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Four Department of Public Works employees accused of stealing hundreds of gallons of gas

Tuesday, October 2, 2012 - 9:19pm

Four City employees are accused of stealing fuel from the city over a period of eight months, turning small amounts of gas into a big crime.

"We're a tax-based organization," said David Guillory, Interim Director of the Department of Public Works, "and we make sure we do everything we to spend those tax dollars correctly."

But DPW and the Baton Rouge Police Department say four people abused the system. They claim Ensley Joseph, Rodney Maxwell, Joyce Gatlin, and Lawrence Smith stole approximately a thousand dollars from the city, by filling up small gas cans repeatedly between January and August.

Once DPW realized something was wrong, it began an investigation. It first suspected Joseph. In addition to surveillance footage taken from city gas stations, it put a GPS tracker on his vehicle and had police officers follow him.

"While he was on duty being paid, (officers saw him) go to his house, use a city trimmer, city gasoline to perform weed-eating at his own residence," said Lt. Don Kelly of the baton Rouge Police Department. "And then take the remainder of the city gasoline that was in the container and put it into a personal vehicle."

After starting with Joseph, investigators say they discovered similar thefts being committed by the other three suspects. Since the four were all using gas cards, DPW says it wasn't hard to follow their spending habits and discover the stolen gas.

"Any fuel coming from a city-parish agency, not being used for city-parish purposes, it's a big deal to us," Guillory said. "Any theft at all. And that's why we ended up at this point."

All four were arrested Tuesday morning and charged with felony theft. Additionally, Joseph is charged with payroll fraud.

Guillory does not believe the announcement of these arrests will impact his department's reputation, because it was able to catch the people he says tried to steal from taxpayers.

"Our employees here within Public Works have gotten the message before and they'll get it again," Guillory said.

"The processes we put in place to monitor this are what led us to this disciplinary action for these employees. Had those processes not been in place, we may have not known."

The police department says all four of the suspects had criminal records before Tuesday. DPW acknowledged that at least some of them had been arrested before, but Guillory mentioned that all four passed background checks before they were hired.

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