Covering Louisiana

Mar 27, 2013 5:12 PM by AP

Ex-La. lawmaker booked on theft charge

GRETNA, La. (AP) - A former Louisiana lawmaker was booked into jail Wednesday on a theft charge stemming from allegations that his company failed to pay a subcontractor for work on a school's rebuilding project following Hurricane Katrina.

Former state Rep. Sherman Copelin Jr. also was booked on a charge of misapplication of payment after surrendering to investigators, according to a spokesman for the Jefferson Parish Sheriff's Office.

The sheriff's office didn't immediately release other details. But the Times-Picayune reports hat the charges are related to allegations that federal funds for rebuilding the Westbank Christian Center, a private school in Harvey, were mismanaged after the 2005 storm.

Copelin was chief operating officer of Recovery Development Group, the school's general contractor. Copelin's company received $1.8 million in federal funds under the contract but failed to pay a subcontractor, Lyle Doublet, for work on the project, the sheriff's office alleged.

"Doublet did a lot of the work, and every time he submitted invoices they went unanswered," said the sheriff's department spokesman, Col. John Fortunato.

A report issued in March 2011 by the state's legislative auditor says Westbank submitted a $650,000 invoice to the state for reimbursement that was "unsupported and appears to be fictitious" and invoices for more than $152,000 in work that didn't appear to be performed.

Copelin's attorney, Robert Jenkins, didn't immediately respond to a call from The Associated Press seeking comment.

Copelin, a Democrat, represented New Orleans in the House for more than a decade before he lost a re-election bid in 1999. In the late 1960s, he was a founding member of the SOUL political organization, a group of black Democrats in New Orleans.

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