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FBI zeroes in on Mayor LaToya Cantrell's image consultant

The consultant, Tanya Blunt Haynes, owns a hair salon in Gentilly and an image consulting business called Jolie Image Consulting.

NEW ORLEANS — As the FBI zeroes in on Mayor LaToya Cantrell's image consultant, questions remain about more than $230,000 Cantrell’s campaign paid the consultant in three and a half years.

The consultant, Tanya Blunt Haynes, owns a hair salon in Gentilly and an image consulting business called Jolie Image Consulting. There is nothing in the law that prohibits using campaign money to pay for image consulting services, but there are questions about purchases Haynes made for Cantrell while the campaign was paying her a retainer that reached $6,000 a month in 2021.

A federal grand jury issued subpoenas at area stores in August and September, asking for records of Haynes' purchases. One went to a kitchen and bath store in Metairie where the manager said Haynes and her husband, former New Orleans police detective Vernon Haynes, purchased cabinets for a kitchen remodel at their home.

But another subpoena went to a high-end clothing boutique on Magazine Street where sources with knowledge of the investigation said Haynes purchased thousands of dollars worth of outfits for Cantrell.

Haynes posted on her LinkedIn profile photos of Cantrell wearing the hairstyles and dresses Haynes provided during her 2017 mayoral campaign, and for special events while she was mayor, such as the 2019 Essence Festival. A source also confirmed that Haynes bought a dress at Ballin’s boutique on Magazine Street that Cantrell wore in 2018 when the king and queen of Spain visited to mark the 300th anniversary of New Orleans, which was ruled by Spain for the last part of the 18th century.

Cantrell’s campaign paid Haynes more than $28,000 for two months of consulting during the 2017 campaign. And it kept paying her $145,000 in the first three years after Cantrell took office in May 2018. When Cantrell ran for re-election in 2021, Haynes’ retainer was raised to $6,000 a month. Cantrell has not filed any campaign finance reports for 2022.

Haynes was connected to the Cantrell campaign by pollster Silas Lee, who said Haynes is a respected hair stylist and image consultant. Lee said he recommended Haynes to Cantrell when she was a city councilwoman running for her first term as mayor. Cantrell and another woman, Desiree Charbonnet, were vying to be the city’s first female mayor, and Lee said image consulting has become a necessity for female candidates facing a double standard.

“Candidates that are running for office, if they are male, (voters) might just look at qualifications,” Lee said. “Whereas with women, they look at attire, personality, presentation, demeanor, what they are wearing, how they relate to other people. So, all this is part of preparing candidates to run for office.”

The question is, what purchases did Haynes make for the mayor while being paid as a consultant? Former federal prosecutor Shaun Clarke said it can violate campaign finance law and even federal fraud statutes if campaign funds are used for a politician’s personal enrichment.

“The critical issue is whether that was a legitimate campaign or political purpose for the use of the funds,” Clarke said. “And if there was not, there can be federal criminal liability for campaign finance violations and, frankly, for violation of the general fraud statutes, mail fraud, and wire fraud. Those statutes are broadly written, and prosecutors have used them very creatively, in New Orleans and elsewhere.”

The Cantrell campaign declined to comment, but directed questions to the Baton Rouge attorney who compiles its campaign finance reports to address the propriety of the payments to Haynes. That attorney, Jimmy Burland, said he never reviewed Haynes’ expenses, but rather he simply recorded the payments the campaign made to her and filed the reports.

“As far as what she got from those consulting services, I can’t tell you, because that’s all I know,” he said. “She paid for that on a periodic basis, and nobody inquired to me whether it was appropriate or not. I don’t question expenditures unless I’m asked about them.”

Burland did say that certain image expenses are allowed under campaign finance laws and others are not.

“Campaign finance allows expenditures for styling and makeup,” he said. “Personal clothing items are generally not allowed by campaign finance. You can’t pay for dry-cleaning or clothing items if it’s not related to the campaign.”

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