DA looking into payments that may be criminal in Sorrento
SORRENTO – A district attorney, focusing on the town of Sorrento, is looking into why some public employees were getting a special check.
Sorrento has less than a dozen city employees. But according to reports given to WBRZ and the DA’s Office, a select few employees were getting paid for non-existent health care benefits. District Attorney Ricky Babin is now trying to see if the payments are criminal.
“For me to prosecute it, I'll have to prove that someone knew what was going on,” Babin said.
The documents show that for nearly 4 years at least one, sometimes two, Sorrento town employees were receiving insurance reimbursement. At least $4,000 to $8,000 was given to the employee recorded as payment for choosing their spouses insurance plan rather than the town’s. The catch is the town hasn't offered insurance as a benefit for years.
“There was no group policy or no group benefits in the town of Sorrento anymore, but they kept paying that employee reimbursement,” Babin said.
He says some of those reimbursements even increased throughout the years.
“The benefits got expanded. There were some things being paid like dental and other things that the statute never called for,” Babin said.
The issue has come up in Town Council meetings.
“I'm concerned because we have all these questions and we have no answers for them,” councilwoman Patti Poche said.
The Town Council recently repealed an outdated ordinance that allowed employees to obtain health insurance reimbursements.
“The citizens come in the town, come to us wanting roads fixed, sewage, drainage... They want everything done, and we're having money being taken,” Poche said.
Babin is now investigating to see if the payments made were a mistake or something else.
“Maybe they should just pay it back and it wouldn't be criminal. But like I said, the harder question is whether this is some kind of scheme to get a benefit that you are not owed,” Babin said. “That's the $64,000 question."
Over the phone the Sorrento Mayor told WBRZ he is aware this is being looked into and said he will not comment on it until the DA comes up with a decision. The DA said there’s no timeline on when that decision will come.