Cantrell campaign questions Orleans Parish DA's ties to Charbonnet family

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NEW ORLEANS -- Mayoral candidate Latoya Cantrell's office called for an ethics investigation Friday into the actions of District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro's office in disclosing a criminal complaint against Cantrell just three weeks before the election.

The Orleans Parish District Attorney’s Office’s disclosure that it had received a criminal complaint against mayoral candidate LaToya Cantrell rocked the political landscape Thursday.

Cantrell’s campaign immediately questioned the motivation, because District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro is openly supporting Cantrell’s opponent, Desiree Charbonnet.

On Friday, Cannizzaro’s office confirmed that Charbonnet’s brother, Bernard “Bunny” Charbonnet, has a contract with the DA’s office to serve as its civil attorney and defend it from lawsuits and other civil complaints.

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“I am surprised and disappointed that the District Attorney is using the power of his office to help the candidate he has endorsed," said Cantrell in a statement Friday. 

The Charbonnet campaign, as expected, disagreed with that assessment: “This is a cynical attempt to distract people from Cantrell’s mounting legal problems because she put personal and campaign expenses on her city credit card,” Charbonnet campaign spokesman Kevin Stuart said in a statement.

The DA’s office acknowledged Cannizzaro’s support for Charbonnet in a letter sent to the state Attorney General’s Office, asking it to assist in looking into Cantrell’s use of a city credit card.

Assistant DA Chris Bowman issued a statement Friday to defend Cannizzaro's actions.

"The District Attorney and the First Assistant District Attorney performed a preliminary review of the evidence delivered to the office," Bowman said. "In light of the fact, however, that the District Attorney had politically endorsed Ms. Cantrell’s opponent, DA Cannizzaro believed that the matter should be turned over to the Attorney General to avoid the appearance of impropriety."

Documents obtained by WWL-TV showed Cantrell spent nearly $9,000 since 2013 that she later reimbursed with personal or campaign funds, including more than $4,400 that she paid back in a lump sum as she entered the mayor’s race in July.

She also racked up more than $42,000 in charges that were not reimbursed, and Cantrell stands by those expenses as legitimate city business. They include at least 29 trips by air around the U.S. and one to Italy.

The Attorney General’s Office acknowledged receipt of the DA’s referral letter but declined to confirm or deny if it would be investigating the complaint.