Three arrested in drainage probe

June 11, 2007
By Theresa Schmidt

It was in a lawsuit filed at the end of April that two drainage employees claimed to be blowing the whistle on alleged use of public resources and employees for private use. After an investigation that started around May 1st the Calcasieu Sheriff's Department has arrested drainage supervisor 48 year old Brian Benoit.  He's booked on seven counts of malfeasance in office, seven counts of theft over $500 and 17 counts of public payroll fraud.  Benoit has been released on $60,000 bond.

Employee Gerald Jones was booked on four counts of malfeasance in office as was Dana Aucoin. Their bond was set at $20,000.  At last word, each was still in jail.

Sheriff Tony Mancuso says the alleged theft involves in excess of a $100,000 worth of work. "There was some equipment, materials that were purchased as far as the theft part. In particular a land leveler that was built and then sold to a third party which was bought and paid for with public funds. That's one of the thefts and then of course the working on private property."  Mancuso says work on one road that runs through private property would have cost at least $100,000 had the land owner paid to have the work done.

The alleged public payroll fraud stems from employees allegedly doing private work while being paid by the drainage board. Mancuso explains, "Being a public employee and supposedly working their normal duties, but they were on private property doing this work instead of [normal duties], and we have all those records and they are going to be supplied with our report to the district attorney's office."

Mancuso held up a binder several inches thick, containing the paperwork that will be submitted to the D.A.  "The investigation is pretty thick. I know that Randy had to go outside the parish to interview some witnesses and did a very thorough job."  The lead investigator in the case is Cpl. Randy Benevage.

Mancuso says the investigation did not reveal any alleged wrongdoing on the part of the drainage board members or Police Juror Don Manuel who represents that area. A spokesman for the Calcasieu District Attorney says they will decide whether to put the case before a grand jury after they review the report prepared by sheriff's investigators.