LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — The former head of the Arkansas Lottery and one of his chief deputies spent about a quarter of their working days last year on personal trips out of the state, legislative auditors said Thursday.
The auditors said the records were unclear on whether proper leave time was recorded for former Director Ernie Passailaigue and former Vice President for Gaming David Barden. The lottery’s general counsel, Bishop Woosley, said the audit’s findings had been referred to prosecutors.
Passailaigue and Barden resigned this year after complaints about the games’ management.
The review, presented to the Legislative Joint Audit Committee, said Passailaigue was on non-business travel to South Carolina, where he maintains a residence, for 27 percent of his working days. Auditors said Barden spent 21 percent of his working days on non-business travel to South Carolina or Maine, where he maintains residences
The trips included instances where Passailaigue and Barden went to South Carolina at the end of business trips. Passailaigue flew to South Carolina on the last day of the trip on 10 of 16 business trips. Barden traveled to the state on the last day of seven of 10 business trips, the audit said.
“I think it’s very easy to conclude that we were supplementing personal travel with lottery funds,” Sen. Jonathan Dismang, R-Searcy, said during Thursday’s hearing.
Passailaigue and Barden did not attend Thursday’s meeting, but disputed the audit’s findings in letters to legislative staff. Both said auditors didn’t prove that they worked less than 80 hours during their two-week pay periods.
“For reasons unknown to me, the audit is silent as to the fact that the former executive director and I usually arrived at work early and frequently worked beyond the regular close of business,” Barden wrote. “If the audit is to be fair, our pre-workday and post-workday hours throughout the period should have been addressed and considered in the audit.”
Passailaigue argued that traveling out of state didn’t mean he wasn’t working.
“Travel to a particular destination does not constitute a violation of the ‘hours of work’ policy. The only question that needs to be answered is does the (Division of Legislative Audit) have any evidence that the executive director did not comply with the (Arkansas Lottery Commission) ‘hours of work’ policy?” Passailaigue wrote.
Woosley told lawmakers that both Barden and Passailaigue had unused paid leave when they left their jobs, but that any payments would be withheld until the findings of the audit are resolved. Julie Baldridge, the games’ interim director, said the lottery would review its travel policies and require future directors to notify the commission chairman in writing prior to the use of annual leave for work absences.
An audit last year detailing problems with the lottery was one the problems that led to Passailaigue’s resignation. Passailaigue, the former director of South Carolina’s lottery, was hired in 2009 to start Arkansas’ lottery.
Arkansas’ lottery funds college scholarships. Passailaigue was widely praised for the games’ quick startup, enabling the state to offer scholarships beginning in 2010, but accounting and tax problems proved his undoing.
After Passailaigue and Barden resigned, the lottery’s interim director fired Vice President for Administration Ernestine Middleton. Barden and Middleton had worked for Passailaigue at the South Carolina lottery.
Lawmakers on Thursday sharply questioned Lottery Commission Chairwoman Dianne Lamberth over her approval of some of his travel, and noted that last year’s audit also found insufficient documentation for Passailaigue’s travel.
“When it comes to repeat findings, you might want to come up to the table a little more humble,” Rep. Andrea Lea, R-Russellville, told Lamberth.
Lamberth said her goal was to avoid any findings in next year’s audit.
“What I would like to be able to do next year is come before you and I want us just to be a blip on your screen,” Lamberth said.
Lamberth later told reporters she was disappointed in Passailaigue, despite her past praise for setting up the games.
“We put our faith in him,” Lamberth said. “They did a great job in getting us up and running. We put our faith in them that they would run a tighter ship than they did.”