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Orleans Parish Official Charged With Fraud

(CN) - A former top-ranking official with the Orleans Parish Sheriff's Office in Louisiana has been charged with billing the department for the work of "ghost employees" and keeping the money.

Roy Austin, 69, and recently retired from his position as warden, faces one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud in a case that brings new attention to Sheriff Marlin Gusman's controversial details program, which allows officers to make often lucrative sums performing side jobs for pay outside of their regular duties.

Austin's scheme began in 2009 and involved $83,000 in "fraudulently inflated charges" Austin took from Mardi Gras krewes, music festivals and sporting events that required large numbers of security officers, according to legal documents.

Federal prosecutors have accused Austin of filing fake invoices through interstate wires and keeping a portion of the overbillings paid to his private company, Austin Sales and Service.

That company coordinated security details for local events, and staffed them with off-duty sheriff's deputies and New Orleans police officers, according to prosecutors.

"Austin regularly directed funds from that overbilled surplus for his own personal use by drafting checks to members of his family under the fraudulent guise of payments for detail work that in fact did not take place," the documents say.

Austin faces up to five years in prison if he is convicted.

His defense attorney, Robert Habans, declined comment on the case.

The ten-page bill of information suggests more charges to come. It notes the involvement of an unnamed Sheriff's Office official, "Employee A," who received payment "for allowing Austin to run the day-to-day operation of the scheme" and who apparently still works for the Sheriff's Office. Austin allegedly drafted checks made payable to that employee's family members for detail work that never took place.

"Austin and OPSO Employee 'A' then either fraudulently endorsed those checks or, in some instances, had their respective family members endorse the checks for subsequent deposit," the bill of information states.

Sheriff Gusman's Office released a statement saying the Sheriff's Office "has cooperated with each step of the investigation involving Roy Austin. Austin left the OPSO last year. The activities announced today are independent of OPSO business and related to a private business that Austin allegedly created."

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