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David Hammer / Eyewitness News
Email: dhammer@wwltv.com | Twitter: @davidhammerWWL

NEW ORLEANS -- A key downtown development project -- once fronted by a man we exposed for stealing state Katrina recovery dollars -- is moving forward with the crook's father at the helm.

With Praveen Kailas touting the project in 2011, the City Council granted his father's company, 1031 Canal LLC, special approval to redevelop the old Woolworth Building on Canal Street almost three times higher than the 70-foot zoning limit.

Critics questioned why Kailas was getting special treatment. That was before Eyewitness Investigates caught Kailas in 2012 falsely billing and adding unnecessary employees to his subcontract as a construction monitor in the state's Small Rental Repair Program, the federally-financed Katrina aid effort for mom-and-pop landlords.

Federal agents took up the investigation based on the WWL-TV report, and in August, Kailas pleaded guilty in federal court to conspiracy and stealing not more than $236,000 in federal taxpayer money. Meanwhile, his father, Mohan, remained in charge of 1031 Canal LLC and succeeded in getting the City Planning Commission to sign off on his $41 million plan to build a 17-story residential and retail complex.

And this month, the Kailases' development company applied for two building permits for the project, according to city records.

Praveen Kailas is scheduled to be sentenced on two felony counts Dec. 18, but he's recently contested portions of probation officers' pre-sentencing report and hired two high-powered white-collar defense attorneys, Kyle Schonekas and Billy Gibbens, to represent him before Chief U.S. District Judge Sarah Vance.

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