Zurik: Gretna probe clears Christiana, but questions linger
GRETNA, LA (WVUE) - A Gretna assistant police chief has been cleared of any wrongdoing, following a FOX 8 investigation from last year. But a local CPA says the city's probe is suspect and raises even more questions about the integrity of this law enforcement agency.
In trip after trip after trip, we found evidence that Deputy Police Chief Anthony Christiana may have been paid while on vacation in such places as Brazil, Canada, Las Vegas, Napa Valley.
"You're being paid for something you're not providing; that's stealing," said Patrick Lynch of Rogers, Lynch and Associates.
Christiana has a side job, a dignitary protection service. He's been on the road with rock legend Paul McCartney.
We found Facebook pictures and flight information that showed him on trips out of the country, but corresponding pay stubs show he didn't deduct the proper vacation time.
The city of Gretna appointed what it called an independent ethics committee to investigate. This committee says Christiana did nothing wrong.
Last year, when we interviewed Gretna's police chief, he told us Christiana did not accrue any comp time - that wasn't allowed.
"I think my reputation in 41 years of law enforcement will tell you that I will be fair," Lawson said of his own investigation of the matter. "And you can speak to individuals out in the community: I've fired people that have been friends of mine. I've closed businesses of people that have been friends of mine. You know, that's not an issue."
The ethics committee cleared Christiana because he does accrue not comp time; rather, the committee says, he accrues flextime.
"He's using semantics to cover for comp time," Lynch insists. "It is really comp time."
Christiana accrues flextime when he works more than 40 hours in a week or when he works on vacation. The committee says Christiana accrues 1,000 flextime hours a year.
That means he's working about 60 hours every week. And he could potentially take 25 weeks off a year, just using flextime.
Lynch says the committee is misdefining flextime, though. He says the real definition of flextime is when someone has the ability to work a flexible schedule each week.
The committee says Christiana can use that bank of flextime as credit when he's out of town. So, during those vacation days protecting Paul McCartney, Christiana used flextime to cover some of his absence.
So, if the deputy chief truly gets a thousand hours a year in flextime, why would he ever use a vacation day?
"The incentive is, I can't sell the flextime, I can sell my vacation time," Lynch posits. "So, any time I'm away and if anybody wants to know, it's flextime. And, if there's no record keeping, what's to say I never run out of flextime? I never get to use my vacation."
According to the investigating committee, flextime has been a practice in Gretna since the 1980's. But city officials tell us that no written policy exists.
"It's ripe for fraud," Lynch warns.
When we asked for a record of Christiana's flextime, city attorneys told us no such record existed; no formal records are kept.
"If you have inadequate records like that, how in the world do you monitor what's going on?" Lynch wonders. "And how in the world can you say, without reservation, there is no fraud or abuse going on?"
Lawson tells us in a letter that he is "pleased but not at all surprised that the independent ethics committee reached the unanimous determination that there was no violation of law, ethics law, or rules."
But a local CPA says the committee's conclusion raises serious questions because, in the end, after telling us Christiana didn't receive comp time, they chose a different word that allowed the deputy chief to travel the world - while getting paid by Gretna taxpayers.
The city of Gretna appointed a retired judge, an attorney and a CPA to the committee that found Christiana did nothing wrong.
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