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Image consultant for Cantrell followed the rules, attorney says

Speaking on Tanya Blunt Haynes’ behalf, her lawyer said she knew that her consulting fee from Cantrell’s campaign was “solely for her image consulting” work.

NEW ORLEANS — A lawyer for Mayor LaToya Cantrell’s image consultant says the mayor reimbursed his client for high-end clothes she bought for Cantrell at a local boutique – purchases that are now the subject of a federal criminal probe.

Attorney Clarence Roby Jr. declined to discuss specifics about stylist Tanya Blunt Haynes’ arrangement with the mayor or the federal investigation, though he said that Haynes has “not been told that she’s a target.”

Speaking for the first time on Haynes’ behalf, Roby said she knew that her monthly consulting fee from Cantrell’s campaign was “solely for her image consulting” work, and not for buying clothes.

In 2021, Haynes’ consulting fee ran $6,000 monthly, Cantrell’s campaign finance reports show.

“The campaign was aware of what the money would be used for,” Roby said. “They paid her for consulting.” 

Roby said Cantrell herself repaid Haynes for all the clothing purchased on her behalf.

“None of the reimbursements were made out of any campaign funds or any other third party, Roby said.

Cantrell stays mum

Cantrell, meanwhile, has yet to address the federal investigation into purchases by Haynes. 

The mayor brushed off a reporter’s questions about the arrangement as she left the stage of a news conference at Caesars Superdome to promote Saturday’s Bayou Classic football game.

“I’m not answering no questions like that. That’s crazy,” Cantrell responded.

Her administration referred a series of questions posed by The Times-Picayune about the purchases and the probe to the mayor’s campaign organization, which declined to comment. 

Clothing stores received subpoenas

At least two area stores, including Ballin’s Ltd. in New Orleans, have received federal grand jury subpoenas since August, and FBI agents have questioned employees about purchases made by Haynes, according to people familiar with the investigation.

Laura Rodrigue, an attorney for Ballin’s – where Haynes often shopped for outfits for the mayor – said last week that the owners are cooperating with federal investigators. Rodrigue is a longtime critic of Cantrell and has helped in the effort to gather signatures to recall Cantrell from office.

Ballin’s wasn’t the only outlet where Haynes purchased clothing to be worn by the mayor, according to one businessman. 

Haynes paid hundreds in cash for the white suit that Cantrell wore as the grand marshal for the Treme Sidewalk Steppers’ second line parade in February, said Brad Lockett, who tailored the outfit.

Lockett said making the suit was his only interaction with the mayor, who had a fitting with him listed on her official calendar. Lockett said he has not been contacted by federal investigators.

Roby said he wasn’t aware of the specific purchase from Lockett’s store, but said Haynes bought clothes for the mayor and paid for it “as any personal shopper would.” 

Haynes “was told clothing could not be paid out of a consulting fee” and followed that edict, Roby said.

Attorney says client knew what was allowed

Roby said that some of the clothes that Haynes bought for Cantrell never made it on the mayor, but that Haynes was reimbursed for the items Cantrell eventually wore.

As far as he knew, Roby said, no third party is bankrolling the mayor’s wardrobe.

“For those clothes she purchased for the mayor, the mayor reimbursed her,” Roby said. 

Jimmy Burland, a Baton Rouge attorney who compiles campaign finance reports for Cantrell, told WWL-TV last week that he never reviewed Haynes’ expenses, but rather 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. “I don’t question expenditures unless I’m asked about them.”

Roby said Haynes had other clients, and that some of the questioned purchases may have included clothes she ended up keeping for herself.

Roby said the purchases that Haynes made at a different business, BC Kitchen and Bath in Metairie – which received a grand jury subpoena  – were unrelated to her work for Cantrell.

“That didn’t have anything to do with the mayor,” Roby said. 

He declined to speculate on the interest of federal investigators in Haynes’ purchases there. The subpoena specifically requests records of a $2,000 charge to a JP Morgan Chase account in November 2020.

Since late 2017, Cantrell’s campaign has paid Haynes and her business, Jolie Image Consulting, at least $231,000, records show. Those payments have generally increased over time, reaching $6,000 per month in 2021, the records show. 

Cantrell has not had to file a campaign finance report yet in 2022. Among the questions her campaign has declined to answer is whether the mayor has continued to use campaign funds to pay Haynes since Cantrell’s re-election in late 2021.

It’s unclear whether Cantrell has hired an attorney in response to the federal investigation. Attorney Billy Gibbens, who represented Cantrell when her City Council credit card spending came under attack in 2017, said the mayor has not been in touch with him about the current FBI probe.

Haynes’ name has appeared frequently on the mayor’s official calendar, as recently as late March, when the calendar indicated that she would be prepping the mayor for a United Negro College Fund ball.  

Roby suggested the consulting arrangement is on hold for now.

“I’ve advised (Haynes) based on the investigation to cease any future engagements until at least the dust settles and there’s some determination to make sure she’s not the focus of any type of exposure,” Roby said.

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