MINDEN, La. – A former Webster Parish fire chief accused of possible criminal violations in a state audit surrendered to Webster Parish sheriff's investigators Friday in connection with his indictment Monday on multiple charges.
Billy Rasberry Jr., who formerly headed up Webster Parish Fire District No. 11 in Springhill, was indicted on two counts of abuse of office and one count of attempted obstruction of justice. He was booked into Bayou Dorcheat Correctional Center and released on bond.
The investigative audit -- sparked by the Webster Parish Sheriff's Office -- uncovered a number of alleged violations. The Louisiana Legislative Auditor's Office released the audit in February.
Among the findings:
- Rasberry paid himself $24,430 in excess compensation between January 2017 and March 2019.
The excess compensation consisted of $16,930 in overtime and extra duty payments for which adequate documentation could not be found and $7,500 from a pay increase for which no authorization could be found. By paying himself the excess compensation without appropriate documentation and/or board authority, the former chief may have violated state law.
- Rasberry spent $1,769 of the fire district’s money to buy auto parts for his personal use between June 2016 and May 2018. The report revealed he also failed to pay $185 in sales taxes for those purchases because he used the district’s tax-exempt status to make them.
By using district funds to buy the parts and service items for personal use and failing to pay sales taxes on personal purchases, Rasberry may have violated state law.
- Auditors found Rasberry held two full-time government positions at the same time, which is a violation of state law. Rasberry was employed as a full-time Webster Parish sheriff’s deputy during a time when he was also the full-time fire chief.
Rasberry took over the department in 2012 at a time when it was recovering from controversy from its previous chief, who was convicted of unauthorized use of an access card for allowing his wife to put personal fuel purchases on a district credit card. Other fire officials in neighboring Webster Parish fire departments also were on the hot seat for assorted violations during the same time frame.
Rasberry promised to win back the public’s confidence and point the district in a new direction. He also touted recent “clean audits.”
According to the state auditor, however, the fire district stopped submitting its audit two years later as the last one available for public review is for fiscal year 2014. The district has not submitted the annual review of its finances for fiscal years 2015, 2016, 2017 and 2018.
The 2014 audit noted a number of findings, including no bond commission approval of loans, lack of record keeping on bank transactions, late filing of financial information and failure to deposit receipts timely. And audit findings from 2013 also were unresolved.
An attorney who responded to the audit on Rasberry's behalf said the audit contained errors.
Records show Rasberry was appointed as the full-time chief during the September 2012 meeting. He resigned that post on March 8, 2019.
WPSO hired Rasberry in July 2017. Records reflect he worked full-time from July 3, 2017 to Feb. 27, 2018 and resigned on March 1, 2018.