Former DHH official faces ethics charge

The Louisiana Board of Ethics has filed charges against a former state health agency accountant arrested for alleged theft of $1 million to allegedly feed her gambling addiction.

The charges against Deborah Crowder Loper were made public on the board’s website Friday. No public action was taken in advance of the charges being filed.

Loper faces an Aug. 5 trial date in 19th Judicial District Court on theft, malfeasance in office and money laundering charges. She was arrested last June, accused of diverting the funds over a period of six years.

The Ethics Board said Loper violated state ethics law by receiving just over $1 million in DHH funds “for her personal use, at a time in which she was not duly entitled, for the performance of the duties and responsibilities of her public job.”

Under state ethics law, no public servant shall receive anything of economic value, other than compensation and benefits from the governmental entity to which she is duly entitled, for the performance of the duties and responsibilities of her office or position.

Ethics Administrator Kathleen Allen said the ethics board “felt she may have violated criminal provisions but also violated ethics provisions. It’s a different statute, criminal and civil.”

Allen said the ethics charge could bring a $10,000 fine per violation as well as a penalty of up to one-and-a-half times “the amount she received to her economic benefit.”

The case has been forwarded to the Ethics Adjudicatory Board for hearing.

Loper was the manager of the Department of Health and Hospital’s financial management section, which was responsible for depositing DHH revenue, reconciling bank statements and completing federal and state financial reports.

DHH hosted the 2009 annual National Association of State Human Services Finance Officers conference with an account set up at Capitol One Bank. Only Loper and now DHH Undersecretary Jeff Reynolds were authorized on the bank account. Reynolds directed her to close the account at the conference’s end, according to the ethics charges.

“Ms. Loper did not close the NASHSFO account and diverted DHH funds into the account for her personal use,” the ethics board said. “Ms. Loper diverted over 167 checks issued to DHH totaling approximately $1,058,446 to the ... bank account for her personal use.”

DHH fired Loper in March 2013. She had been employed by DHH’s Division of Fiscal Management since April 2005.

The agency took steps to limit employees dealing with checks in the wake of the Loper situation.

Follow Marsha Shuler on Twitter, @MarshaShulerCNB. For more coverage of the state capitol, follow Louisiana Politics at http://blogs.theadvocate.com/politicsblog .