A former employee of the Florida Parishes Juvenile Detention Center is accused of stealing more than $1 million over the last four years, but state Attorney General's office investigators didn't look back for earlier stealing.
The commission that oversees the Florida Parishes Juvenile Detention Center in Covington plans to overhaul its policies and add new protections for its funds.
That's because the statute of limitation for theft is four years.
But Brenda C. Bickford served as secretary to the Florida Parishes Juvenile Justice Commission for 16 years. The commission has decided to launch an internal investigation to make sure that the full extent of any theft is known.
That's just one of the steps the commission has promised to take in the wake of scathing criticism of its lax financial oversight.
Commissioner Rick Wood said that the internal probe may help the commission put better controls in place, and that's obviously needed.
Ms. Bickford is accused of stealing money by setting up a fake court reporting service and paying it hundreds of thousands of dollars each year by forging commission members' signatures on checks from one of the commission's accounts.
The scam was spotted by the commission's attorney, who knew that it wasn't legitimate because the amount was so great and because he was the one who hired court reporters actually used by the commission.
Those red flags should have been noticed far sooner. Commission President Peggy Hoover and the commission have been blasted by critics, including state Rep. Kevin Pearson, who has demanded their resignations, and Slidell City Court Judge James Lamz, who wants Ms. Hoover to step down.
The commission, which met last week, says that it will overhaul its policies in light of the scam. The panel hired an accounting firm to handle commission finances, for example, removing those duties from the secretary's position. The commission also said it would bring in experts to review professional standards and internal controls.
Those are necessary steps regardless of the commission's makeup.
Ms. Hoover pointed out that the money Ms. Bickford is accused of stealing did not include tax revenue. The money came from an account funded through fees assessed against people convicted of crimes in the parishes served by the center.
That comment doesn't inspire confidence in Ms. Hoover's leadership, however. The money that was stolen was public money regardless of its source. It should have been spent on the detention center, which serves a clear public benefit.
The fact that it ended up in someone's pocket is a disgrace.
The Florida Parishes Juvenile Justice Commission will hold a special meeting Thursday to discuss the alleged theft of more than $1 million by a commission employee.
A news release from the commission said the panel will convene at 6 p.m. and consider a request to go into executive session "to discuss investigative proceedings regarding the allegations of misconduct of Brenda C. Bickford."
Public comment will be limited to 5 minutes per person wishing to address the commission.
The center is located at 28528 U.S. 190 just inside Tangipahoa Parish.
Bickford, 60, was arrested March 23 after an investigation revealed she had allegedly been writing checks to a fake court reporting service for years and pocketing the money. The investigation, which started after commission attorney John Feduccia noticed abnormally large expenditures on court reporting services in an audit of the facility, accuses Bickford of taking more than $1 million in the past four years.
In response to reports about the arrest, Slidell City Court Judge James "Jim" Lamz has called on commission President Peggy Hoover to resign.
State Rep. Kevin Pearson, R-Slidell, has asked for the resignation of the entire leadership of the tax-funded facility, which houses up to 105 juvenile offenders from St. Tammany, Tangipahoa, Washington, Livingston and St. Helena parishes.