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Corruption Capitol: Political corruption hurts Ridgecrest community

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RIDGECREST, La. (KNOE 8 News) - Studies consistently rank Louisiana as one of the most corrupt states in the country. The effects of the wrong-doing can touch entire communities.

In the second of three special reports called "Corruption Capitol" we explore how political corruption has devastated the small town of Ridgecrest in Concordia Parish.

Ridgecrest, Louisiana is a small Concordia Parish town with a population of about 700 people. Many of those who live here are still feeling the sting of a financial scandal that rocked the town. "This has really been a headache" said Mayor Dwayne Sikes, who took over following the resignation of previous Mayor Kevin Graham.

This in the wake of a 2010 audit which uncovered poor financial records. Soon thereafter, Sikes invited the auditors back and in taking a closer look, found more missteps that put a dark cloud over the town. "The amount that was missing form our little town, a huge amount" said Sikes.

The town was missing more than 56-thousand dollars worth of cash in utility payments and two years worth of state and federal back taxes. "To a large city that probably just a drop in the bucket but for a small town, that's hard to make up that kind of money" said Sikes.

As a result, the town clerk Dana Delaughter was fired. In June of this year a Concordia Parish grand jury indicted both the former mayor and clerk on multiple counts of theft, false accounting, filing false public records, and malfeasance. But both have pleaded not guilty.

The two were in court Wednesday, where in an exclusive interview Delaughter says she's innocent. "Did you do all of those things?" KNOE 8 News asked her. "No I did not. I had been there 11 years, why would I want to steal the last year of working there?" said Delaughter.

With the trial still on-going, there are no real answers as to who bankrupted this town. But for the people who live here in Ridgecrest, all they know is they were left with a mess. Left behind, the town is now essentially broke and has to make-up for it's losses.

That's why Sykes has hired an independent CPA, cut back salaries and raised fees for town expenses across the board. The effects have been felt by everyone. "It's wrong and they should have to pay and not the citizens who  live here" said Veronica Shipley who  lives in Ridgecrest.

Bonnie Townsend knows Delaughter and Graham personally. After hearing the news, she had an initial sense of shock that turn to anger. "You tend to take that personally because you grew up with them and they should have stopped and thought I can't do this to these people, we've been here all our lives" said Townsend.

We asked Delaughter, who has since moved away from Ridgecrest, if she had anything to say to the people there. "I would like to tell them, well I'm not going to tell them I'm sorry, because I did what I was supposed to" was Delaughter's response.

A trial for the duo is likely several months away, in the meantime, the town is left trying to clean up and move on.

Shortly after our interview with Delaughter, she was arrested on new charges with warrants separate from the Ridgecrest case. Details of her arrest won't be made public until a later date. She remains in jail until her next court date, which is set for December 12th.

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