Former CATS board member booked in theft, released on bail

Montrell McCaleb
Montrell McCaleb

A former CATS board member accused of using nearly $1,500 in bus system funds to pay his private satellite TV and cellphone bills over a three-month span this year is out on bail following his arrest Thursday.

East Baton Rouge Parish Sheriff’s deputies booked Montrell McCaleb, 29, 10445 Avenue G, Baton Rouge into Parish Prison on Thursday on counts of theft and access device fraud, prison records show. He was released a short time later day after posting $6,500 bail, records show.

McCaleb resigned from the board July 18, citing “bad bronchitis” he claimed had been exacerbated by the stress of serving on the board.

McCaleb has previously publicly denied improperly using money from the Capital Area Transit System’s accounts to pay his bills, saying that someone was setting him up.

“I am getting off the board for health reasons,” McCaleb said when he resigned in July. “But I did not take any CATS money and I have no access to CATS funds.”

McCaleb joined the board in January 2012.

Attempts to reach McCaleb for comment Saturday were unsuccessful. His attorney, Nathan Fisher, also was unavailable for comment.

“If the authorities feel it’s justified, then I support what they’re doing,” CATS CEO Bob Mirabito said Saturday.

McCaleb is accused in the warrant of using $1,089 from the payroll account for CATS to pay his Verizon Wireless bills on Feb. 14, March 26 and May 10 and $395 for satellite television service Feb. 28 and April 29.

Both companies complied with subpoenas requesting they turn over information for those accounts. In both cases, investigators learned the accounts were set up under the name of either Montrell J Henderson or MJ Henderson, 10445 Ave.G, Baton Rouge.

McCaleb’s full name is Montrell Henderson McCaleb.

“At the time that these illegal transactions were made, Montrell McCaleb was a CATS board member,” Spence Dilworth, a criminal investigator with the Louisiana Office of Inspector General wrote in the warrant.

When Dilworth and Baton Rouge police Detective Brian Watson questioned McCaleb about the missing funds, he admitted that he took a piece of paper off former CATS CEO Brian Marshall’s desk that contained what McCaleb recognized as a bank routing number and a checking account number, the warrant says.

McCaleb told investigators he thought the numbers were for Marshall, not CATS, even though the admitted that the paper was on CATS letterhead, the warrant says.

McCaleb told investigators Marshall was unaware that he took paper containing the numbers off his desk and said Marshall did not give McCaleb permission to pay his personal bills using funds in that account.

He told the investigators he specifically remembers making some of the payments, but not all of them. However, McCaleb said it is “possible that he personally made all of the illegal transactions,” according to the warrant.

If convicted of theft, McCaleb faces up to five years in prison, a fine up to $2,000 or both, according to that statute. If convicted of access device fraud, McCaleb faces up to five years in prison, a fine up to $3,000 or both, according to the statute.

The investigation started after CATS officials noticed $1,484 had been taken from the company’s Whitney Bank account that was used for payroll.

Former CATS Chief Financial Officer Gary Owens signed statements May 17 declaring that the payments from the bus system’s Whitney Bank account were unauthorized and the bank later reimbursed CATS.

That same day, Owens notified former CATS board President Isaiah Marshall and CATS attorney Creighton Abadie about the misuse of funds in an email, though law enforcement was not notified until July 19.

Abadie had advised Isaiah Marshall in July 10 email that McCaleb had likely violated the state ethics code and that the full board should be notified. Abadie also told Isaiah Marshall he would prepare written notices for Mirabito to file with authorities. But he later told the board Isaiah Marshall instructed him not to draft the notices.

Isaiah Marshall resigned from the board July 25, citing health issues.

His exit was the first from the board following McCaleb’s resignation, but not the last.

Board members Jared Loftus and Ryan Heck resigned from the board on Aug. 22 and Sept. 10, respectively, though Heck’s resignation is effective Oct. 1.

Loftus cited frustration with the actions of some his colleagues as his reason for stepping down.

Heck, an outspoken critic of a CATS tax passed in April 2012, had worked to remove former CATS CEO Brian Marshall and contract out parts of the management of CATS. Heck said when he resigned that he believed his purpose on the board had been fulfilled and felt the bus system was finally in competent hands with Mirabito at the helm.

Two CATS vacancies are expected to be filled by the Metro Council on Oct. 9 and another on Nov. 13.

Heck’s vacancy will be filled at the Nov. 26 meeting at the earliest, Casey Cashio, council administrator, has said.