Auditors question spending by clerk in Tallulah|[10/12/05]

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Louisiana audit officials are questioning a series of payments to Madison Parish Clerk of Court Carolyn Caldwell, but have filed no charges.

Included are a $689.92 check to the now-defunct Vicksburg Inn & Conference Center to cover an April 23, 2002, stay in Vicksburg, about 25 miles from her home in Tallulah.

Caldwell did not return phone calls, nor did Sixth Judicial District Attorney Buddy Caldwell. The two are not related.

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In total, the investigative audit showed five overnight trips to Vicksburg, centered on a Louisiana Clerks of Court convention held here in March 2002. The audit report was released Monday and Caldwell is expected to make a formal response.

Included with other destinations, the audit said the four-term clerk may have spent more than $30,000 in public money for nonbusiness expenses, mostly travel expenses for herself and family members.

The expenses in Vicksburg, taking place from August 2001 to April 2002, by Caldwell totaled $1,483.99.

Citing a Louisiana attorney general’s opinion, the audit said Caldwell could not provide full documentation for overnight lodging and meals or the business purpose of staying overnight in Vicksburg instead of her home in Tallulah.

&#8221We just didn’t see the reason for staying overnight in that instance,“ said Daryl Purpera, director of compliance in the Legislative Auditor’s Office.

The audit began in February 2005 and covered January 2000 through October 2004. It has been forwarded to Sixth District Attorney’s office in Madison Parish and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for review.

The 29-page audit said Caldwell may have violated state laws, including theft and unauthorized use of a moveable. Those violations carry fines up to $10,000 and 10 years in prison.

Violations of federal law mentioned in the audit, including wire and mail fraud, carry a prison term up to 30 years.

Other findings included: