an internal investigation into the use of downtown New Orleans hotel rooms by OPSO personnel during Carnival season.

“Dr. Trautenberg served as the chief financial officer and assistant sheriff of OPSO with integrity and distinction,” Vogeltanz said. “He was fired shortly after launching an internal, financial investigation into the use of hotel rooms paid for by OPSO over the Mardi Gras holiday, along with the propriety of a cash donation made by a third-party company to OPSO covering the costs of those hotel rooms.

“Dr. Trautenberg is a protected whistleblower under Louisiana state law, and he is reviewing his legal options regarding his dismissal. Dr. Trautenberg is proud of the work he and his staff accomplished at OPSO, and expresses his continued admiration and appreciation for the hard-working men and women who served in his office and the greater OPSO organization.”

Morales, previously fired from the city’s Office of Inspector General for giving away a city-owned cell phone without authorization, has chosen to stay with OPSO through a transition period of unspecified duration.

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Reasons for the forced departures -- the four were given the option to resign or be fired by Monday -- remain unclear. The statement issued by Hutson provided little in the way of clarity and did not address Trautenberg’s claims.

“As we near the one-year anniversary of my tenure as sheriff, I am restructuring my executive leadership staff for greater efficiency and effectiveness in support of the mission of the Orleans Parish Sheriff’s Office,” Hutson said in the statement. “Therefore, three members of my executive leadership team are being transitioned out of the organization as of Friday, March 24. One executive team member chose to stay on for a transition period. I want to thank each of them for their service to this office over the past 10 months.

“I am excited to move forward in accomplishing the goals set out when I was sworn into this role in May of last year. I am proud of the work the men and women of this agency accomplish on a daily basis, and we are looking to achieve even greater heights in the upcoming years. I am depending on the seasoned professionals already in place to continue their good work and to continue meeting the needs of the office in support of sustaining our mission.”

Hutson read the statement at a brief news conference outside her office Tuesday. When pressed by reporters for a reason behind the turnover, she again demurred.

“There was no one reason,” she said. “We’re ready to transition into a new era at the office. This is all about moving forward as an organization.”

The purge is at least the second major sweep of top OPSO leadership under Hutson’s tenure. Last September, Hutson announced five high-ranking departures in what she called a “strategic realignment of certain positions.”

Those removed had more than 100 combined years of experience with the sheriff’s office, sources told Fox 8. The ousted supervisors were identified as Maj. Robert Donnelly and Captains Danny Henry, Mark Jones, Jerry Martin and Cathy Taylor.

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