STERLINGTON, La. (KTVE/KARD) — On October 11, 2023, reports confirmed that the Town of Sterlington must submit an audit report on its finances for 2018 to the state of Louisiana by Friday, October 13, 2023, to be granted a six-month extension to complete four additional audit reports. According to the Ouachita Citizen, Sterlington is currently on the state Legislative Auditor’s (LLA) non-compliance list because of the town’s tardiness in submitting audit reports.
In June 2022, former Mayor Vern Breland was charged by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) with violating the antifraud provisions of the Exchange Act and the Securities Act for manipulating financial documents and projections provided to investors in order to sustain bonded indebtedness in 2017 and 2018. According to reports, Mayor Matt Talbert advised that Sterlington has not produced audit reports from 2018 to 2022 due to the manipulation of financial documents and projections in 2017 and 2018.
According to the Ouachita Citizen, the state Legislative Audit Advisory Council (LAAC) met on Monday, October 9, 2023, at the State Capitol to determine a plan to help Sterlington complete its five outstanding audit reports, so the town could be removed from the Legislative Auditor’s non-compliance list.
Legislative Auditor Mike Waguespack advised that the 2018 audit report was supposed to be submitted on September 29, 2023, by Jerrod Tinsley of Heard, McElroy & Vestal LLC. According to reports, Heard, McElroy & Vestal was the certified public accountant (CPA) hired to complete Sterlington’s outstanding audits, but no audit report was received.
However, Mayor Talbert reportedly received a draft of the report, which was rendered to Sterlington with a disclaimer. Tinsely advised that he decided to render a disclaimer of opinion on the 2018 audit because he was not comfortable with where misused bond proceeds should be placed.
According to the Ouachita Citizen, no other Sterlington audits can be completed until the 2018 audit is submitted. In 2020, Tinsley was hired by Sterlington and he reportedly originally believed the audit report would be completed by June 2021. According to reports, Waguespack also noted Sterlington has reportedly spent $70,000 on the 2018 audit.
A chairman of the LAAC reportedly advised that Sterlington would miss big funding through state drainage programs if its outstanding audits were not completed in a timely manner. According to reports, Waguespack agreed with Rep. Barry Ivey’s suggestion and noted the town hired an outside CPA immediately after the financial administrator left.
The LAAC unanimously voted to grant Sterlington an extension on its 2019, 2020, 2021, and 2022 audit reports. If the 2018 report is submitted by Friday, October 13, 2023, Sterlington would have until March 31, 2024, to complete the four remaining audit reports and would be removed from the LLA’s non-compliance list, according to reports.
Officials have reportedly suggested that the Town of Sterlington should consider hiring a different accounting firm to perform the remaining audits.