Brendan McCarthy and Mike Perlstein / Eyewitness News
NEW ORLEANS - City of New Orleans Deputy Mayor Michelle Thomas resigned late Friday afternoon for personal reasons.
As a top city official, she oversaw city taxicab reforms, parks and parkways, sanitation and more.
Her resignation follows an Eyewitness Investigation that asked questions about her relationship with a man who currently faces state gun and drug charges.
Thomas confirmed Thursday in an e-mail to WWL-TV, that she is engaged to 44-year-old Gary Washington. They recently purchased a home together in eastern New Orleans.
He has an extensive arrest history and authorities have labeled him a career criminal.
Earlier Thursday, Washington denied he was engaged to Thomas. And he said he lived elsewhere. He noted that his legal issues are his own and don’t affect Thomas.
“She don’t come to court with me,” he said. “I went to court two days ago when she was at work. My problems is my problems. It’s really understandable right? As grown adults, one person’s problem is not another person’s problem?”
We asked if his pending legal issues would affect Thomas.
“I’m accused of it,” he said. “Am I convicted of it? No. And until I’m convicted of, because you don’t know what really happened. And nobody does. Ok. Anybody can be accused of anything at any given time.”
Records show Washington was arrested twice in recent years on cocaine charges. In one arrest, the regional Major Crimes Task Force conducted weeks of surveillance and allegedly seized two fully-loaded guns, more than 200 grams of cocaine and money.
Washington's attorney, John Fuller, said Friday night that they plan to fight the allegations vigorously in court.
"There is nothing I am convicted of. OK. Put that on tape,” Washington said. “There is nothing I am convicted of."
Washington is currently charged with possession with the intent to distribute cocaine, possession of more than 200 grams of cocaine, and illegal carrying of a weapon.
In August 2011, months before he met Thomas, Washington was the focus of a lengthy investigation by the multi-jurisdictional Major Crimes Task Force.
A confidential informant told investigators of a man named Gary who was dealing cocaine throughout the Central Business District, according to an application for a search warrant filed in court.
The investigators conducted surveilance over several weeks and observed the man leave an apartment in the 900 block of Poydras Street and conduct a hand-to-hand drug deal, the warrant states. The man was identified as Gary Washington. Later, the confidential informant bought drugs from Washington, according to police.
Investigators searched the apartment and two vehicles linked to Washington. They recovered about 8.5 ounces of cocaine, two fully-loaded handguns and about $500, according to a police report filed in court.
Police arrested Washington on Aug. 11, 2011.
In October 2012, around the time of his engagement to Thomas, Washington’s 2010 cocaine possession charge, which had been moved to the District Attorney’s Diversion Program, was reinstated.
Both cases are currently pending.
Washington’s lone conviction occurred in 1994, when was found guilty of illegal carrying of a weapon and was ordered to serve 90 days in jail.
Mayor Mitch Landrieu's spokesman told WWL-TV Friday night that the city was unaware of Washington's legal issues. His office first learned of them Thursday, when contacted by a WWL-TV reporter.
Spokesman Ryan Berni said the mayor and other deputy mayors have met Washington a handful of times at public events.
In a released statement, Landrieu praised Thomas for her work for the city.
“Michelle served the people of New Orleans well, and we wish her nothing but success,” the statement read. “I want to thank her for her service, especially for her work to transform the taxicab industry, improve recreational opportunities for our kids, enhance special event and Mardi Gras clean-up operations, and improve customer service by implementing the One Stop Shop for permitting.”
Andy Kopplin, the city’s First Deputy Mayor and Chief Administrative Officer, will oversee Thomas’ departments on an interim basis.
Thomas has had a lengthy, lauded career in government affairs. She served as an executive for Newark, N.J., Mayor Cory Booker, and earned praise for helping the city trim its budget and garner federal stimulus grants.
She worked as a consultant for the The Ferguson Group, a government affairs firm in Washington, D.C., before coming to New Orleans.
In July 2011, Thomas took over the Deputy Mayor position left vacant by Greg St. Etienne. St. Etienne abruptly resigned after a series of WWL-TV reports on a scathing state audit Citizens United for Economic Equity, a non-profit agency he headed before joining the Landrieu administration. The audit found he steered roughly $400,000 in tax-payer subsidized low-interest loans to family members.