Zurik: Feds probe local detective accused of double dipping

Zurik: Feds probe local detective accused of double dipping

HOUMA, LA (WVUE) - The FBI is investigating a local law enforcer who may have broken the law herself. .

The allegations against Capt. Dawn Foret, assistant chief of detectives in the Terrebonne Parish Sheriff's Office, paint a picture of a high-ranking law enforcer, responsible for investigating criminals, possibly breaking the law herself.

Internal affairs investigators questioned some of Foret's colleagues.

"Can you believe about what Dawn's doing?" said Capt. Cher Pitre in an audio recording of her interview recalling her reaction to the claims.

An investigator asked a second colleague, Lt. Ryan Trosclair, "She's never physically worked an operation with you?"

"No, never," Trosclair said.

Foret's boss, Sheriff Jerry Larpenter, says he's staying out of the investigation.

"I haven't looked at the records," he tells us.

Still, a Tulane law professor says he's not surprised that the evidence has caught the attention of federal investigators.

"It certainly suggests that there was criminal behavior on the part of the captain involved here," says Joel Friedman.

Foret is second in command of TPSO's criminal investigations. We requested records from the internal affairs investigation - records that suggest Foret claimed to be in two places at one time, and got paid for both.

The records show Foret helped secure a federal grant for TPSO to crack down on underage drinking - a Juvenile and Underage Drinking Enforcement grant.  The Sheriff's Office paid employees federal grant money to work overtime on a JUDE task force. Foret also worked details - side jobs for private businesses. Many law enforcement professionals pick up such extra work during off-duty hours.

But these records show Foret sometimes claimed she worked on the JUDE task force at the same time she worked one of those details, and got paid for both.

"On the very same day, at the very same time, she's reporting working both on the block grant, for which she requested reimbursement, and on a detail," says Friedman. "Obviously you can't be in two different places at the same time."

Here's an example.  The documentation we got shows Foret claimed to work on the grant on October 28, 2011, from 9:00 in the evening to 2:00 in the morning.  But she also got paid for detail work at Settoon Towing, from 8:00 that very evening until midnight.

"This is not a Lee Zurik-created document," Friedman notes. "This is created by the Sheriff's Office in their own investigation, given to the attorney general. There is no explanation for requesting reimbursement under the grant and as a job detail for the same day, at the same time."

The internal affairs investigation included interviews with deputies and detectives who worked the JUDE grant.

"Has Capt. Foret ever worked an operation with you, physically?" asked one investigator.

"Not with me," Lt. Trosclair responded.

Each colleague interviewed said Foret never worked with them on the grant.  But Foret received $18,312 in grant money - more than double any other employee.

Also in the audio recordings, Detective Chris DeHart recalled a conversation with another colleague about one of Foret's time sheets. "He kind of texted me and said, 'Look at this, man,'" DeHart said.  "'She wasn't out there working JUDE with everybody.'  I said, 'She wasn't working with me.'"

Pitre described how a detective "actually brought it to my attention and said, 'Cher, you know, I hear that Dawn's been stealing time and that she's stealing money.' And I'm like, 'What are you talking about?' And he said, 'Well, supposedly she's typing reports and she's claiming hours on time sheets.'"

There's more. Foret's colleagues say she didn't work on the JUDE task force on October 28, 2011. But consider a TPSO crime report we received from that date, written at 9:30 that night. The report details arrests on the JUDE grant. Foret wrote the narrative in the report, saying she was part of the task force making the arrests.

In fact, Foret wrote in dozens of police reports that she "participated in the operation."

"It alarmed me that the way that Capt. Foret worded the narrative portion was… she worded it that she was actually present during the operation," Trosclair told investigators. "And I'd never seen her."

So not only was Foret getting paid for working specific hours on this grant - she also claimed in police reports that she was on the scene of alleged crimes.

"That information, unless that document is incorrect, forged or otherwise improper, is prima facie evidence of criminal fraud," Friedman tells us, "a violation of state law, undoubtedly a violation of the federal regulations that govern the federal grant that was given to the state - there's potential federal criminal violations here."

The possible violations happened while Vernon Bourgeois was sheriff.  When Jerry Larpenter took over in 2012, he ordered an internal investigation that concluded that Foret claimed grant hours she did not physically work, which violated criminal law.

"I am aware of an FBI investigation involving a couple of employees in my office, that's correct," the sheriff acknowledges.

While federal investigators continue to look into the allegations, the state has declined the case.  Larpenter received a letter from Attorney General Buddy Caldwell's office, saying "There does not appear to be any evidence of criminal intent."

When we ask Larpenter why Foret wasn't placed on administrative leave, he tells us, "Actually, because of what the attorney general came back [with] - no criminal wrongdoing."

"I'd like to know why the attorney general found there was no criminal intent," Friedman says.

We asked the AG's office; it declined to comment.

Kurt Wall headed the investigation for the AG's office, the director of its criminal division.  Remember: Foret is the assistant chief of the sheriff's criminal division.

We asked if they worked together on cases.  The AG's office responded that Wall and Foret have never met.  So, we responded, if he has never met Foret, let alone interrogated her, how did he come to the conclusion that there was no criminal intent?

Again, the AG's office declined to answer.

Sources tell us they don't know of anyone interviewed by the AG's office in this case, and they say the AG's office only reviewed a summary of the investigation before reaching the conclusion. We asked the AG's office for a list of documents they reviewed and subjects interviewed; they declined to hand that over as well.

According to records, the AG's office began that investigation sometime after August 9, 2012.  Two weeks later, Wall sent Sheriff Larpenter a letter, saying the issue should be handled internally, and that "there does not appear to be any evidence of criminal intent."

That conclusion followed an investigation that appears to have lasted less than two weeks.  Apparently no subjects were interviewed, few documents reviewed.

Foret declined our interview request.  Foret's attorney, Rodney Baum, emailed a statement:

Capt. Foret has done nothing wrong… The FBI [has] been investigating this case for over 3 years with no final disposition.  We have cooperated with the federal investigation and provided them with evidence that we believe demonstrates that Capt. Foret has done nothing wrong.

Sheriff Larpenter says he's standing behind Foret, unless some other agency charges her with a crime.

"She's the best detective that, I think, we've ever seen," he tells us.  "She's as good as any detective in this country, put it that way."

There are many times when police officers, deputies and other law enforcement agents are put on administrative leave until an investigation is complete.  Why did Larpenter choose not to do that?

"Because, again, of the allegations made, and also the investigation has continued," the sheriff responds.

Larpenter is openly frustrated with the lengthy federal investigation. "I feel that the allegations made against [her] should have been answered by this time.  I mean, we're looking at three and a half years gone by."

Foret no longer works on federal grants, but she has resumed detail work.  Professor Friedman is surprised she's still on the job, still allowed to investigate criminals while she is the subject of a criminal investigation herself into possible double dipping.

"She's a high-level supervisor," Friedman reminds us.  "Once again, I think people at that high a level of responsibility have a high obligation to observe a higher level of behavior.  And this is nothing that they would ever accept from a rank and file patrol officer. Well, if it's not good enough for a patrol officer, and the chief or the assistant chief or the captain is doing it, what kind of message are you sending to the patrol officer, if the big shots are doing it?"

The grant began in 2009 and ended in 2012. For the first year of the grant, Foret never included herself in the narrative as participating in the operation.  That changed in November 2010; it's unclear why.

The head of TPSO's narcotics division, Darryl Stewart, is also under federal investigation for possible double dipping. Sheriff Larpenter says he's aware of that probe.

Stewart told us by email he did nothing wrong or improper:

Throughout this investigation, I have met with or made myself available to any investigators who wished to speak with me on this matter. I have provided answers and supporting documentation to anyone who has sat with me as an investigator on this matter. I have and still do maintain that I did nothing wrong or improper. There is no further comment that I can provide at this time, as this investigation is still ongoing.

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