Assessor responds to audit findings

By Theresa Schmidt - bio | email

LAKE CHARLES, LA. (KPLC) -The Calcasieu Tax Assessor is under fire for an audit that reveals misappropriation of money in his office and an expensive, if not extravagant,  lease of a vehicle among other problems.

Assessor Richard Cole says he accepts responsibility and has paid back thousands of dollars.

The audit of the Calcasieu Assessor's Office,  released online,  reveals serious problems including misappropriation of funds and expenses that appear extravagant and excessive-- including the leasing of a car for Cole at nearly two thousand dollars per month. The audit says nearly $46,000 will be paid over the 2 year term of the lease.

We caught up with Cole out in the field where he uses the vehicle. "We leased it with the excess mileage built into the front end and we haul people and do things out in the field and required this vehicle so we've done the best we can do. We turn it in at the end of the year and we will figure out what we need to do next and how to go about the next vehicle. Reporter: There are people out driving around, their car isn't worth two grand. What do you say to those who are perhaps outraged? Cole: I just have no comment."

The audit also reveals alleged misappropriation of funds. Cole used the district's American Express card for personal expenses around  $48 thousand. "We just used the credit card for personal expenses and got in a financial bind with divorce and just needed to do that."

but he says it's all been paid back. "We've paid back all the funds that was used at the office that was personal funds on the office credit card, we've paid all that money back."

As required by law, the Louisiana Legislative Auditor and Calcasieu District Attorney have been notified of the findings. District attorney John DeRosier says he will meet with the auditor next week to review the formal report and supporting documentation. "I will review that as soon as we receive it and we will take appropriate action at that time just like we would on any other case that we would review for criminal charges. I will simply say that elected officials owe a great deal of accountability to the people who elect them into those positions."

Cole says he's trying to do the right thing. "We've made corrective measures in the office and this will never happen again. Reporter: How worried are you that there could be additional consequences such as maybe even criminal charges? Cole: Yeah, well, we understand what's in front of us and we're going to fight hard and just, we made the right decision to pay everything back and be up front and open to everybody."

For now he says he plans to keep working hard at his job.

To read the audit click here.

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