Leslie Turk

Former State Police Commission's ED charged with felony theft

by Leslie Turk

As executive director of the State Police Commission, Debra Johnson allegedly used state purchasing cards to obtain more than $11,839 in personal items, such as computers and related equipment and a digital camera, according to the Louisiana Inspector General's office. Inspector General Stephen Street issued a detailed report addressing apparent felony theft, malfeasance in office and access-device fraud by Johnson. The State Police Commission, based in Baton Rouge, handles civil service matters for Louisiana State Police but is an entirely separate entity.

After an audit of the commission’s p-card transactions revealed likely criminal offenses, Street contacted the state attorney general, who agreed to participate jointly in the investigation. That investigation resulted in Johnson's arrest for felony theft, malfeasance in office, and access-device fraud. The 49-year-old Baton Rouge resident's prosecution is being handled by the AG's criminal division.

In addition to the alleged theft, more than $18,770 in items purchased on the commission’s p-cards, such as computers and medicine, were either for the personal use of employees or were unnecessary to the operations of the office, according to the report. The IG's report paints a picture of gross misconduct and years of abuse of power, including excessive pay raises Johnson received from 2002-2008, in which her salary jumped from $54,400 to $108,500. In 2001 she filed suit against the commission claiming merit increases were withheld due to racial discrimination. The suit was settled, with the commission paying her more than $13,000 for general wages; the Louisiana Office of Risk Management also paid her $15,000 for general damages.

The commission's employees told investigators that Johnson reported to the office only a few hours a day, two to three days a week. Street has since made eight recommendations designed to improve internal controls over the operations of the commission office and staff.