Probe at City Hall: Council wants answers in alleged forgery of Fillingame’s signature
By Cassandra Favre
Dec 23, 2016, 17:13
The Bay St. Louis City Council is looking for answers in the alleged forgery of Bay St. Louis Mayor Les Fillingame’s electronic signature on Dept. of Justice affidavits.
The Bay St. Louis City Council on Tuesday discussed some of the findings revealed during a Dec. 8 meeting city leaders had with representatives from the Department of Justice regarding $320,000 in police forfeiture funds.
Along with finding a way to pay the funds back, the council is looking into the alleged forgery of Mayor Les Fillingame's electronic signature on amended affidavits.
City Attorney Trent Favre said the DOJ's final report has not been released.
Council Vice-President Mike Favre said that during the Dec.8 meeting, DOJ representatives discussed amendments where Fillingame indicated that his signature was forged.
"Have we done an investigation on forging your signature on these affidavits?" Favre asked Fillingame.
Fillingame said he hasn't yet, because those amendments were dismissed and his signature was forged electronically.
Council President Lonnie Falgout said he is concerned about who forged the signatures: "We need to know who did this," he said.
Fillingame said he didn't know about the forgery until afterwards.
Favre said he didn't understand why an investigation wasn't being conducted and is concerned about who sent the amendments in without authorization.
Favre asked city attorney Trent Favre to reach out to investigators about the matter.
"We have to have some type of computer specialist to look at the metadata," Trent Favre said. "We want to look at whose computer actually clicked the box. It's a document that you get as a PDF and you check the box as your signature, it's your name, not writing a name, and click 'submit.' The recipient just gets a PDF. We need to find out from whose computer it was sent."
Fillingame concurred and said whoever did it clicked the box for signature verification.
"I didn't know until after it was done," Fillingame said. "Those amendments were done very quickly after the question raised by the auditors. Sent three of them at the same time. I know the chief was involved, but not who was sitting there with him when he did. The amended returns are not part of the report because they were not done correctly. They went back to the originals for review."
Trent Favre said, during the meeting with DOJ representatives, the city was given "charging orders" to work together and figure out projects at the police department the money could be used for.
"From that statement, one could infer that there is a possibility that they would allow us to keep the funds," Trent Favre said. "The stark reality is that we could be made to pay back that money to the federal government. The fact they are asking for a list of needs suggests they may be inclined or willing to consider us segregating those funds into a separate account and using them for that stated purpose, I would think, with their approval. We need to assess what the needs are and start the process. We're getting a reprieve on this, potentially."
Falgout said if the DOJ agrees to the proposal, the council has to find the $320,000.
"You got to appropriate," Trent Favre said. "Either got to take it out of the reserve fund and establish an account to spend it or operate within the budget you have and find $320,000, which I don't think you're going to be able to do that. I think your options are kind of slim. You can't do a tax levy, there's no way to tax for it."
Trent Favre said one theory that the city has a reserve fund is that it spent the DOJ money, "as a body, you spent it."
"The mayor can't spend without approving a docket and over four or five years, you all have spent the money, it's not your fault, don't get me wrong, you didn't know it was co-mingled."
Mike Favre said if the co-mingling of the funds was done illegally, the city should be able to file a claim with the bonding company. Councilman Joey Boudin said he doesn't think it has to be an illegal act.
Trent Favre said he has asked the bonding company to provide a list of covered acts.
"Every bonding case I've ever looked at is an illegal act or malfeasance," Trent Favre said. "Negligence or mismanagement, for someone to collapse a fund without council approval, may be violation of statute, but I don't think it rises to the level of criminal conduct. There's not a lot of case law about it. I've asked the Office of the State Auditor about it as well, that's not an option. If the report comes back detailed and shows where someone took the money, misappropriated it and spent it on their personal use, that's where you can get to the bond. The money was collapsed into the fund and you all spent it. You all didn't know and that's unfortunate. The other point is, you all have received the benefit of that money, not in the way you intended. You spent it over a five-year period. The defense is going to say, 'you don't get $320,000 back from a bonding company because you spent it on yourself.' That's the problem you face in a bond claim."
The DOJ requested a list of items the police department needs, should the department decide to allow the city to use the forfeiture funds.
Favre said he received a list from Capt. Wes Mayley of the Bay St. Louis Police Department.
"They want to know what the police department wants," Fillingame said. "They don't necessarily want everyone's approval, our input or our massaging the numbers before we send it up. They want to hear from the police department, which is typical of their program."
Favre said the city could come up with a list of projects totaling $320,000, but "we don't know an amount," he said.
"From what I understood, those funds accumulated over a long period of time," Favre said. "Those funds have to be spent within a three-year period. Some of it could have aged out."
Favre said the DOJ representative is gracious and wants the possibility of the police department to get the funds and back into the program.
"I think this is the time of needing to work together, presenting a unified front," Favre said. "If they detect any disharmony, if they detect that there's not solid leadership, I think was the key, that there is solid leadership, this goes to future participation, that it's going to be managed well, managed correctly and there's solid leadership going forward. That's the key to being reinstated."
In other action:
• The council scheduled a public hearing at 4:30 p.m. on Jan. 3. to discuss the possibility of the Hancock County Sheriff's Office assuming management over the Bay St. Louis Police Department. A regular council meeting will begin at 5:30 p.m.