Media

Fox 8/ By Lee Zurik and Dannah Sauer/Jan. 12, 2024 at 3:49 PM CST

NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) – A crime watchdog says the federal indictment charging former NOPD Sergeant Todd Morrell with 12 counts of wire fraud shows the Federal Government is paying close attention to allegations of corruption within the NOPD.

The indictment lays out 12 times when Morrell is either accused of double dipping – working on-duty shifts and off-duty detail shifts at the same time, or when Morrell claimed to be working but wasn’t those assignments.

The indictment mirrors what Fox 8 found in our “Attention to the Details” investigative series. Our reports showed several instances when Morrell claimed to work NOPD shifts and off-duty detail shifts patrolling the Fairgrounds neighborhood at the same time.

Our reports also found examples when Morrell claimed to be working, but instead spent time at home or was racing cars at the Westbank Motorsports park.

That included June 21, 2020, when official online race results showed Morrell finished first in a race at the park at 9:00 a.m. However, Morrell’s timesheet from that day showed he was paid for a shift that started at 5:00 a.m. which lasted most of the day.

Thursday’s indictment accuses Morrell of knowingly devising a scheme to defraud the NOPD by submitting false timesheets.

It lays out 12 different days, when federal investigators say Morrell either double-dipped, or was paid for work when he wasn’t there. The indictment also sites times Morrell was at Westbank Motorsports Park while being paid for patrol.

NOPD watchdog Skip Gallagher has been inspecting NOPD timesheets and detail logs for years, uncovering some of the allegations used in Fox 8′s reporting.

“Police are in charge of enforcing the law. We shouldn’t be comfortable with them breaking the law. We shouldn’t be comfortable with them being creative with their timesheets. I can’t do that at work. I think most people can’t do that at work. Yet, this problem has gone on for years,” Gallagher said.

On November 17, 2021, one day after Fox 8′s first investigation into Morrell aired, the indictment details that Morrell submitted payroll adjustment forms, to correct what he called clerical errors dating back to 2017.

Head of the Metropolitan Crime Commission Rafael Goyeneche says investigators may use Morrell’s changes as part of the case against him.

“It’s an acknowledgement of that he’s been caught, I’m sure the government is going to use that as an admission to facilitate their charges that they brought against him. So, it really is an acknowledgement, based on the evidence, he thought he was not going to get caught doing this”

Over the his last three years on the force, Morrell was repeatedly one of the highest-paid officers, earning about $200,000 per year.

“I think officers should be well paid. I think most of the officers in the NOPD are honest, hardworking people who are trying to do the right thing. But it is really discouraging to those officers who work in a department when they see officers who are profiteering in the department and performing little if any function many times within the department and making extraordinary salaries,” Gallagher said.

Late in 2023, Fox 8 received a subpoena from the federal government for our reporting on Morrell, which we complied with.

U.S. Attorney Duane Evans said in a press release, “While the indictment is merely a charge, not a full presentation of evidence, [Thursday’s] indictment emphasizes this office’s dedication to ensuring the integrity and honesty of public officials and holding responsible those who betray that sacred public duty.

Goyeneche believes the indictment could also provide perspective into the ongoing federal investigation into New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Jordan Ginsberg is the lead attorney on the Morrell case and is also leading the investigation into Cantrell.

Fox 8 previously reported that federal investigators have been asking questions about the time Cantrell spent with her security guard Jeffrey Vappie and their relationship.

Fox 8′s “Outside the Office” investigations showed Cantrell and Vappie spent hours during the workday inside the city-owned Upper Pontalba Apartment. Vappie was often on the clock for the NOPD during those times and sometimes clocked overtime hours while in the apartment with Cantrell.

“The fact that the … same prosecutor that is assigned this particular case and reviewed these facts is also handling the investigation and potential prosecution involving the mayor and Officer Vappie is, you know, an indication that this might be a common thread that is going to be pursued by the government with respect to officers billing the city of New Orleans for work that they didn’t perform,” Goyeneche said. “We see it with Sergeant Morrell being indicted on 12 counts of wire fraud, and that is probably one of the issues that’s being scrutinized by the government to determine if there’s wire fraud or payroll fraud with respect to Officer Vappie, performing his duties as a member of the mayor’s executive protection team.”

Morrell retired from the NOPD in December 2021, shortly after our investigations began to air. Fox 8 reached out to Morrell’s attorney Billy Gibbens for comment on the indictment, but didn’t hear back.

See a spelling or grammar error in our story? Click Here to report it. Please include the headline.

Subscribe to the Fox 8 YouTube channel.

Copyright 2024 WVUE. All rights reserved.