BESE’s Lee faces state conflict of interest charges

Walter Lee Show caption
Walter Lee

Walter Lee, a member of the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, is now facing state ethics charges.

The state Board of Ethics alleged in documents made public Tuesday that Lee violated three state conflict of interest laws. The charges involve incidents of Lee’s alleged use of his position as DeSoto Parish schools superintendent for personal gain.

Lee was indicted in January by a DeSoto Parish grand jury on felony theft, public contract fraud and malfeasance in office during his tenure as schools chief. He pleaded not guilty.

In state court, Lee stands accused of double billing expenses to the school district and BESE.

Other counts allege he personally benefited from the return of a leased vehicle and intentionally performed his duties as superintendent in an unlawful manner.

The Ethics Board charges would impose civil sanctions related to the same alleged illegal criminal activities.

The allegations against Lee stem from a critical Legislative Auditor’s investigative report.

Lee’s attorney, Taylor Townsend, said Tuesday his client had the legal authority to do what he did and “no sweetheart deal” was involved in conjunction with the leased car.

“He has not violated any criminal law. I don’t believe he has violated any ethics law,” Townsend, of Natchitoches, said.

The Ethics Board said Lee personally received $13,801.12 in reimbursement for mileage and hotel-lodging expenses from BESE that the DeSoto Parish School System already paid.

“Mr. Lee did not provide DPSS any reimbursement received from BESE for charges he made to the DPSS issued Fuelman card or the Chase business card,” the board said.

That, the board alleges, violates a state law which bans a public servant from receiving anything of economic value for the performance of his job duties other than the compensation and benefits from the governmental entity to which he is entitled.

The other charge relates to actions by Lee involving a three-year lease for a 2010 Chevrolet Travese with Mansfield Auto World.

Lee canceled the lease 14 months early causing DeSoto schools to pay a $10,653.50 early termination fee, and on the same day personally purchased the same vehicle for $11,966. “The value of the 2010 Chevrolet Traverse at the time of the sale to Mr. Lee was approximately $21,000 according to the national vehicle pricing guide, NADA,” the ethics board said.

The same day, Lee also “acting on behalf” of DeSoto schools entered into a two-year lease for a 2012 Buick Enclave with Mansfield Auto World to replace the 2010 Chevrolet Traverse,” the board said.

State law bans a public servant from participating in a transaction involving his governmental entity in which he has a substantial economic interest.

The board said Lee violated that law “by virtue of his participation in the early termination of a DPSS vehicle lease in which he had a substantial economic interest.”

State law also prohibits a public servant from soliciting or accepting anything of economic value as a gift or gratuity from any person if they know “or reasonably should know” that the person is seeking or has a contractual, business or financial relationship with their agency.

The board said Lee violated the law “by virtue of his receipt of a thing of economic value, a discount on the purchase price of a vehicle that was previously leased to DPSS, as a gift or gratuity from Mansfield Auto World” at a time the company had a relationship with DeSoto schools.

The Ethics Board also filed a charge against Mansfield Auto World.

The cases were submitted to the Ethics Adjudicatory Board to set a hearing date.

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