Ridgecrest trial to go before grand jury

Published 12:04 am Friday, June 22, 2012

RIDGECREST — A grand jury will begin hearing evidence Monday of accusations against Former Ridgecrest Town Clerk Dana DeLaughter regarding several discrepancies in the town’s bookkeeping.

An audit conducted by the Louisiana Legislative Auditor revealed that DeLaughter may have violated state law by failing to deposit $56,679 in utility payments, intentionally overstating $27,814 of utility collections to the town’s board of aldermen and issuing herself three extra payroll checks totaling $1,865.

In early November, former Mayor Kevin Graham resigned and DeLaughter was placed on administrative leave without pay because of the discrepancies.

Email newsletter signup

The state auditors arrived in December and newly appointed Mayor Dwayne Sikes provided them with full access to the town’s finances — including paperwork from as far back as 2008, access to the town’s computers and its two bank accounts at Concordia Bank and Delta Bank in Ferriday.

DeLaughter was terminated at a January board of aldermen meeting after Sikes said he believed the town clerk improperly transferred approximately $5,000 from the road fund into the general fund, as well as misrouted cash payments for water bills of residents.

DeLaughter served as town clerk from December 2008 until November 2011.

Also in the report, Graham is said to have used state grant funds to purchase a water pump and accessories totaling $4,055 that was not necessary for town operations and was used for personal purposes.

In addition to several state law violations, the audit report also states town employees violated the Louisiana Constitution by improperly issuing Christmas bonus checks in 2010 and failing to collect property taxes totaling $2,244 from Dec. 31, 2010, to March 9, 2012.

District Attorney Brad Burget said the Ridgecrest case, along with two other cases, will be presented before the grand jury that is scheduled for Monday and Tuesday at the Concordia Parish courthouse.

The grand jury can rule on a prosecutor’s indictment, or a formal accusation of a crime, as a ‘no bill,’ meaning the charges have not been sufficiently supported by the evidence, or as a ‘true bill,’ which would be sufficient to justify the trial of the suspect.