NEW ORLEANS - Just weeks after the scandal over the spending of public money led to the resignation of the head of the Public Belt Railroad, Eyewitness News has learned that the head of another city agency has also been forced to resign due to questions about his expenses.
Kenneth Ferdinand resigned his $102,000 per year job as executive director of the French Market Corporation July 29.
He acknowledged the expenses he charged to the French Market Corporation on a trip to Paris in late February and early March to visit his daughter escalated concerns that some board members had about his spending of public money.
“I don’t think that there were any crimes involved,” he said. “None, absolutely none.”
Ferdinand said he met with business people on behalf of the French Market while in Paris
But, those weren't the only expenses that raised questions.
In fact, through a public records request, 4 Investigates obtained dozens of receipts and credit card charges worth thousands of dollars with no documented business purpose or notation of who Ferdinand was meeting with.
“There are some serious questions as to whether these were necessary business expenses or purely personal expensesand therefore an abuse by this executive with this agency,” said Rafael Goyeneche of the Metropolitan Crime Commission.
When asked about an envelope of credit card receipts, without documentation or any indication what the expenses were for, that was provided to 4 Investigates as part of a public records request, Ferdinand acknowledged turning them in, saying, "That was our method of documenting, to return the receipts. That's what we did."
But 4 Investigates obtained a copy of an e-mail from the president of the French Market Corporation, Charles Napoli, that was sent to Ferdinand and disputes that.
"As you know," Napoli said, "the FMC credit card can only be used if the employee can prove the charges were for valid business expenses."
In a statement, Napoli told Eyewitness News, "As soon as the board of directors learned of Mr. Ferdinand's misuse of the French Market credit card, we notified him and brought it to the attention of the administration."
“There were some questionable expenses and there were some questionable practices that were going on,” said Mayor Mitch Landrieu on Thursday. “The board members let us know about it. They said 'We think we ought to give him the opportunity to resign.' We said 'That’s a good idea.'"
Sources told 4 Investigates that board members were concerned that Ferdinand had made more than $14,000 in possibly improper expenses on his French Market Corp. credit card.
Mayor Landrieu said he was not aware of the specifics.
One of two council members who sit on the board that is supposed to provide oversight said she can't speak to that either.
“I don’t know about that, because I missed two board meetings because we had urgent meetings over here,” explained Jackie Clarkson, the City Council vice president and an at-large member.
When told by Eyewitness News that it may have been more than $14,000 in expenses that concerned the board, Ferdinand said, “Nobody discussed any amount of money with me - not 14, not 10, nothing.”
Ferdinand admitted he did reimburse the French Market for some of the charges he made on his FMC credit card.
“I reimbursed the city, the French Market, $5,000,” he said, adding he was asked to resign.
“The board asked me to resign because they thought there was some things that they felt they considered to be serious enough for them to make that request, and I conceded,” he said.
Eyewitness News’ investigation found a series of expenses that raised questions about the public purpose, including: the expenses in Paris; several meals Ferdinand ate alone, including many at Snug Harbor; and many expenses for alcohol, an apparent violation of law.
“There are attorney general’s opinions that confirm that the Louisiana Constitution does not allow public agencies or their employees to pay for alcohol,” said Goyeneche.
Eyewitness News asked Ferdinand about some of the bar bills, including one for $83 and one for $173 in wine charges.
“We had meetings, board meetings,” he said. “I don’t really choose to discuss those matters.”
Goyeneche said the Ferdinand case calls for an independent investigation.
“There probably needs to be an internal, administrative probe,” he said. “I think there needs to be an external probe conducted at this point in time. If there’s any criminal violations, then the appropriate authorities need to be consulted.”
Landrieu said he is seeking an explanation from the French Market board.
"I want an after-action review. I want to know the specifics," Landrieu said, denying there was an effort to cover up the Ferdinand case.
Ferdinand said there may have been some mistakes made, but that he did a lot of good and committed no crimes.
On Thursday, shortly after the WWL-TV interview with Mayor Landrieu, the office of Inspector General Ed Quatrevaux confirmed that the Landrieu administration had delivered a packet of Ferdinand's receipts and credit card charges, asking him to investigate.
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