Lee Zurik Investigation: IG to examine allegations of 'Playing With Fire'

Fire Pension Fund CEO/Secretary-Treasurer Richard Hampton
Fire Pension Fund CEO/Secretary-Treasurer Richard Hampton

New Orleans Inspector General Ed Quatrevaux says he has seen the reports on FOX 8 News, and plans to do an audit on the New Orleans Firefighters Pension and Relief Fund.

Quatrevaux says his office will look at credit cards and other things, though he wouldn't elaborate.  The mayor wants the city's inspector general to look into the New Orleans Fire Pension Board.

It follows our findings, laid out in three stories that questioned salaries, spending and whether the board broke the law.

The CEO of the pension fund says booze is never paid for by his fund's bills.  But the fund keeps no credit card receipts to tell if that's true.

We tracked down one receipt from Muriel's that shows the public paid for unlimited wine, liquor and beer, charging the public credit card a total of $1000.

We also found the board raised the salary of CEO and Secretary-Treasurer Richard Hampton by $70,000 in one year, awarding him a four-year contract.  This year, he'll be paid $165,000.  And every year, Hampton receives six weeks' paid vacation and six weeks' paid sick leave.  He also gets access to a fully maintained vehicle.

Loyola law professor Dane Ciolino says this board may be breaking the law.

"This arrangement does raise, I think, significant questions," says Ciolino.

The arrangement involves Hampton, who fills a dual role as board member and board employee.

"By allowing someone to be both boss and employee, the potential for abuse is fairly obvious," Ciolino says.

The New Orleans Fire Pension Board is allowed to pay its secretary-treasurer compensation, but Ciolino thinks Hampton's compensation goes far and above what the law allows.

The proof may have come in 2009, when Hampton left the board for a six-month period as he transitioned from an active to retired firefighter.   While off the board, he remained on as an employee, collecting a paycheck.

Ciolino says, "If he were to resign from the board, under the Code of Governmental Ethic, he could not be employed by the board for a period of at least two years."

The mayor thinks an outside agency needs to investigate.

"Dane Ciolino is a very well-respected lawyer and professor in this town," says Mayor Landrieu. "And if he looks at that and says, as a matter of best practices that looks outside of the bounds, then they certainly ought to review it.  Now, I don't want to pre-judge it.  I don't know all the facts and all the circumstances.  But I can understand why a citizen would look at that and say, 'Wait, time out, I'm not so sure that's right."

The New Orleans Fire Pension Fund spends more on administrative costs than others.  It breaks down to $660 per member.  Compare that to the State Fire Pension Board -- $146 per member -- or the Municipal Employees Retirement System -- only $87 per member.

Metropolitan Crime Commission head Rafael Goyeneche has been watching this case closely, and explained what he hopes will happen: "Between the city inspector general or the Louisiana legislative auditor, I certainly think… a more thorough examination of how this fund has been managed, as well as some of the uses of the fund's assets, investigation into fund managed and uses of assets."