AG: Evangeline Sheriff must enforce the law - KATC.com | Continuous News Coverage | Acadiana-Lafayette

AG: Evangeline Sheriff must enforce the law

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Evangeline Sheriff Eddie Soileau at the State Bond Commission Evangeline Sheriff Eddie Soileau at the State Bond Commission

Evangeline Parish Sheriff Eddie Soileau's financial issues were so dire, in September he asked if he can stop enforcing the law. 

Soileau's attorney asked for an Attorney General's Opinion September 1 on the issue, and the AG's answer was released today: No. 

"Your request asks "whether the Sheriff can legally operate without having law enforcement duties" while maintaining his duties as tax collector and process server," the AG opinion states. "It is our opinion that law enforcement is Sheriff Soileau's constitutional duty and no sheriff may cease to perform legally mandated functions for any reason."

We reached out to Soileau and his attorney, Jonathan Vidrine of Ville Platte, but did not receive a response. 

The opinion indicates Vidrine said his client has money problems.

"In your request, you state that the sheriff is burdened by budgetary shortfalls, and that the office cannot support sufficient staff to function effectively as tax collector, process server and law enforcement officer," the opinion states.

In his letter to the AG, Vidrine asked the opinion be issued right away because the sheriff's financial situation was "in emergency status." Later that month, the sheriff would go before the state Bond Commission to ask for permission to issue $1 million in bonds so that he could make payroll. His request was granted.

Vidrine's letter doesn't mince words.

"As you may have read or watched on the news the sheriff's office is running at a deficit and simply does not have the budget nor a source of income to continue the law enforcement part of his office," the letter states.  

To read Vidrine's letter, scroll down. 

The AG's opinion relies on the state Constitution as well as case law about the issue. The opinion also notes that there is no legal requirement regarding how many deputies the sheriff has to hire to do the work he's charged with - in other words, there's no minimum number of deputies required in the law. 

"However, no law provides a sheriff discretion in which duties to exercise, and no advisory opinion can absolve any sheriff of the legal duties of office as the chief law enforcement officer tasked with keeping the peace and making arrests," the opinion states. 

It's not clear when the sheriff asked the AG this question; we asked for a copy of the letter but hadn't received it by close of business today. To read the opinion for yourself, scroll down. 

The sheriff has had myriad financial problems, many of which came to light this past summer and fall. In October, the Legislative Auditor posted an audit of the Evangline Parish Sheriff's Office which reflected the effects of years of mismanagement by Soileau. To read our story on the audit, and to see the audit report for yourself, click here.

In September, the sheriff admitted he had not managed his office's business properly since he took office in 2012. His admission, which has been his only public acceptance of responsibility, came during a meeting of the state Bond Commission. He was requesting that the commission allow him to borrow $1 million to make payroll this month. The commission agreed, with the condition that he accept assistance from the parish Assessor's Office and from his accountants, Kolder, Champagne, Slaven and Co. To read our story about that, click here

The findings of that audit included:  

  • Weak controls over fuel purchases mean the auditors couldn't determine if the fuel was even put in sheriff's vehicles. 
  • The sheriff's cash bonds and bond fee accounts didn't reconcile.
  • The sheriff's civil account didn't reconcile.
  • The commissary funds, the money the sheriff holds for inmates, didn't reconcile. 
  • The monthly prison attendance report didn't reconcile. 
  • Timesheets are processed and checks issued before the end of the pay period, so there is no way to make sure people got paid for hours they actually worked. Other timesheets were submitted without approval. 
  • The sheriff owes more than $63,000 in delinquent payroll taxes this year; the same problem occurred last year, costing the parish more than $3,400 in penalties and fees. 
  • Cash deposits aren't made timely.
  • There are no written policies for budgeting, purchasing, receiving money, collecting money, disbursing money, payroll, capital assets, gas dispensing, gas use, or the evidence room. 
  • The sheriff did not meet requirements of state law in making payments from the bond fee account.
  • The sheriff was collecting bond fees of $25 per bond; state law sets bond fees at $15 per bond. 
  • The sheriff did not meet state deadlines for disbursement of property taxes he collected in January 2016.
  • The sheriff did not comply with state requirements for his budget, because he has spent at least 5 percent more than he took in.

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