Zurik: MCC head wants independent probe of Gretna PD's deputy chief

Published: Mar. 6, 2016 at 5:23 PM CST|Updated: Mar. 9, 2016 at 3:10 AM CST
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NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - A local crime watchdog wants an independent investigation into the Gretna deputy chief of police. This follows our investigation last week, showing the deputy chief out of town but still being paid his public wage.

"Anytime you have one employee being treated differently than the rest of the employees, it creates cancer in the organization," says Rafael Goyeneche, president of the non-profit watchdog Metropolitan Crime Commission.

Trip after trip after trip, we found evidence that Gretna Deputy Chief of Police Anthony Christiana may have been paid while on vacation in Brazil, Canada, Las Vegas and Napa Valley.

Christiana has a side job, offering a dignitary protection service.  He's been on the road with Paul McCartney. But we found Facebook pictures and flight information that show him out of the country while corresponding pay stubs show he didn't deduct the proper vacation.

"When you're working for a private client and you're charging them for your efforts, then chances are you're putting all of your efforts into the work for that client and not the Gretna Police Department," Goyeneche says.

Christiana took personal trips, too: Las Vegas to watch an Elton john concert and a Caribbean cruise in which he spent six days away from work but didn't take one vacation day.  The total cost to Gretna taxpayers: $2,000.

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

We even found two examples of Christiana and Lawson traveling together. But Lawson insisted in our interview that he would examine the case impartially.

"My reputation in 41 years of law enforcement will tell you that I will be fair," he told us. "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."

"Those are issues that I think merit investigation - and an investigation not by the Gretna Police Department," Goyeneche says.  "They can't investigate their own Number Two person because one of the people that they would have to take statements from would be the chief. And everyone answers to the chief. So an investigation administratively and/or criminally has to be conducted externally."

The MCC president says Lawson and the department should recuse itself and ask an outside entity to investigate.

"If requested, the State Police have historically done these types of investigations," Goyeneche tells us.

Chief Lawson told us he plans to investigate our questions. He sent us this statement"

In response to your request for comment, while our policies and procedures do not permit comment with respect to any on-going inquiry or investigation I can advise you that in the interest of transparency and fairness to all involved I am appointing an independent special investigative team to obtain and develop all appropriate and pertinent information regarding these allegations. Once that information gathering process is completed, we shall turn all of that information and findings obtained by the independent investigators to the City Attorney and the Director of Finance for the City of Gretna for review, evaluation and determination if further investigation or any other action is appropriate.  As you know, the City Attorney and the Director of Finance, who is a CPA, are totally independent from the Gretna Police Department.

We emailed Lawson to ask whether those independent investigators work for the Gretna Police Department or a different agency.  He hasn't responded.

And we have new information.  In January, Facebook posts show Christiana spent at least five workdays in the Dominican Republic - on vacation.  But he only deducted three days though from his vacation bank; he still has more than 200 unused vacation days.

Goyeneche says, "Obviously for anyone that works in that department, when they see a double standard, and if they want to work a detail and they're not allowed to do it on clock, they have to use their sick or vacation time, or off time to do it… that sends a message.  And when the public hears about this, they wonder about their tax dollars and how they're being used.  Why is it that one of the highest-paid people in the Gretna police department is allowed essentially to double-dip, if these allegations are in fact verifiable."

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