NEW ORLEANS -- Attorney General Jeff Landry’s office has taken the first concrete step to pursue a criminal investigation into Mayor-elect LaToya Cantrell’s use of city-issued credit cards.
Landry’s office went to Orleans Parish Criminal Court on Monday asking a judge to sign subpoenas for records related to three credit cards used by Cantrell and two of her city council staff members, sources confirm to WWL-TV.
The New Orleans Advocate first broke the story about thousands of dollars in personal or campaign purchases Cantrell made on the cards, more than $4,400 of which Cantrell agreed to pay back when she declared her candidacy for mayor this summer. On Monday afternoon, The Advocate reported that Criminal Court Judicial Administrator Rob Kazik confirmed that one of the criminal court judges signed the subpoenas Monday morning.
Cantrell spokesman David Winkler-Schmit said Monday afternoon that the mayor-elect’s campaign first heard about the subpoenas from The Advocate.
“This is the first we’ve heard about it, so at this point, we are gathering information before taking any next steps,” he said.
Asked by WWL-TV if any of the subpoenas had been served yet, he said, “Not to my knowledge.”
Cantrell’s chief of staff, John Pourciau, who had a credit card issued in his name along with Cantrell and former staffer Marilyn Wood, said neither he nor anyone at Cantrell’s city council office had received a subpoena.
The criminal complaint alleges that Cantrell used her city-financed credit card to purchase personal items and essentially admitted it by later reimbursing the city, in some cases five years after the purchases were made.
The complaint was filed with Orleans Parish District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro’s office just two weeks before the runoff election, and the DA forwarded the complaint to the attorney general because he had openly endorsed Cantrell’s opponent, former Municipal Court Judge Desiree Charbonnet. The DA also forwarded a complaint made against Charbonnet regarding a homestead exemption on a home she owns with her ex-husband, but a review by WWL-TV found the complaint to be baseless and there’s no indication the attorney general is pursuing an investigation into that matter.
WWL-TV also reviewed the allegations against Cantrell and found many raised questions, although it’s unclear if any amount to criminal violations. For example, one was a $600 dinner Cantrell paid for with the city credit card during a trip to San Francisco for a campaign fundraiser in June.
Cantrell contended the dinner could have been considered city business because people who operate youth services centers in California were there. But WWL-TV later learned that Cantrell’s mother, brother and cousin also dined on the city’s dime at that dinner.
Cantrell’s cousin said she delivered a money order to pay the city back on Aug. 31, nearly three months after the dinner and more than a month after the June bill payment was due.
Cantrell has said she made some mistakes that she later rectified with reimbursements, but said most of the reimbursements were made for purchases in “gray areas” that were not clearly personal or city business, “out of an abundance of caution.”
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