Iberia: No trust without transparency


Transparency is a simple concept. There are various definitions, such as:

  • the quality of allowing light to pass through so that objects behind can be distinctly seen;
  • the quality of being easy to perceive or detect; and
  • the quality of being open to public scrutiny

But the best explanation of its meaning can be found by examining its origin in Medieval Latin, which is “shining through.”

The concept of government transparency should be based on just that: “shining through”. It is not enough for a government official to assert that they believe in transparency. Nor is it acceptable for a public body to simply hold open meetings and answer public records requests in pursuit of being “more transparent.” True transparency has an attribute of “shining through.” It manifests itself without having to be searched for or requested. That is what real transparency looks like and it’s severely lacking in many institutions in Iberia Parish.

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Trust must be earned

You want a new tax, Sheriff Romero. We get it! You want your community’s grandchildren and great-grandchildren paying that same tax fifty years from now. We don’t agree with that concept, but that is the path you have chosen. The claim that this tax is exclusively for salaries and benefits is suspicious, too. Even the less informed know that the language of the tax says otherwise. So, you must excuse our skepticism.

Actually, you must do more. You must earn our trust! And that takes more than public talks and ads run by your political action committee featuring testimonials of why staff should get more money. There isn’t anyone, aside from a bunch of woke defund the police activist, who doesn’t agree that salaries in most law enforcement agencies are inadequate considering the nature of the job.

According to the Protecting Iberia Parish PAC report filed on March 28, 2024, they have raised $23,500.00. (Maybe when this is over we can figure out how to use that money to repay the misappropriated funds, which we’ll discuss later in this article.)

But the question before the voters is not whether people believe that Iberia Parish Deputies deserve to be paid more. The biggest question is whether the tax will even be used on Deputy salaries and benefits. That is a result of the (intentionally?) loose language selected by Sheriff Romero:

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Shall the Law Enforcement District of the Parish of Iberia, State of Louisiana (the “District”), be authorized to levy and collect a sales and use tax of 0.25% (the “Tax”) (an estimated $4,000,000 reasonably expected to be collected from the levy of the Tax for an entire year), in perpetuity, commencing July 1, 2024, in accordance with Louisiana law, with the proceeds of the Tax (after paying the reasonable and necessary costs and expenses of collecting and administering the Tax) to be dedicated and used to pay costs and expenses of operating and supporting the Iberia Parish Sheriff’s Office, including paying salaries and benefits of current and any additional law enforcement personnel?

This is not a tax dedicated specifically to the salaries and benefits of law enforcement personnel.

Then there are those other two bothersome questions: Is it necessary? With an annual surplus that has been increasing since 2019 and is presently around $11.2 million! Is the term and purpose of the tax reasonable? As we have already pointed out the term is FOREVER and the purpose is FOR ANYTHING! But enough about the tax. Let’s get back to transparency.

Outstanding public records request

We have been seeking records from Sheriff Romero related to this tax since January of this year! The initial excuse was the attorney handling the request, Steve Elledge, suddenly and unexpectedly left his position with the Iberia Parish Sheriff’s Office. Even the FBI investigation and DOJ prosecutions under Sheriff Ackal couldn’t scare Elledge away. What is really going on?

So, on March 6, 2024, when the issue of the unanswered public records request was brought to the attention of Iberia Parish Sheriff’s Office Director of Public Affairs, Katherine Breaux, at a luncheon specifically geared towards promoting the tax we were told we would get that information right away. Would you be surprised to know that we didn’t get that information “right away”?

In fact, when we followed up with Ms. Breaux the following week on March 12, 2024, we were told we could get the information from another public body. No ma’am! That is not how this works. It is the custodian’s responsibility to provide access to public records, not to send to another public body who may or may not have the records sought. Additionally, it is a crime in Louisiana to intentionally remove, mutilate, destroy, alter, falsify, or conceal any record! This is the response of the Sheriff, the Chief Law Enforcement Officer of the Parish.

Off goes the punt

A few days later that same public records request was again punted to yet another lawyer. This time it went to outside counsel. After a cordial conversation, we were informed that the records would be forthcoming. But nearly a month later no records had been produced.

We think it is worth noting at this point exactly what records were being sought. After all, with all of the trouble with getting the records you are probably wondering if we requested every text message sent and received by Sheriff Romero since taking office No, that was not the request. All we asked for back on January 11, 2024, was:

“Records reflecting the annual salary for the year 2023 for each person employed by Sheriff Tommy Romero.”

Pretty simple! I mean, after all, you are asking for an additional tax lasting forever supposedly for salaries and benefits. You didn’t think someone would wonder about the existing salaries and benefits?

So, we followed up yet again on April 4, 2024, with the lawyer who was previously handling the request. He advised that he wasn’t handling the request anymore! Now the Sheriff himself should provide the responsive records. Sheriff Romero still had not provided anything!

A wall is erected

If we had known Sheriff Romero was this good at erecting walls, we certainly would have nominated him for another post, perhaps along the southern border of Texas. But his talent doesn’t stop there. Our request was recently assigned to a third and final lawyer resulting in a response.

On April 9, 2024, we received a response from Attorney Andy Shealy containing a four-page document. That response came from an e-mail address on the Iberia Parish Sheriff’s Office domain. We had actually learned that Mr. Shealy would be handling our January request as well as more recent requests the previous week. At that time, when we communicated with Mr. Shealy, it was at an e-mail address on the 16th Judicial District Attorney’s Office domain. Now, this is where things can get quite interesting.

Mr. Shealy works as an Assistant District Attorney in the Iberia Parish Office of the 16th Judicial District Attorney’s Office under Bo Duhe. Although we were somewhat perplexed by Mr. Shealy being an employee of both the Sheriff and The District Attorney he has assisted in clarifying that he is a part-time employee for both agencies. We didn’t even have to ask! That is what true transparency looks like. 

History doesn’t repeat, but it does echo

Before being informed of that, it did remind us of a previous matter where we pointed out the potential public payroll fraud of another Assistant District Attorney (now retired) in 16th Judicial District Attorney’s Office. That individual was Robbie Vines and the situation came to light in the O’Neil J. Darden, Jr. case, a federal civil rights lawsuit filed against Vines and Duhe.

When covering the 16th Judicial District Attorney’s Office’s involvement in the removal of Darden from the Tribal Council of the Sovereign Nation of the Chitimacha and the malicious prosecution of Darden, we also learned of the situation involving Vines. Vines was serving as the Tribal Prosecutor for the Sovereign Nation of the Chitimacha during his regular working hours with the 16th Judicial District Attorney’s Office. Louisiana Attorney General Opinion (03-0382 – February 3, 2004) says this practice is illegal and could constitute public payroll fraud (a state employee may not perform work for a private organization during ordinary business hours; receipt of wages for any such period constitutes public payroll fraud).

Is this proper?

The fact that Shealy is answering our public records requests is one thing. But things get a little more twisted when you consider the nature of the request he has been assigned. Our more recent requests are:

Any and all reports related to the “discrepancies” in inmate trust accounts between July of 2020 and March of 2021, including but not limited to the initial report.

The complete disciplinary, Internal Affairs, and/or IAPro files for Iberia Parish Sheriff’s Deputy/employee Angela Simon, including without limitation, all documents concerning complaints, investigations, and/or findings. 

Records reflecting any pay increases received by Iberia Parish Sheriff’s Deputy Edward Fremin in 2024. 

These requests deal directly with the  “discrepancies” in accounting for funds totaling over $17,000 that were referenced in the Financial Auditor’s report. It gets worse because the supervisor of the department allegedly received a substantial pay raise following the incident! We also pointed out that Louisiana Revised Statute 24:523(A) provides:

An agency head of an auditee who has reasonable cause to believe that there has been a misappropriation of the public funds or assets of his agency shall immediately notify, in writing, the legislative auditor and the district attorney of the parish in which the agency is domiciled of such misappropriation.

Any misappropriation should have been reported to the District Attorney. Now an employee of the agency that also works for the agency that would be responsible for prosecuting any criminal conduct arising from the misappropriation (the 16th Judicial District Attorney’s Office) is answering the requests seeking records related to the misappropriation. Good gravy, man!


Maybe it is just a new sort of “efficiency” process being used in Iberia Parish. After all, if the District Attorney is already in possession of the records due to possible prosecution he would certainly be in a good position to respond. However, if the District Attorney is not presently in possession of the records and doesn’t even have knowledge of the allegations at this time, how will this complicate things?

Also, is the Sheriff turning over information that could also lead to his prosecution for failing to report the misappropriation to the agency responsible for prosecuting the illegal activities? And what about the criminal implication that the Sheriff appears to have withheld or concealed records over a period of months? The employee responding to that request is also employed by the same entity that would be charged with prosecuting any violations!

Jailed for six months without charges

This incestuous relationship between the Iberia Parish Sheriff and District Attorney doesn’t end there. As it turns out the District Attorney, Bo Duhe, and Assistant District Attorney Alister Charrier were both recently named in a federal civil rights lawsuit. It involves an individual who was held in jail by Sheriff Tommy Romero for over six months without any criminal charges.

Tayjha Alfred filed suit in the Western District of Louisiana on February 23, 2024, alleging violations of both her federal and state constitutional rights. According to the complaint:

For more than six months, Tayjha Alfred languished in the Iberia Parish Jail. Alfred had not been charged with committing any crime. She was neither a suspect nor an accused. Instead, day by day, she was kept in jail—all without access to any appointed counsel. For each of those six months, she lived in fear for her physical safety. And she mourned the life she had been forced to leave behind, the professional career she had worked so hard to create, and the educational opportunities that had been waiting for her but were now lost.

You can read the entire lawsuit here. But to help connect the dots for the non-local readers: District Attorney Alister Charrier is also the daughter of Sheriff Tommy Romero. Charrier is employed by the 16th Judicial District Attorney’s Offices along with Andy Shealy, who has been assigned to answer public records requests on behalf of Sheriff Tommy Romero. Our request deals specifically with alleged wrongdoing by both Romero and his staff, which may ultimately be subject to prosecution by the 16th Judicial District Attorney’s Office. Following?

Charrier replaced Robert Chevalaier not that long after we began to smell a stench along the Teche. As it turns out we also have other outstanding requests being handled by the 16th Judicial District Attorney’s Offices. One such request dates back to March of 2023 and directly involves records of prosecutions, dismissals, and adjudication in St. Martin Parish.

Here’s something else to think about. All of this started with the failure of Sheriff Romero to respond to a simple public records request back in January so we could properly evaluate his need for a tax increase. Bless his heart!


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