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Audit finds payroll fraud at Baton Rouge Fire, hundreds received overtime while out sick

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BATON ROUGE- A payroll audit conducted by the city-parish of Baton Rouge found major problems at the Baton Rouge Fire Department and made a concerning conclusion about allegations of payroll fraud and malfeasance in office.

CAO Darryl Gissel told the WBRZ Investigative Unit Wednesday that the mayor's office received information from multiple people about issues at the Baton Rouge Fire Department. That's when an audit was conducted. That audit was completed this month.

Watch the report on WBRZ at 6:00

The audit found the payroll clerk claimed and was paid $3,256 in overtime that she computed by counting sick leave as hours worked. The clerk had no oversight and there was no review of the information entered into the payroll system.

According to the audit, BRFD staff also paid overtime to employees who were absent for COVID-19 illness or quarantine during the pandemic. BRFD coded the absences as "special assignment" and paid employees as if they were present, including payment of scheduled overtime. There were 267 employees coded with "special assignment" and had an assignment period of 12 days.

Mayor Pro Tem Lamont Cole is on the audit committee.

"The individuals involved should be investigated as thoroughly as possible," Cole said. "If inappropriate criminal behavior is found they should be punished to the fullest extent of the law."

Click here to see the audit.

The audit does not name the payroll clerk, and Interim Fire Chief Chad Major declined to identify her. Major blamed problems on the prior administration.

"We go into people's houses and they don't know us and trust us to do the right thing," Major said. "This has nothing to do with the guys and girls on the truck. This is the past administration, not doing what they should have been doing....no oversight."

Major said he wants the public to know what happened was an internal issue that has since been corrected. He said Baton Rouge Police are investigating and the employee involved is also under investigation.

"To me I would be embarrassed," Major said. "It's not about me, but the 600 men and women that work here. It gives everyone a black eye when this kind of thing happens."

Meanwhile, Cole believes a deeper investigation needs to take place.

"Anyone who took money from taxpayers, from the department should no longer be employed," Cole said.

East Baton Rouge Mayor-President Sharon Weston Broome released the following statement:

"At my request, an audit of the Baton Rouge Fire Department’s payroll process was conducted after hearing concerns from employees within the department. The audit, which was released September 10, provides a comprehensive list of recommendations for the Administration and for the Baton Rouge Fire Department. The recommendations for corrective action will address the findings within the audit report. We are currently taking the necessary steps to move these recommendations forward for the betterment of the Baton Rouge Fire Department, our City-Parish government, and the entirety of East Baton Rouge Parish. This is an illustration of my continuous commitment to provide transparency as well as ensure efficient and effective governance."


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