When former state Alcohol and Tobacco Control Commissioner Murphy Painter was accused of using his position to access confidential law enforcement databases and obtain information on numerous public figures, it was the state Inspector General’s Office that investigated the case and prompted Painter to resign in August 2010.
And when Baton Rouge attorney Randy Zinna stole roughly $1.6 million from a police retirement system, a local government retirement system and an 83-year-old widow, state Inspector General Stephen Street played a big role in the investigation.
Established in 1988 by former Gov. Buddy Roemer to investigate fraud and corruption within government agencies, the state Inspector General’s Office, headed by current IG Stephen Street, is a bona fide law enforcement agency that until recent years primarily generated public reports on government fraud and waste investigated by the office.
But the mission of the office, by Street’s own admission, has shifted in recent years to “investigations of white-collar criminal activity to be presented for prosecution.” It’s that same shift in focus that leaves some state lawmakers, namely the 11 members of the House Appropriations Committee who voted this week to strip the IG’s $1.7 million in annual funding, questioning whether the office “is pretty much redundant” and overlaps with the duties of State Police and the Attorney General’s Office, according to a Thursday post by The Political Desk.
The Political Desk report gives insight on how the IG’s office began, how it evolved and devolved under various governors and, more important, where the office currently stands in the Legislature:
When Gov. Buddy Roemer lost his bid for re-election in 1991, he swallowed his pride and made one major request of Edwin Edwards, who was about to move back into the Mansion and begin an unprecedented fourth term as Louisiana’s governor.
Having to get on bended knee before Edwards had to be all the more distasteful for Roemer, as EWE had made the younger reform-minded governor his whipping boy during the legendary contest.
So what was so important to Roemer that he was willing to humble himself and ask a favor of his political nemesis? It was the Inspector General’s Office, which Roemer had created during his first year in office as a means of ferreting out fraud and corruption.
Long story short, [Edwards] kept the IG in place — along with the man whom Roemer named to the post, Bill Lynch. But the decision did come with some exceptions.
In classic Edwards style, he barred Lynch from investigating the governor or his staff. That prohibition was as much a shot at Lynch, who had hounded The Silver Zipper as a tenacious investigative reporter for The Times-Picayune, as it was at the office itself and what it represented.
According to Street’s annual report for the 2010-2011 fiscal year, the effectiveness of the IG’s office is gauged by “a dollar amount of fraud and waste that equals or exceeds the dollar amount provided from the state general fund.”
“OIG not only met, but nearly doubled this goal in FY 2010-2011, identifying over [$3.2 million] as a result of cases successfully worked,” the inspector general says in his report. “Many of these cases have already resulted in successful criminal prosecutions.”
Read the full story from The Political Desk here.