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Former Opelousas Mayor found guilty of corruption charges

Reggie Tatum will remain out on bond until his sentencing in November.
Reggie Tatum
Posted at 2:00 PM, Sep 27, 2019
and last updated 2019-09-27 19:14:24-04

OPELOUSAS, La. — Former Opelousas Mayor Reggie Tatum was found guilty in St. Landry Parish court Friday on criminal charges relating to nearly $13,000 in overtime that he was accused of taking during his volunteer work at a relief shelter in the city during the Great Flood of 2016.

Tatum was found guilty on one count of malfeasance in office, four counts of filing false public records, one count of theft over $1,000 and four counts of forgery. The state dismissed four counts of injuring public records and one count of forgery.

Tatum had previously waived his right to be tried by a jury of his peers making this a bench trial heard by 27th Judicial District Court Judge James P. Doherty, Jr., which began on Thursday morning and concluded Friday afternoon after numerous delays.

In October 2017, a St. Landry Parish grand jury indicted Tatum on 15 counts including charges of malfeasance, injuring public records, filing false public records, forgery and theft.

The charges stem from Tatum's filing for overtime for his self-appointed role as manager of a shelter he opened in Opelousas following the floods of August 2016.

KATC Investigates uncovered Tatum's time sheets via public records requests and found that time sheets were also filed on behalf of council members, some of who denied any knowledge of the matter.

The indictment followed a May 2017 investigative audit from the Louisiana Legislative Auditor that found Tatum received pay in excess of salary set by the city council.

Tatum will remain out on bond until his sentencing hearing that is set for Nov. 7. Defense attorney Harry Daniels said that they would appeal the decision after the sentencing.

On Thursday morning, the court heard testimony from six current and former city employees regarding their experiences of being asked by the mayor's office to accept overtime checks for their time working at the Opelousas Civic Center, which had been converted into a relief shelter as torrential flooding had displaced several citizens.

Current Opelousas Mayor Julius Alsandor, council member Sherell Roberts, former council member Tyrone Glover, and Alderman-at-Large Marvin Richard testified on Thursday about their time and Tatum's work at the shelter including specifics regarding Tatum's salary and if salaried employees are allowed to receive overtime.

All four of them stated that they never requested overtime and refused to accept the checks for their time at the shelter because they considered it a form of community service.

While on the stand, Alsandor was asked by both the state and the defense about his knowledge of the city’s Disaster Procedure for Reimbursement policy, often referred to as Ordinance #16-1.

According to the Louisiana Legislative Auditor's report, Ordinance #16-1 states that “…salaried employees who work over 80 hours during this period will be paid overtime at the prescribed overtime rate. In addition, when salaried employees are repurposed (not working in their job classification), their straight time rate will be paid as well.”

Alsandor, who was a city alderman during the 2016 flood, testified that state law requires that the city council set the mayor's salary by ordinance. Specifically, Ordinance 07-2015 sets the mayor’s annual salary at $75,000 and does not include any provisions for the mayor to receive overtime pay.

According to the LLA report, Tatum claimed 234 total overtime hours for the 22 days the shelter was operating and received $12,973 in overtime pay.

City Clerk Leisa Anderson, Exectutive Secretary to the Mayor Charlotte McLendon and City Accountant Katrina Tankersly also testified.

Anderson was the assistant city clerk at the time of the floods and she testified that she was not salaried at the time. She testified that she was told to keep track of her hours because she would be eligible for overtime under a Federal Emergency Management Agency program that allows certain city workers placed in a repurposed role to be reimbursed for their time.

Mary Harris, who has workd for more than a decade as a payroll clerk for the city of Opelousas, gave her testimony on Thursday regarding the timesheets Tatum submitted. She stated that salaried employees have never turned in timesheets for overtime, and the only time she saw an employee do so was during the 2016 flood. She added that she thought it was strange that Tatum submitted an overtime timesheet because he is an elected official with a set salary.

Two auditors also added their testimony on Thursday.

Christy Fuselier with Kolder, Slaven, and Co. gave basic information regarding the city's fiscal year and how she has performed audits for the city budget.

Lauren Whatley, an auditor with the Louisiana Legislative Auditors Office from 2013-2015, spoke about when the auditor's office was made aware of the $13,000 in overtime that Tatum was accused of taking illegally and how the legislative auditor's office first traveled to Opelousas to begin an investigative audit of the allegations.

Brent McDougall, a senior data analyst at the LLA, spoke about how he performed forensics on the mayor's office computers during the course of the audit. McDougall testified in court that during the investigation, Tatum misled them about the date that the policy authorizing overtime was drafted.

James Waskom, director of the Governor's Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness, testified about a meeting the office held on Aug. 23, 2016, with the Louisiana Municipal Association in Baton Rouge. The meeting was called a "FEMA kick-off meeting," and was held with GOHSEP ahead of the 2016 flood.

This meeting was allegedly where FEMA officials informed volunteers they could be paid for their time.

During his testimony, Waskom stated that policy for overtime pay is only valid if local ordinance authorizing overtime for salaried employees existed pre-disaster.

The final witness on Thursday was Anthony Solana, special agent with the Louisiana Department of Justice, who testified about how that department was notified of the leads that the legislative office was working on.

The defense called several witnesses Friday morning including Virginia LeCompte with the St. Landry Parish United Way, Easton Shelvin with the Opelousas City Marshal's Office and Reggie Tatum himself.