Lee Zurik Investigation: Dicharry fired; legislative auditor starts probe
A public official who dodged our questions has been fired.
The Louisiana Community Development Authority, a public agency, says it will forward findings from our investigation to the local district attorney. The LCDA board spent 30 minutes behind closed doors Thursday, in executive session before voting to terminate executive director Steve Dicharry.
"We're all of one mind on this," said board member Lynn Austin as the board returned to public session to conduct a series of votes – votes that come as a result of our investigation into Dicharry. Our first report in late November showed he may have misspent thousands of dollars of public money on his public credit card.
The board voted to hire a forensic auditor to determine what Dicharry may owe. They have already forced him to pay back about $15,000.
As we showed in our investigation, Dicharry and his assistant, Linda Martin, had questionable purchases on their LCDA credit cards. Among our findings:
- Dicharry took out nine separate cash advances for a total of $2,200;
- He charged $3,500 at Sam's Club;
- $2,100 at Best Buy;
- $2,000 for limos in New York City.
We're still trying to determine if there was any public purpose to any of the charges.
expenditures from Dec. 2008 to Nov. 2013.
Board vice-president Austin told us he took a phone call from the office of Legislative Auditor Daryl Purpera after we aired our story.
"They asked if I would do a conference call with them and the legislative auditor." He told us. "And I told them what we were doing as far as the IG's office."
The board voted Thursday to hand over all of its records to the auditor. The board's attorney emailed a letter, writing that the board "concluded the two LCDA credit cards possessed and utilized by Steve Dicharry and his assistant, Linda Martin, had been misused, in that LCDA funds were utilized to pay personal expenses of these LCDA employees." He added the board "was surprised and disturbed" by the "breach of trust."
"Anytime public money's involved and you have theft or fraud of public money, it's your duty as a board member to notify law enforcement." Austin said.
Wednesday night, we reported the state's inspector general has also decided to look into this matter. And Thursday, the board vice-president said a letter and findings will also be sent to the East Baton Rouge Parish district attorney.
Austin told us, "Whatever information we have, they information that we've gathered, we are going to give it all to him."
Earlier this month, Dicharry and Martin handed in their resignations, effective the end of this year - but the board voted unanimously Thursday to end their employment about two weeks short of that.
"I want to have a pretty good Christmas," Austin said. " I don't want to be worried about anybody with access to a bank account and keys to a car. And that's the way the whole board felt."
That access will ended Thursday. The board attorney was instructed to contact Dicharry and pick up his public car and phone.
In addition to hiring a forensic auditor, the board also needs to replace its regular auditor and bookkeeper. Both were fired for not notifying the board of the questionable credit card charges.