Circumventing Nepotism Law Creates Larger Problem for Louisiana Fire Chief

Trying to circumvent an ethics problem created an even larger headache for a Louisiana Fire Chief. Former Grand Caillou Fire Chief, Johnny Duplantis, and his wife, Carol Duplantis, recently paid $8,000 in fines for violating state ethic laws. The chief allegedly approved payments to his wife for work she performed using the identity and Social Security Number of another firefighter to claim the payment.

In September 2008, Hurricanes Gustav and Ike struck the gulf coast, and the fire department faced a severe manpower shortage. Carol Duplantis agreed to work for the fire department for roughly six weeks. The problem was that state ethics laws prohibit nepotism, and thus prohibited the chief from being able to hire his wife even in an emergency.

In an effort to avoid the ethical trap, the chief approved an employment agreement, time sheets, and payment of $1,170 to his wife by using the name and Social Security Number of Tressa Verdin, a mutual friend and volunteer of the fire department.

The couple said that they had Verdin’s approval before submitting her name, but Verdin’s denied agreeing to the arrangement.

Verdin told reporters “I was called over to their house to sign a check that was made out to me from the department. I was told this was because Carol had worked for the department during both hurricanes, and she couldn't get pay because she was Johnny's wife and it wasn't fair.” Verdin claims she was pressured to sign the check and later reported the matter to the State Ethics Board.

The State Ethics Board ruling on the matter was handed down earlier this fall. Chief Duplantis resigned from the Department in December, 2009 citing health reasons. The couple is also facing criminal charges related to the same series of events.

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About Curt Varone

Curt Varone has over 40 years of fire service experience and 30 as a practicing attorney licensed in both Rhode Island and Maine. His background includes 29 years as a career firefighter in Providence (retiring as a Deputy Assistant Chief), as well as volunteer and paid on call experience. He is the author of two books: Legal Considerations for Fire and Emergency Services, (2006, 2nd ed. 2011, 3rd ed. 2014) and Fire Officer's Legal Handbook (2007), and is a contributing editor for Firehouse Magazine writing the Fire Law column.
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