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  1. #1
    Terminator's Avatar
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    Corruption in Mandeville, Louisiana. City Officials and top cops use Toys for Tots fund to buy each other gift cards

    Mandeville mayor got gifts from tots' toy fund

    by Cindy Chang, The Times-Picayune Saturday March 01, 2008, 10:19 PM


    With an annual salary of more than $96,000, Mandeville Mayor Eddie Price would hardly seem to require help from a charity at Christmas.


    Yet in December 2006, the mayor received a $500 Wal-Mart gift card from the Mandeville Police Citizen Service Fund, informally known as Toys for Tots because it distributes Christmas gifts to needy children.


    Price received another $500 Wal-Mart card from the fund in 2005 and a $300 card in 2003, according to fund records. Gift card lists for 2004 were not available. The fund was also used to buy the mayor a $735 hunting bow, including case and accessories, one year and a gun cabinet another year, though the money for the bow apparently was later reimbursed.


    Price said in a recent interview that he thought the cards were a holiday present from Police Department employees and had no idea they were paid for by the Citizen Service Fund, which relies mostly on donations from local residents. He said he thought the bow and the gun cabinet were from employees as well.
    "The issue is, I probably should have asked where it came from, and I did not," Price said.


    The gift cards were the initial focus of what has become a wide-ranging investigation by the Louisiana Legislative Auditor into the finances of the Mandeville Police Department as well as City Hall after the Metropolitan Crime Commission, a New Orleans watchdog group, filed a complaint with the agency.
    Price was not the only city employee to receive gift cards courtesy of the Citizen Service Fund. In each of the six years except for 2007 for which the city provided records to The Times-Picayune, the fund was used to purchase Wal-Mart gift cards for as many as 20 Police Department and City Hall employees and once for Police Chief Tom Buell's mother-in-law. Most of the gifts were for $100 or more.
    Metropolitan Crime Commission president Rafael Goyeneche said the fund is "basically operating as a slush fund, with no checks and balances, no oversight." 'It was wrong to do it'
    In addition to the Toys for Tots program, the Citizen Service Fund helps needy people by paying for emergency hotel rooms and other assistance, such as transportation out of state for cancer treatment.
    Buell defended the prevalence of police officers and city staff on the gift card lists, saying that many of the employees -- some who make as little as $20,000 to $30,000 a year -- are single parents or have large families.
    Buell said he paid for the mayor's gifts with money from the Citizen Service Fund because he wanted to spare his employees the financial pain of pitching in. He now regrets that decision, he said.
    "It was wrong to do it, but at the same time it took pressure off the police officers," Buell said of the mayor's gift cards. "It was wrong to do it, and I readily admit that."
    Buell also used $735 from the fund to purchase a hunting bow, case and accessories for Price's birthday in 2006 and a gun cabinet for Price's Christmas present another year -- gifts that were intended to be from City Hall and Police Department workers.
    Buell said he tapped into the fund in order to have cash in hand to purchase the gifts while money was still being collected from employees.
    The fund was later reimbursed with the employee money for the hunting bow but was apparently never reimbursed for the other gift -- an error he should have rectified at the time, Buell said in a recent interview.
    Gift card recipients also included high-ranking police officers who make around $50,000 a year, not including overtime: Lt. Thomas Breazeale, who received $130 in 2000; Lt. Judy Carrier, who received a total of $400 in 2005 and 2006; and then-Sgt. Ron Ruple, who received a total of $200 in 2005 and 2006. Ruple is now a captain. Those who received gift cards and did not work for the city included a single mother who lost her trailer and a woman raising three grandchildren after her son landed in jail, according to Buell.
    "We saw the need with the police officers and city employees. They were right there in front of us," Buell said. "We knew we were helping the community with the toys and all that, and the police officers didn't feel comfortable standing in line and getting toys for their kids."
    With the state audit, the Mandeville Police Department is again being scrutinized for relationships with City Hall that critics of the department allege are too cozy. A year ago, the Louisiana Board of Ethics said that City Councilman Jerry Coogan violated state ethics rules when he commandeered a police car to visit his family in Florida in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.
    Last month in the aggravated battery trial of SpeeDee Oil Change co-owner Gary Copp, Price rebutted allegations that he intervened with police officers to have Copp booked on a lesser charge. Copp initially was booked with a misdemeanor, but the charge was later upgraded to aggravated battery, a felony Copp was convicted of Feb. 2.
    Price admitted calling the police station on Copp's behalf but not to discuss the severity of the charge. He said he merely wanted to make sure Copp was released without having to post a bond.
    Questions about the Toys for Tots fund has drawn two full-time investigators from the legislative auditor's compliance division, who have been working in Mandeville since October and recently expanded the scope of its inquiry, said Dan Daigle, the division's director.
    The compliance division looks into allegations of fraud or abuse involving government entities.
    Daigle would not confirm the subject matter of the investigation, but according to Mandeville officials, it initially focused on the Citizen Service Fund and later evolved into other aspects of city finances.

  2. #2
    lewisipso's Avatar
    lewisipso is offline Injustice/Indifference/In God we trust
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    Business as usual. No surprises here.

    Price admitted calling the police station on Copp's behalf but not to discuss the severity of the charge. He said he merely wanted to make sure Copp was released without having to post a bond.
    Thats all he did? Ha! Mild.

    Questions about the Toys for Tots fund has drawn two full-time investigators from the legislative auditor's compliance division, who have been working in Mandeville since October and recently expanded the scope of its inquiry, said Dan Daigle, the division's director.
    To see what slush fund they won't get caught being paid from.
    Do not war for peace. If you must war, war for justice. For without justice there is no peace. -me

    We are who we choose to be.

    R.I.P. Arielle. 08/20/2010-09/16/2012


  3. #3
    lewisipso's Avatar
    lewisipso is offline Injustice/Indifference/In God we trust
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    I'll send you some old articles that show some other business as usual around here.
    Do not war for peace. If you must war, war for justice. For without justice there is no peace. -me

    We are who we choose to be.

    R.I.P. Arielle. 08/20/2010-09/16/2012


  4. #4
    mavriktu's Avatar
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    Tom Buell WAS a friend of mine at one time.To the point our daughters rode in horse shows together,we belonged to the same horsemens association etc.In 1984 I was going to join his dept.as it was 40 miles less commute.I passed the written,and the oral review board (that Ruple guy was on the board then and he was only a patrolman),I was sitting in Toms office with him having coffee and he told me I was in,they just had to check with my current dept.I told Tom that would not be a problem,that I was in the middle of a disciplinary investigation at that moment for missing misdeameanor court,but expected to be cleared (I was),right there in front of me,he called his secretary and told her to stop all action on my app,he would not be able to hire me,than turns to me and says "sorry,maybe in a year or 2.

    I saw him for what he was that day,a 2 faced paper (appointed)politician that wouldn't go to bat for anything or anyone he wanted.Glad I didn't get on,and whats more I am glad his dirty drawers are being hung out on the line.

 

 

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