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City council subpoenas mayor’s staff, inspector general seizes computer in Smart City investigation

According to multiple sources, the investigation is focusing on an aborted attempt by city hall to launch a project known as Smart Cities.

NEW ORLEANS — The New Orleans Inspector General's Office seized a computer and other electronics as it launches an investigation into a failed city hall contract proposal Thursday, WWL-TV has learned. 

At least one computer belonged to IT Staffer Christopher Wolff. 

According to multiple sources, the investigation is focusing on an aborted attempt by city hall to launch a project known as Smart Cities to expand broadband internet services to underserved communities. 

The program would have created a city-directed internet as a less expensive alternative to Cox or AT&T in New Orleans, but there are ethical concerns and suspicions of contract fixing.

City Director of Utilities, Jonathan Rhodes, operates a side business that had working relationship with the company that eventually won the bid for Smart Cities. Christopher Wolff is also tied to that side business. 

Rhodes testified in front of City Council late last month as part of its investigation, which is separate from the investigation underway by the New Orleans Inspector General. After a lengthy heating, Mayor Latoya Cantrell announced that the idea was scratched, as questions were raised about two main people in the proposed deal being city employees.

The City Council investigation is getting bigger. Council President Helena Moreno says Council has now subpoenaed Mayor Cantrell’s executive staff and materials are due Monday. A source tells Eyewitness News that those materials include all communication that Cantrell’s staff had with Smart Cities personnel, and the consulting group out of Chicago. 

In addition, City Council is looking to hire an outside firm with a larger legal team to handle the growing investigation.  

As Rhodes remains under the microscope, the Inspector General will have a look at what his business partner, Wolff, was up to on his city-owned computer. And soon, City Council will know what – if anything – the Mayor’s staff knew about it.

The city declined to comment, citing an open investigation. Wolff’s attorney, Michael Kennedy, says he’ll be releasing a statement at a later time.

 

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