Sherman Copelin Jr. arrested for not paying contractor

Advocate staff file photo by Travis Spradling -- Sherman Copelin Jr. attends a May 18, 1999, Legislature committee meeting. He was arrested Wednesday by the Jefferson Parish Sheriff's Office in connection with accusations that he failed to pay a subcontractor for work on a West Bank private school. Show caption
Advocate staff file photo by Travis Spradling -- Sherman Copelin Jr. attends a May 18, 1999, Legislature committee meeting. He was arrested Wednesday by the Jefferson Parish Sheriff's Office in connection with accusations that he failed to pay a subcontractor for work on a West Bank private school.

Former State Rep. Sherman Copelin Jr. was arrested by the Jefferson Parish Sheriff’s Office on Wednesday in connection with accusations that he failed to pay a subcontractor for work completed in the reconstruction of a troubled West Bank private school.

Copelin surrendered to authorities while accompanied by his attorney Wednesday morning, said Col. John Fortunato, a sheriff’s spokesman. He was booked with one count of theft and one count of misapplication of payment.

Copelin is accused of failing to pay contractor Lyle Doublet for work Doublet completed in the rebuilding of the Westbank Christian Center in Harvey.

That school was heavily damaged during Hurricane Katrina, and Copelin’s company, Recovery Development Group, was hired to reconstruct the building for $1.8 million.

Fortunato said Copelin contracted with Doublet in 2008 to do work on several ancillary buildings at the school on Lapalco Boulevard. He said Doublet followed the contract and substantially completed the buildings but could never get a response from Copelin’s company.

“This guy would submit invoices, but he wouldn’t get paid,” Fortunato said.

Doublet became troubled when he learned exactly how much money Copelin received. Fortunato said that when he contacted the Sheriff’s Office, investigators began looking into the matter.

Investigators determined that by not using the payments he received to pay off his subcontractor, Copelin had misapplied funds, Fortunato said.

The arrest is the latest scandal attached to the school project, which was the subject of a damning audit by the state Legislative Auditor’s Office in 2011.

That audit accused the school and Copelin of mismanaging funding provided by the Governor’s Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness.

According to the audit, school officials submitted unsupported and possibly fictitious invoices for reimbursement for construction work. The audit claimed that the school received reimbursements for work that had not been done.

Invoices were submitted in an effort to prop up Copelin’s company, even when work had not been done, according to the audit.

The project manager for the construction made those allegations to the auditor and labeled the entire project as “troubled.”

The audit also found that the school didn’t verify figures provided by companies affiliated with Recovery Development before seeking payments, and overpaid Recovery Development by more than $113,000.