Alleged $800,000 theft discovered

A state Department of Health and Hospitals employee allegedly misappropriated more than $800,000 in public funds, state officials reported Friday.

DHH turned over the evidence gathered during an internal investigation to the Louisiana Legislative Auditor’s Office and the East Baton Rouge Parish District Attorney for an external investigation and prosecution, according to a news release.

DHH will attempt to recover the funds, the release stated.

The employee has been placed on leave and DHH is taking steps to terminate the employee through the state Department of Civil Service, according to the release.

The employee allegedly misappropriated the public funds for “personal activities,” which were not further described by DHH. The identity of the employee, where he or she worked, over what period of time the alleged activity occurred and other details were not made available by DHH.

“DHH cannot release any more information about the incident because it is pending an investigation,” department spokeswoman Kristen Sunde said. “We’ve turned our information over to the proper authorities for them to conduct an external investigation.”

According to DHH, an internal investigation detected “unusual accounting practices” involving an employee.

“DHH’s Bureau of Health Care Integrity conducted a probe which revealed the employee allegedly misappropriated more than $800,000 in public funds by depositing checks made payable to DHH into a non-DHH account, then withdrawing funds from that account for personal use,” according to the statement.

The news release said DHH enacted measures to prevent similar incidents, enforcing more stringent internal accounting and reporting procedures.

Legislative Auditor Daryl Purpera said Friday he already has assigned a team from the office’s investigation division to work on the project. “We are looking at how it happened, did it happen, why internal controls didn’t catch it,” Purpera said.

DHH Secretary Bruce Greenstein, the statement, expressed “outrage” that a member of the agency’s staff would “allegedly willfully misuse public funds that were intended for health care services.”