Sorrento investigation bills rising

The town spent nearly $15,000 through September on its investigation into allegations against the town’s Police Department, and the bills continue to pile up.

According to attorney invoices provided by town officials, town attorneys Karl Scott and Donovan Hudson charged the town $150 per hour for 98.5 hours of work — a total of $14,475 — performed between June and September related to the Police Department. Invoices for work provided in October and November were not available.

Earlier this month, Sorrento Mayor Wilson Longanecker Jr. said the town had spent approximately $35,000 on the police investigation.

The Town Council asked the Ascension Parish Sheriff’s Office to investigate the Police Department after allegations of criminal activity involving the department arose during the summer.

The Sheriff’s Office was assisted by the State Office of the Inspector General, and the investigation uncovered no criminal activity, Sheriff Jeff Wiley said.

Wiley said none of the purported town expenses on the investigation went to his agency.

Some of the allegations against the Sorrento Police Department and Police Chief Earl Theriot included alleged payroll fraud, evidence mishandling and illegal use of department vehicles, Wiley said. Those allegations came after former Officer Cory Prine was fired for violating the department’s policy regarding Taser stun guns and former Assistant Chief Billy Ballard was dismissed for an alleged undisclosed violation of departmental policy.

Both Prine and Ballard were let go from the department in August, the same month Longanecker returned to office following a six-month medical leave.

Upon his return, Longanecker said he had concerns about the council’s investigation into the Police Department, as well as some of the attorneys’ bills the town received from Scott and Hudson. Between June and September, the attorneys billed the town $33,075 for legal work pertaining to all town matters.

Despite his concerns, Longanecker said he has paid all of the invoices he’s received from the attorneys.

“I still want to see where we’re going to find the funds for that,” Longanecker said recently.

Hudson, one of the city attorneys, placed some of the blame for the high legal bills on Longanecker’s absence from office during the beginning stages of the police investigation.

“Easily 60 percent of the charges could have been avoided if the mayor would have returned calls to anyone at all associated with Sorrento town government between April and July 2012 and/or simple answers had been given to simple straightforward questions put to police officers,” Hudson said. “There would have been no need to research or gather information to turn over to any outside investigative agency.”