Politicians still getting away with not paying debts
BATON ROUGE - Red tape and bureaucracy are allowing politicians to skirt the law.
Current and former politicians owe the state $629,000 in ethics violations fines that are deemed final debt.
"Final debt is when all of the appeals process and all of the delays have expired," Department of Revenue Deputy Secretary Jarrod Coniglio said.
The officials are hit with fines when they break the rules, especially when they do not file campaign finance reports on time.
But many times, the politicians do not pay.
The state even created the Office of Debt Recovery, which is under the Department of Revenue, to collect debt. The agency has the power to reach into politicians' pockets and take the money owed by seizing bank accounts.
The ODR is using a system called the Federal Institute Data Management program to match people's identities with their bank accounts.
"We're able to act on that match if we desire," Coniglio said.
But before the ODR started FIDM, the Ethics Commission agreed to allow the Attorney General's office to collect their debts.
The agreement has not been changed even though most of the money's never been collected.
"If you are the average tax payer and you under pay your taxes by $10, they are all over you. They will freeze your bank account. They will take your first born child. But that's for the average person. Here you have a bunch of politicians who have clearly violated the law and state government will not go get the money. That's just wrong," State Treasurer John Kennedy said.
The deal with the AG's office is good until 2016.
The AG gets a cut off what is collected, and is not obligated to turn politicians with final debt over to the ODR, though it can.
"We have both a moral obligation and a financial incentive to collect it," Attorney General office's attorney John Sinquefield said.
Yet, records obtained by WBRZ News 2's Investigative Unit show a 160 politicians owe a total of $629,000.
The names of those politicians belong to Attorney General's office, and the agency is not turning them over to the ODR.
"They won't go until October 2016," Sinquefield said.
"If the AG turns it over to the Department of Revenue or the Office of Debt Recovery, we would know about it then," Coniglio said.
Since the names are not getting turned over, the system to seize politicians' bank accounts cannot be used against them.
Kennedy sees that as a loophole.
"Why the Attorney General's office is not seeking help from the department of revenue? I don't know. Maybe they have a good excuse," Kennedy said. "I just know the results and the results are this money is being collected and it appears. I'm not saying it's reality but to the average person it looks that these people are getting special treatment."
Since 2008, the AG has collected an average of $59,000 a year, according to the agency's records.