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BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) -
A big theft problem in the East Baton Rouge Public Works Department is costing tax payers hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Expensive, heavy duty equipment has been stolen and the department head said he no longer wants to replace it.
When the grass in the ditches gets high, the streets flood and water backs up in the East Baton Rouge sewer system the Department of Public Works deploys crews to tackle the problems. The parish department employs roughly 800 people.
David Guillory, who has been running the department for a year and a half, said nearly half of his employees work in ditches, wastewater, and one of three parish maintenance facilities. He said they rely on heavy duty equipment to get the jobs done.
"We are as good as the equipment we have," Guillory said.
The DPW fleet includes expensive tractors, backhoes, excavators, and mowers, just to name a few. Guillory said supervisors at the facilities are supposed to document which employees use each piece of equipment. At the end of the work day the machines are stored behind a locked gate. But from time to time some of them have vanished.
"With the large amount of equipment we have in our fleet it can be a task making sure we're keeping up with it," Guillory said.
According to the documents obtained by the 9news I-Team, the DPW has lost track of several pieces of pricey equipment. From January of 2009 to November of 2013, eight machines have gone missing.
Bobcat S150 Skid Loader $24,763
Kubota Tractor $14,826.17
Alamo Flail Mower $2,970
Kubota Excavator $34,766
Case 580 Backhoe $59,927
Grasshopper Lawnmower $10,521.75
Case 580 Super M Backhoe $66,304
New Holland Tractor $21,923.19
Total = $236,010.11
The total does not include other smaller equipment, such as weed eaters that were also stolen from the department.
"In the last instance they actually transported it with more of my equipment, with a truck and a trailer that belong to public works," Guillory said.
Former DPW employee, Watson Williams, III contacted the 9News I-Team after he was arrested in November and fired for allegedly stealing a tractor from the DPW, which was recovered. He claims he is innocent, but is well aware of equipment being stolen. Part of the problem, he said, is that a lot of the gear, like the Kubota Tractors, can be operated by the same key.
"Anybody can come up with a key from anywhere if they have that code key that matches that tractor, you can operate it," Williams said.
Williams said it is common knowledge among DPW workers.
In a report filed with the Baton Rouge Police Department regarding a missing tractor in February of 2009, the complainant stated, "This tractor used the same key as all other Kubota brand tractors. He stated that any Kubota key would fit the ignition."
A year prior to that, a Case Backhoe was stolen from the DPW East lot. The complainant "stated that the backhoe can be started by any case key."
"We have different sizes of tractors. The smaller tractor key does not operate the larger tractor key, but regardless of which keys operate which tractors, our real problem is employees being involved in the thefts," Guillory said.
"Why is a culture of theft being allowed to operate in this department," reporter Cheryl Mercedes asked.
"Well, when you're dealing with a labor force as large as ours, a maintenance intensive labor force, you're hiring lots of employees that may not want to work hard every day," Guillory replied.
The department has installed surveillance cameras at the facilities, hired officers to keep watch, and has invested in a GPS tracking system but he said even that has not stopped the thefts.
"GPSing equipment every month for service, spending money storing equipment, locking equipment up, buying different apparatus to make sure it's safe. At a certain point it's not worth spending the money to replace that equipment. We will look at other options. We have looked at other options of getting work done if equipment continues to walk off," Guillory said.
Guillory believes some of stolen items wind up on construction sites, some as far away as the U.S./Mexico border. But he said investigators have not been able to prove it. The department head said he is working hard to establish a new culture at public works.
"I'm not going to put up with theft of our equipment. I'm going to come down pretty hard on anybody that we find doing those kinds of activities," Guillory said.
A spokesman for the Baton Rouge Police Department confirmed detectives are actively working to track the stolen equipment and the people responsible. However, he said because the machines are typically painted or sold for parts it makes them that much harder to track.