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Allegations fly in legal battle over Mayor Cantrell-created nonprofit

Board members sue executive director to block access to Forward Together New Orleans' bank account amid Inspector General investigation.

NEW ORLEANS — Board members at Forward Together New Orleans, a nonprofit formed by Mayor LaToya Cantrell, are suing the executive director they fired in August, trying to stop him from seizing control of the charity's money.

But Shaun Randolph claims he is still FTNO’s executive director and contends the board members who fired him are illegitimate. He said he’s a whistleblower who reported evidence of what he considered mismanagement and tried to “clean house.”

But WWL-TV has also obtained documents that raise new questions about Randolph’s spending of FTNO money, jobs he held simultaneously at multiple nonprofits around the country and allegations about how he ran a Florida charity that are very similar to what the FTNO board members allege in the lawsuit.

A WWL-TV investigation last month raised questions about FTNO, which Cantrell created in 2019 and then sent $1 million in city money to run job training and gun-violence prevention programs.

Those and other programs, such as one that pays basic income stipends to at-risk youth, are now on hold pending an investigation by the New Orleans Inspector General, who subpoenaed FTNO’s financial records, communications and board meeting minutes on Sept. 8.

The two board members who fired Randolph, Kathleen Kennedy and Eric Griggs, responded to the subpoena by freezing FTNO’s bank account with approximately $1.5 million left in it. Dana Henry, an attorney they hired to represent them said none of the $1.06 million in city money had been touched.

Randolph then created a new ForwardTogetherNewOrleans.org website to replace the FTNO.org site that he no longer controlled, and he changed FTNO’s official corporate documents with the Secretary of State to replace the board members and install himself as registered agent.

The lawsuit says Randolph even tried to take control of FTNO’s bank accounts.

The lawsuit also claims Kennedy, Griggs and political pollster Silas Lee are still legitimate board members. But Lee told WWL-TV on Thursday that he agreed to leave the board in July and was never informed that he’s still on the board.

Former federal prosecutor Matt Coman says the result is a total mess for the Mayor's Fund and the city programs it pays for.

“That has now devolved into a complete legal battle over who controls what, when, how and where,” he said.

The FTNO board wants the court to permanently bar Randolph from acting on the nonprofit’s behalf or accessing its bank accounts. A hearing has been set in the matter for Oct. 20.

Randolph’s time at FTNO began auspiciously. He had worked in the city’s Department of Economic Development under a national fellowship for about 10 months, and leaders in the Cantrell administration recommended him to lead FTNO.

He was hired in October 2021 to serve as full-time executive director at a salary of $80,000, according to an engagement letter from Kennedy.

But Henry said the board members didn’t know at the time that Randolph was also the executive director of the Obran Institute, which helps worker-owned companies across the country, and he was simultaneously running a charity in Florida that trains students to be leaders, called FearlessLeaders.com.

FearlessLeaders’ founder and benefactor Mike Mann said he confronted Randolph when he learned about the multiple jobs he was holding at once.

“He wanted me to pay him more, like to take on more hours,” Mann said. “I was like, ‘Well, how are you going to take on more hours when you have all these other jobs?’ Which he didn't have a rational explanation for.”

Randolph says his only full-time job was at FTNO, and claimed he was able to work extra hours at Obran and FearlessLeaders without shortchanging any of them.

But Mann said the similarities between his experience with Randolph and what’s happened at FTNO are staggering.

Mann created a trust called Make Change! He hired Randolph to run it, and for years, he said it successfully raised hundreds of thousands of dollars and paid out to support worthy causes. So, he said he doubled Randolph’s pay to help him start a new charity for training student leaders, called FearlessLeaders.com.

But soon, Mann questioned how Randolph was spending hundreds of thousands of dollars Mann donated to the project. He accused Randolph of trying to funnel money to a defunct nonprofit. He also said Randolph tried to hire an attorney in New York who cost more than $600 an hour. Mann said he managed to block that from happening.

But records from FTNO show Randolph did hire New York-based attorney Rudyard Ceres in February at a rate of $650 an hour to help him update the FTNO bylaws and “clean house.”

“I got an attorney for FTNO, I went out, we got a bookkeeper, and I was like, ‘Go through everything, find anything and everything that was accidentally or intentionally done wrong,’” Randolph said in an interview last month, adding that is how he discovered what he believed was misspending of FTNO funds by the board.

Mann fired Randolph from FearlessLeaders.com in April 2022. Emails between the two show Mann accused Randolph of misspending his donations and failing to produce any results. And as he would in New Orleans four months later, Randolph refused to accept he had been fired.

“But then he was again trying to seize control of the entire account that was all meant for my FearlessLeaders.com charity through the fiscal sponsor,” Mann said. “So, I had to totally squeeze and stress out the fiscal sponsor until they recognized what was going on. And they gave me the remainder of the money back before it was too late.”

Mann said Social Good Fund, the fiscal sponsor that handled money for FearlessLeaders.com while it sought nonprofit status from the IRS, returned $37,000 remaining from his original donation. But Randolph sent WWL-TV a letter on Social Good Fund letterhead that he said exonerates him.

It misspells his name, says it investigated allegations against him and “as of this date, we have not found that any impropriety exits (sic).” 

When Mann first fired him, Randolph emailed Mann to say his donations created an independent entity called Sustainable Communities Foundation that “is not owned or controlled by you.” He also accused Mann of improprieties in handling his own charity in the emails.

Similarly, after he was fired from FTNO, Randolph accused the board members of improperly using FTNO’s money to support Cantrell’s political operations.

He pointed to FTNO financial records that show the nonprofit paid people who worked for Cantrell’s political campaigns, including $46,000 to Kristine Breithaupt to serve as a consultant to handle social media for the nonprofit. Public records show the mayor’s campaign and her Action New Orleans PAC paid Breithaupt $163,000 to do marketing for Cantrell’s 2021 re-election and ballot initiatives.

But Coman, the former prosecutor, said that’s only a problem if the money was used for something outside the nonprofit’s mission. WWL-TV reviewed hundreds of FTNO social media posts over a two-year period and found they were all about FTNO programs, such as rental assistance, gun-violence prevention, pandemic relief, and they included only occasional references to the mayor and never directly promoted her campaign.

Coman said there are just as many red flags now about how Randolph spent FTNO funds and what he produced for his $80,000 salary.

“If that individual does not have the documentation to show the deliverable that that he provided in exchange for those funds, when he's got multiple hats on at one time, that's going to be certainly something that's going to raise a red flag for him,” Coman said.

Asked by WWL-TV if he had developed any new programs at FTNO that he didn’t inherit, Randolph pointed to a press release Aug. 11 announcing a new real-estate investment program by FTNO, in partnership with the Rhove investment app and the Greater New Orleans Housing Alliance.

Under the program, FTNO will provide $5 and Rhove will pitch in $5 for each person who signs up to invest in a participating local real estate project. Housing Alliance President Andreanecia Morris said Randolph deserves credit for creating the partnership, but there are no participating local development projects for anyone to support yet.

“Yeah, these ideas are outside the box and innovative but not remotely duplicitous,” she said. “Shaun was one of the people doing critical work on Universal Income (to help low-income families). He was a FUSE Fellow, so he’s not a Cantrell loyalist. I thought it was a sign they like his programs that they hired him to run Forward Together New Orleans.”

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