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Former supervisor found innocent of payroll fraud

Author(s): CHRISTOPHER BAUGHMAN Date: August 7, 1996 Section: city

A jury found a former city-parish supervisor innocent late Tuesday of public payroll fraud and two other felony counts. The six-person jury also acquitted Tommy Dale Durham of malfeasance in office and perjury.

"It feels great," said Durham, who said he lost 45 pounds and his job as manager of wastewater collections after being indicted more than two years ago. Durham said he is still out of work.

Durham faced a total of up to 12 years in prison if convicted on all the charges.

Durham was the supervisor of Wayne Amato, a wastewater inspector. A jury in October convicted Amato of attempted payroll fraud for illegally using 34 days of sick leave to build his house.

The jury also convicted Amato of filing false public records for saying he was sick when he was really working on the house.

The jury acquitted Amato of improperly using city-parish tools -including nail guns, a table saw and hammers - to build his house.

Durham was accused of telling Amalo how to beat the city-parish's sick-leave policy and of approving his sick-time records.

The perjury count stems from Durham's testimony before a grand jury. Durham was accused of lying about whether he authorized Amato to take time off.

At worst, Durham was guilty of not being as good a supervisor as he could have been, his lawyer, Tommy Daniico, told the jury Tuesday during closing arguments.

"There's a big difference in violating criminal law and not being quite as good as someone else," he said.

None of the evidence pointed to criminal activity, Damico said.

When Amato asked, Durham told him that he could not take sick time to work on his home, Damico said. He did not sign the time sheets showing Amato was sick with a virus during the 34 days he took off, Damico said.

And he didn't lie to the grand jury when he said he didn't know what the department's policies were for sure, Damico said.

"They simply did not have the evidence," Damico said after the verdict. "Tommy was not guilty of anything."

Prosecutor Jim Murray tried to convince the jury that Durham

But Murray said that Durham told Amato to call-in sick for up to four days in a row and return on the fifth day. That way, Amato would not need a doctor's excuse, Murray said.

And he accused Durham of trying "to cover his behind" by lying to the grand jury.

"A knowing, intelligent, deliberate attempt to avoid the truth," Murray said.

Murray said he lost the case because too much time has passed between the indictments and Durham's trial.

Murray said his witnesses could no longer recall much about conversations he hoped would swing the jury.

Another problem was that no one ever accused Durham of benefiting by any of the criminal charges against him, Murray said.

"I can understand," he said. "It would be difficult for the jury to find the man guilty when he received no direct benefit from criminal activity."

Copyright 1996 Capital City Press, Baton Rouge, La.

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