Zurik: Did police officer's tour security gig break the law?

Updated: Mar. 2, 2016 at 10:10 PM CST
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Gretna Deputy Police Chief Anthony Christiana (Source: GPD)
Gretna Deputy Police Chief Anthony Christiana (Source: GPD)

NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - Paul McCartney still takes his show on the road.

"It's hard to imagine a guy, 75 years old, still playing the guitar," Tulane law professor Joel Friedman remarks. "But he is."

At some of his concerts, he's protected by a local law enforcer. But while this man with a badge travels with Sir Paul in Brazil, Canada and Las Vegas, records show taxpayers have been paying him to be in his office in Gretna, Louisiana.

"It's pretty shocking," Friedman says. "He is essentially absent without leave."

Gretna citizens have paid Anthony Christiana's salary for 31 years. The longtime policeman has risen through the ranks to the Number Two spot in the Gretna Police Department - deputy chief of police.

On July 14, 2013, Christiana posted on Facebook that he was coming home soon from being "Out There" - that's the name of the McCartney tour that year. This was the "best tour yet," Christiana posted.

Flight records show Christiana left on July 5, returned July 16, and missed six days of work. But according to his pay stub, he didn't use a single vacation day.

Thursday, November 20, 2014, records show Christiana took a flight to Brazil, and returned the day after Thanksgiving, Friday, November 28.  Facebook pictures confirm Christiana made the trip.

On November 26, he posted, "Have been on the 'Out There' tour. Five great shows concluding tonight."  Christiana missed four days of work but, again, didn't use one day of vacation.

"You're being paid for something you're not providing," says Patrick Lynch, a certified public accountant at Rogers, Lynch & Associates. "That's stealing."

That eight-day trip in November of 2014 was the second trip to Brazil that month. Flight records show Christiana left Nov. 2 and returned Nov. 16.  His Facebook posts confirm he made the trip to Brazil. And according to the flight records, he missed 10 days of work.  His paychecks show he only used 6.75 days of vacation.

So in the month of November of 2014, Christiana spent as many as 14 work days in Brazil, but only took 6.75 days of vacation. If you do the math, taxpayers paid $2,521.26 - his salary for that time period - for Christiana to protect the former Beatle.

"It could be fraud," Friedman tells us, "it could be criminal fraud if you're taking property inappropriately, a government property - which is pay - for not working."

We found more examples, including pictures of a September 2013 concert in California, an April 2014 tour in South America. Christiana did not vacation time for most of those days he spent out of town, often out of the country.

"It's kind of blatant about it," Friedman says. "It's doesn't even require your usual undercover work. It's just right out there. Shocking, it seems to me."

Our questions about Christiana aren't limited to his work for Paul McCartney.

In October 2013, Christiana traveled to Las Vegas. A Facebook post showed he went to see an Elton John concert.  Flight records show Christiana was gone for three days of work, but he didn't use one vacation day.  So taxpayers wrote Christiana a check for $1,043.28 to spend a long weekend in Las Vegas.

In November 2013, Christiana went on a Caribbean cruise. Facebook pictures of him leaving were dated Nov. 9. On Nov. 18, he posted that he was on his way home. That's six days away from work, and not one day of vacation used. The cost to taxpayers was $2,086.56.

"I do know that he's traveled," says Gretna Police Chief Arthur Lawson. "I do know that he's done work for individuals in dignitary protection. I don't keep track of his travel schedule … Do I see the pay stubs or the paychecks? No. I couldn't tell you what mine looks like - I don't even look at it, my wife gets it."

Lawson says Christiana has been doing dignitary protection for 15 years; he runs a side company, Christiana and Associates. Lawson says Christiana doesn't accrue comp time.

"When he goes out of town on the trips, vacation time is put in by the girl in office," Lawson tells us. "He told me it is standard procedure, when he goes out of town, that the girl puts in the days."

He says he didn't know specifically whether Christiana told the office staffer which days to mark as vacation days? "Well, I'm assuming he tells her," Lawson notes.

Christiana is paid every two weeks; pay stubs generally indicate whether vacation time is deducted or not.

"I'm sure if you check it, you would see something," Lawson tells us.

The pay stubs FOX 8 has reviewed show he did not have vacation time deducted.

"Right," Chief Lawson confirms. But he also says that Christiana told him another reason for the discrepancies: "From my understanding, it may not be the same payroll period."

Christiana is telling Lawson he deducts his vacation; it just may not be in the pay period where he traveled. But according to the records. But that may not be correct. For example, in 2013 Christiana took a July trip to Canada, a September trip to Los Angeles, October to Napa and November to the Caribbean - but never used one vacation day during that time period. And he never deducted the vacation from a future payroll period that year.

Also, Lawson says, if Christiana does Gretna police work while on vacation, he can use that time as credit against his vacation.

"It's not a 9-to-5 job or a 40-hour-a-week job," Lawson reminds us. As for the long trips to Brazil and elsewhere abroad without vacation deduction, the chief says, "Those are the things we need to verify and see."

Our law professor raises another issue.

"Now the problem is not just with the assistant, but with the chief," Friedman says. "The chief has an obligation to the city that his police officers - including the assistant, who's a police officer, who's being paid by the city - is on the job for which he is being paid."

Remember that November 2013 Caribbean cruise?  According to a Facebook photo, the chief himself, Arthur Lawson, made the trip with Christiana. We also found a picture of them traveling together in Las Vegas.

Lawson acknowledges traveling with Christiana on occasion. "Yes, sure," he says, "traveled with a lot of people."

Lawson says he has worked with Christiana for 31 years. He insists he remains impartial.

"My reputation in 41 years of law enforcement will tell you that I will be fair," Lawson says. "And you can speak to individuals in the community: I've fired people who have been friends of mine. I've closed businesses of people that have been friends of mine. You know, that's not an issue. But it's also an issue to verify each of these things before we jump to conclusions."

Christiana's payroll records show he didn't use one day of vacation or sick day in 2015. In 2013, we have records that show he traveled on 26 work days but only used 6.75 days of vacation for the entire year. For that single year $6,694.38 in salary was paid to Christiana while he was out of the office.

"Of course I'm concerned," Lawson tells us. "Anytime there's an accusation of something, particularly payroll or things like that with our department and tax dollars, of course it's a concern. It's something we'll look into and see."

Christiana has 201 unused vacation days in his bank. Under department policy... He's allowed to accrue unused time. He has two options with the unused time: He can cash it in for half the value, costing taxpayers $34,766, or he may be able to use the vacation time before he leaves his job.

"The whole point here may be accruing this vacation, for which there is no max," Lynch tells us. "When he is ready to retire, he can perhaps not report to work six months before his official retirement date, and draw full salary."

Lynch says taxpayers could be hit twice: once by paying Christiana for working when he's out of town, a second time when he actually uses or cashes out the vacation.

"I think the citizens of Gretna need to hold the entire police department accountable," Lynch says.

"The fact that it's happened over and over again suggests that it's not an innocent mistake, it's a pattern," Friedman tells us.

The Gretna Police Department is guided by a code of ethics that recognizes the badge as a symbol of public faith, public trust, public service.

A GPD policy on expenses states:

Whoever shall receive an allowance or reimbursement by means of false claims shall be subjected to immediate dismissal as well as being criminally and civilly liable.

Now it's up to a longtime police chief to figure out whether his top lieutenant is picking the protection of Paul McCartney over protecting the citizens of Gretna and the public fisc.

"He needs to make restitution, deduct it out of his bank," Lynch suggests. "And I think that's grounds for dismissal. I'm not an attorney, but he wouldn't work for me anymore."

We reached out to Christiana several times and asked for an interview.  We wanted to see if he has any explanation as to why he didn't claim vacation.  He declined our requests.

The flight information we received was given to us by a source. None of the flights was paid for by taxpayers; Christiana or his company paid those bills.

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