COVINGTON—Former Pearl River town clerk Diane Bennett Hollie pled guilty Thursday (Sept. 3), just before she was set to go to trial on a series of charges, including felony theft, related to an investigation last year by the state legislative auditor. District Judge Raymond Childress ordered her to serve a total of five years of probation and to pay more than $8,000 in restitution.
Hollie, 54, of Abita Springs, pled guilty to two felonies—theft over $1,500 and unauthorized use of a moveable. As part of the plea agreement, a malfeasance in office charge was reduced to a misdemeanor theft, and a second unauthorized use of a moveable also was reduced to a misdemeanor.
Assistant District Attorney Darrell Sims prosecuted the case before Childress, who sentenced Hollie to five years of probation for the felonies and two years of probation for the misdemeanors with the sentences running concurrently. If Hollie violates the conditions of her probation, Childress left open the option of giving her jail time, which could amount to as much as 21 years—up to 10 years for each of the felonies and up to six months for the misdemeanors.
Hollie and former Pearl River mayor James Lavigne were indicted by a St. Tammany Parish grand jury last October, after a legislative audit revealed improper expenditures and use of government property. Lavigne is set to go to trial Sept. 28.
“When people who have been trusted with positions of authority abuse their power, the consequence of such abuse is that the public has less faith in government,” District Attorney Warren Montgomery said. “So, anybody who abuses the public’s trust in this way will be prosecuted by my office in a vigorous manner.”
The audit showed that Hollie was improperly paid $7,896 in extra paychecks and charged $5,215 on the government’s credit card, which included $324 in sales tax avoidance. She later reimbursed the credit card charges.
The unauthorized use of a moveable charge is related to her use of a generator that was bought with public funds and at one point moved to her home.