By Matt Sledge and Mike Perlstein l Nola.com and WWLTV I March 30, 2020
The commander and three members of an Orleans Parish Sheriff’s Office internal investigations unit abruptly resigned on Friday.
The departures came amid an internal investigation into irregularities involving work hours and private employment, according to multiple sources with knowledge of the situation, though Sheriff Marlin Gusman said in a statement Monday that the office “has received no subpoenas or warrants from any entity related to any of these former employees.”
Maj. Edwin Hosli, head of the investigative unit, along with Lt. Joe Catalanotto, Agents Danny DeNoux and Kerri Lynch all “voluntarily resigned” on Friday, according to a Gusman spokesman.
The resignations occurred as the New Orleans jail grapples with a manpower shortage caused by the novel coronavirus, which has already sidelined 11 Sheriff’s Office employees with positive test results and scared some others away from reporting for duty.
But the spokesman declined to elaborate on why the top echelon of an entire unit — which has garnered praise from the federal monitors overseeing the jail’s reform plan — was decimated in the midst of the coronavirus crisis.
“As a matter of policy, the Sheriff’s Office doesn’t discuss personnel matters,” said the spokesman, Philip Stelly.
Reached by phone for a brief interview on Friday, Hosli said there was nothing unusual about the exodus.
“It was just time for a change,” he said of his departure.
Catalanotto declined comment. DeNoux and Lynch couldn’t be reached. Hosli, Catalanotto and DeNoux are veteran law enforcement officers who previously worked for the New Orleans Police Department.
The abrupt departures led to a swirl of intrigue inside and outside the Sheriff’s Office over the weekend, but officials have remained tight-lipped. Multiple sources with knowledge of the situation said the resignations came after an internal inquiry into payroll and off-duty work that had been brewing quietly for weeks.
“The matter is currently under investigation,” said Rafael Goyeneche, president of the Metropolitan Crime Commission, a criminal justice watchdog group. “We’ve seen partial disclosure with the fact that the Sheriff’s Office has confirmed a few resignations but we don’t know everything that the Sheriff’s Office has uncovered.”
With the office under a federal consent decree, the situation has been brought to the attention of federal authorities, the sources said.
The potential for administrative violations would have been short-circuited due to the sudden resignations, while the possibility of criminal violations could be probed further despite the departures.
“There’s always going to be the potential for someone not following the rules,” Goyeneche said. “But we don’t know the extent of this. We don’t know if any of these violations are going to emerge as possible criminal violations. We have more questions than we have answers at that this time.”
Outside jobs including off-duty details, where private businesses contract with law enforcement officers for protection, have long been a source of concern for anti-corruption crusaders.
When Justice Department investigators issued a damning report on the New Orleans Police Department in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, they called the loosely regulated off-duty details an “aorta of corruption.”
Hosli, at the time the commander of the NOPD 8th District, including the French Quarter, was enmeshed in a controversy over his creation of a private company that had officers review red-light camera tickets for a city vendor. He was cleared of criminal wrongdoing, but criticized in an inspector general’s report.
In 2016, off-duty detail graft also claimed the second-in-command at the Sheriff’s Office. Gerald “Jerry” Ursin pleaded guilty to falsely charging Mardi Gras krewes, music festivals and other businesses for the work of “ghost” employees who never did any work.
Hosli and Catalanotto both left the NOPD as it was being transformed by the federal court decree inspired by the Justice Department report. A separate office in City Hall now handles off-duty details worked by NOPD.
DeNoux is a well-traveled former NOPD officer who moonlighted as a private eye at the same time he conducted investigations for the Orleans Parish Sheriff’s Office.
All four investigators worked in the Investigative Services Bureau, which has earned praise from the court-appointed monitors who oversee the jail’s long-running reform pact with the federal government.
While the monitors have dinged other departments for high turnover and shoddy work, they portrayed the criminal investigators as experienced lawmen who conducted thorough investigations.