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Controversy at CATS, leaked audio hints at millions in missing dollars

1 month 1 week 4 days ago Thursday, October 21 2021 Oct 21, 2021 October 21, 2021 4:32 PM October 21, 2021 in News
Source: WBRZ

BATON ROUGE - Leaked audio that surfaced this week between the second-in-command at the Capital Area Transit System (CATS) and a former employee raises questions about whether millions of dollars are missing.

The conversation was so concerning, East Baton Rouge Metro Councilman Dwight Hudson forwarded it to District Attorney Hillar Moore and the Louisiana Legislative Auditor.

"It was a particularly troublesome chain that we got," Hudson said. "So I think the allegations are serious and that we take them serious. I forwarded them on to the district attorney and the legislative auditor. If there's any wrongdoing. We'll address it."

The conversation is between CATS Chief Administrative Officer Pearlina Thomas and a former employee, Elijah Pipersberg, who oversaw policy. Pipersberg recorded it referencing CATS CEO Bill Deville.

"What has he fixed since he's been here without you?" Pipersberg is heard asking.

A female's voice responds. WBRZ confirmed through multiple sources that voice is Pearlina Thomas.

"Ahh, covering up the bull s*** from the previous board members and financial folks worth $5 million gone missing," the female voice responds.

Thomas issued a response on behalf of CATS:

"There was no missing or misappropriation of funds from CATS. Posttlewaite & Netterville (P&N) performed the annual audits for CATS. Our agency and financial condition have always been transparent to the public. We post our financials and audit on our company website along with filing then with the state legislative auditors."

Thursday, she went a step further and did an on-camera interview about the situation.

"Poor choice of words," Thomas said. "It wasn't five million and he didn't cover it up. I was trying to remember the context of which that happened and I can't. In 2018, there were some things going on where it was miscoded and the agency wasn't doing timely draw downs of our federal funds."

WBRZ followed up and asked what she meant in the recording with the number of $5 million being so precise. Thomas again insisted no money is missing.

"I take full responsibility for what I said," Thomas said. "Even though I misspoke. It was inappropriate and it was a huge learning lesson for me and that the delineation of authority of our organization is important."

This week, the WBRZ Investigative Unit interviewed Pipersberg. He talked about selective enforcement at CATS, and alleged corruption. It followed revelations that an administrator who failed a pre-employment drug screen was hired despite a zero-tolerance policy at the bus system. He was fired after showing up to work and blowing over 0.20 percent on a breathalyzer and then refused a drug test.

Hudson said when allegations of misspending arises, the public deserves answers.

"The allegation...is troublesome," Hudson said. "I want to make sure we give CATS officials time to come back and explain and give context for what they were saying. It appeared to be an undercover recording... There's been a number of issues with CATS over the years with its operations and management. Sort of the culture at CATS, I think when you get to something that rises to this level you have to take it seriously."

District Attorney Hillar Moore issued the following statement:

"I received an email with little documentation. A law enforcement agency will need to properly investigate the allegations or the legislative auditor after which we will review findings to determine if any formal charges should be filed. I am not sure if any law enforcement agency has been notified or are currently investigating."

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