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State ATC commissioner subject of several abuse of authority complaints, is ordered to reinstate agent

BATON ROUGE (CNS)—The beleaguered State Office of Alcohol and Tobacco Control (ATC) is experiencing more bad karma, thanks to what appears to be a series of ill-advised polices put in place by ATC Commissioner Troy Hebert.

Hebert is a former state senator from Jeanerette appointed to his position by Gov. Piyush Jindal in November of 2010 after Hebert’s predecessor, Murphy Painter was fired in August of that year on charges of sexual harassment and then was indicted earlier this year on charges of computer fraud, making false statements and aggravated identity theft.

Hebert now is facing his own problems including allegations that he deliberately sent an ATC agent into harm’s way, that he has transferred agents from one end of the state to the other with as little as two days’ notice, and last month’s decision by the Louisiana Civil Service Commission that he pay an employee back wages, interest and attorney fees after he suspended her for insubordination when her doctor refused to comply with what the commission agreed were unreasonable demands made under the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA).

Hebert had suspended ATC administrative assistant Lisa Pike after her physician declined to provide weekly status reports as ordered by Hebert. Pike was on extended medical leave for failure to provide acceptable proof that was unable to work.

Hebert’s action was taken despite her doctor’s written certification that she was unable to work and that she “has been under my care from July 19, 2011 to Aug. 19, 2011” and that she could “return to work on Aug. 20, 2011.”

On July 29, 2011, Hebert sent Pike a letter of suspension.

“This letter is to advise you that you are being placed (o)n Leave Without Pay (LWOP) effective Thursday, July 21, 2011, for failure to provide acceptable proof that you were ill and unable to report to work,” the letter from Hebert said.

“You were directed by letter dated July 13, 2011, to submit a statement from your health care provider to verify that you are unable to report to work due to illness or medical condition. The statements you submitted do not specify the cause of your absence or verify that you are unable to report to work.”

The physician subsequently agreed to provide weekly medical reports but charged Pike $25 for each of the weekly updates.

In her ruling of Sept. 20, Civil Service Commission referee Roxie F. Goynes ordered the Department of Revenue (DOR) to pay Ms. Pike back wages, with interest. ATC is part of DOR. “I further order DOR to remove all documents concerning this disciplinary action from Ms. Pike’s personnel file,” Goynes said in her ruling.

Goynes added that DOR “was unreasonable in going forward on its charge. Therefore, pursuant to the provisions of Civil Service Rule 13.35, I award attorney’s fees to Ms. Pike in the amount of $1500.”

But perhaps the most serious claim against Hebert is that he ordered an agent back into bars in New Orleans in full uniform where she had previously worked on undercover assignments to purchase drugs. If true, such a decision could have placed the agent’s life in peril had she been recognized by those from whom she had purchased drugs.

A formal complaint of discrimination filed against Hebert by agent Daimian McDowell contained the allocation that “Commissioner Hebert has assigned African-American agents to dangerous duties.”

In his complaint, one of three separate complaints filed by three separate agents earlier this month, McDowell said that agent Lori Claiborne of Gonzales was transferred from the Baton Rouge region to the New Orleans region. She had worked as a narcotics agent in Baton Rouge so her supervisor in New Orleans allowed her to work as a task force officer (TFO) in cooperation with the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) while remaining an employee of ATC.

As a TFO, Claiborne worked undercover in civilian clothing, purchasing synthetic marijuana from dealers in New Orleans bars.

Upon learning of her work with DEA, Hebert ordered her back to Baton Rouge and over the objections of Claiborne and another agent, assigned her to conduct inspections in the same establishments—in full uniform—where she had purchased drugs as an undercover agent, the complaint says.

Other written complaints against Hebert, all dated Oct. 2, 2012, include:

  • Asking an employee to “keep tabs” on a fellow agent;
  • Transferring agent Charles Gilmore from Baton Rouge to Shreveport with no advance notice and subsequently telling one of his co-workers, another ATC agent, that he took the action in the hopes it would prompt Gilmore to take early retirement;
  • Boasting that he planned to “break up” a trio of black agents in north Louisiana (one of whom was subsequently fired);
  • Requiring supervisors to report to their subordinates;
  • Calling agent Larry Hingle “a zero” and sending an email to other employees soliciting suggestions for ways to punish Hingle for the agent’s failure to address Hebert at “Commissioner” or “Sir,” as per a directive by Hebert.

In addition to the three formal complaints to both the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and to Civil Service, the ATC Command staff and ATC employees sent a five-page letter in March of 2011 to then-Revenue Secretary Cynthia Bridges in which they itemized a laundry list of 45 separate complaints against Hebert. The contents of that letter would comprise much of the complaint contained in a subsequent lawsuit against the Department of Revenue that is still pending in 19th Judicial District Court in Baton Rouge.

That letter and the lawsuit filed by a fourth ATC agent contain several charges that are eerily familiar to some of the charges against Hebert’s predecessor, Murphy Painter. Those documents will be the subject of our next installment.

 

 

Filed in: Courts, Ethics, Executive

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