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Regulator ends inquiry on utility payments to internet unit

December 20, 2020 GMT

LAFAYETTE, La. (AP) — The Louisiana Public Service Commission has ended an inquiry into whether Lafayette’s publicly owned internet system illegally benefitted from payments from other parts of the city-owned utility system, but isn’t saying whether or not the payments were legal.

The Public Service Commission on Wednesday was told the case is closed, spokesperson Colby Cook told local news outlets. The staff recommended no action on allegations made by Lafayette Mayor-President Joel Robideaux in December 2019.

State law was written to bar Lafayette Utilities System’s electric, water and wastewater divisions from subsidizing LUS Fiber.

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But Robideaux and current Mayor-President Josh Guillory have alleged LUS was improperly charged millions of dollars by the fiber division. Robideaux counted as much as $10 million in improper payments. That included $8 million for a questioned power outage-monitoring system. Questioned earlier were $1.75 million in payments for unused services at sewage lift stations. The fiber division repaid LUS about $1 million.

Guillory contracted for a forensic audit of LUS fiber operations from November 2010 through October 2018.

City-Parish Attorney Greg Logan in August sent the forensic audit to the FBI, PSC and District Attorney Keith Stutes. No update has been provided regarding the FBI. Stutes found no basis for criminal charges, calling the questionable transactions between the divisions an internal matter to be dealt with by the Guillory administration, not the courts. He also noted the statute of limitations on some of the allegations had expired.

Robideaux said he saw the PSC decision as an affirmation of changes his administration made to Fiber’s pricing practices after the initial sewage lift station payments, like splitting Terry Huval’s director position into separate directors for LUS and LUS Fiber, and changes made after further investigation prompted by a list of concerns identified by the commission during its audit of the lift station payments.

The city-parish has said it has cut payments to the utility by $975,000 by moving to long-term contract rates.

“All of those things are enough for the PSC to say that we’ve taken care of accounting for these payments correctly,” Robideaux said, though he expressed frustration that the commission didn’t make a clear declaration on the payments’ legality before putting the matter to rest Wednesday.