Joel Robideaux needed Marcus Bruno’s support among black voters in his 2015 bid for mayor-president. And Bruno, it could be argued, delivered.
“Robideaux defeated [Dee] Stanley handily by 12 points, 56-44 percent, with a turnout of 40.4 percent,” UL Lafayette political science professor Pearson Cross wrote at the time. To the surprise of many, Robideaux performed well with African-Americans, according to Cross’ analysis of nine key majority-black precincts. “Seven of the nine precincts went to Robideaux by an average of 52-47 percent,” wrote Cross, who had in an earlier column inaccurately predicted that Stanley, chief administrative officer for Lafayette Consolidated Government, would do better among black voters.
For Bruno, the campaign was personal. Stanley had the endorsement of term-limited Mayor-President Joey Durel, his boss, and Bruno blamed both Durel and Stanley for pushing him out of local government in 2009. Bruno hoped to get back into the kind of work he had done for more than a decade before the Durel administration eliminated his job under the guise of a reorganization.
Just weeks after Robideaux’s October 2015 victory, an unusual real estate transaction would take place. Robideaux and his CPA business partner, Mark Harris, bought a north Lafayette home owned by Traci Broussard Bruno, Marcus’ wife, for $98,756, court records show. The property at 315 Haydite Ave. had been adjudicated by the city for failure to pay city property taxes, and parish taxes had been paid in a prior year by a third party. Court records indicate the Nov. 19 sale enabled Traci Bruno to immediately settle the tax debts, paying the Lafayette Parish Tax Collector $3,900.
While it appears to be legal, the 2015 transaction raises many questions for Robideaux — who already is under immense pressure from the council over a suspect small business loan to Bruno that he is defending — the least of which is whether it was some sort of payback for Bruno’s volunteer work on the campaign.
Since last week, Robideaux has not responded to text and email messages seeking comment for this story, including a question about whether he would have purchased the home if he’d lost the election. We also asked if the mayor-president is aware that a convicted felon has been using 315 Haydite Ave. as his home address as recently as last year and whether that person still lives in the home and is paying rent.
The address has been used in arrest and various subsequent court records by Carl M. Broussard, 52, who has a long criminal history dating back decades. The address was also listed on a warrant for the arrest of 21-year-old Diamond Celestine on an aggravated battery charge in October of last year, Lafayette Parish Correctional Center records show.
Court records reveal that Carl Broussard has multiple felony convictions, including distribution of cocaine, possession of cocaine, illegal possession of stolen things and simple robbery. He used the address as recently as 2018 on his signed guilty plea for a 2017 cocaine distribution charge. It was also noted as his address in connection with another 2017 crack cocaine distribution charge filed in early 2018 but later dismissed as part of a negotiated plea.
Because of the Monday holiday, The Current was unable to access additional LPCC records to determine if any of the arrests were made at the Haydite Avenue home. We will follow up later this week should those records reveal new information.
Broussard also has numerous misdemeanor convictions, including one for battery on a police officer. Broussard used the address as far back as the early 1990s when he was sued by the state for paternity and child support, according to civil records.
Carl Broussard is Traci Broussard Bruno’s brother — Marcus Bruno’s brother-in-law.
A Controversial Hire
To the surprise of some of his political backers and biggest campaign supporters, Robideaux brought Marcus Bruno, a former city employee with a checkered past, back to City Hall in January 2016. Robideaux created a new mayoral assistant position, now called assistant for governmental affairs, that pays $85,000 a year.
Within months of landing the city-parish job, Marcus and Traci Bruno began the process of applying for a small business loan from the nonprofit Lafayette Neighborhoods Economic Development Corporation, eventually securing a $35,000 loan that October for their company, LA Consultants, according to The Acadiana Advocate. Conflict-of-interest and influence peddling questions surround the loan because city-parish government is supposed to exercise oversight of the federal program that funds it, ensuring, for example, that the loan results in a “public benefit.” According to the credit requirements for the loan, applicants won’t qualify if they are delinquent to any taxing authority. So by selling the house and then paying the back taxes in late 2015 (or by avoiding foreclosure), the Brunos were presumably better able to meet that qualification. (To secure the small business loan, the Brunos mortgaged their existing residence, according to Robideaux’s statement defending the loan.)
The Current also asked Robideaux specifically whether he knew property taxes on the home were past due at the time of the purchase and could have resulted in denial of the loan application months later.
Marcus Bruno did not return a phone call and email with specific questions about the home purchase.
Mark Harris, who now works for another CPA firm, says Robideaux approached him in late 2015 about a potential rental property. Harris, who had recently taken a course on flipping houses and was anxious to dabble in this aspect of real estate, agreed to go in on the purchase. “Joel said the owners were behind on the loan, about to lose the property, and we could probably get it for what was owed,” Harris recalls. “The bank was anxious to take a loan that was delinquent and turn it into a good loan,” he says.
“And he said there was a good, stable tenant,” Harris adds.
Harris acknowledges he may at the time have known the home was owned by Traci Bruno but didn’t give it much thought, saying he did not know Marcus and had only seen him come by the office a few times. In a phone conversation Wednesday morning, he was unaware of the recent controversy involving Bruno’s problematic loan and Robideaux’s defense of it because he had not seen The Advocate story or any subsequent coverage.
“Almost all of it was financed,” Harris says of the 2015 purchase, noting that he doesn’t know who is living in the home (online records indicate it was once the home of Traci Bruno’s late mother, who donated the house to her daughter in 2007). Harris says Robideaux handles all of the business associated with the rental property. He adds that the first month of rent, $800, was paid to the insurance company, noting that he does still get a call from time to time from the insurance agent, saying, “The insurance is due. Can you get in touch with Joel?”
“So it’s a weird deal,” Harris acknowledges. “I wish I knew a little bit more about the operation of the property or had a little more control, but I acquiesced that to Joel.”
Harris says he has only talked to Robideaux “two or three times over the past year.”
Tax records show that a company owned by Robideaux and his wife, DBL Enterprises, pays the property tax bill on the Haydite home, although the bill is in Harris’ name. The last payment was remitted on March 19 of last year for $765.08, and the current taxes, due by Jan. 31 of this year, were unpaid as of last week.
Harris says he has not invested in any residential rentals since the 2015 purchase, though he continues to look for opportunities, and Robideaux also does not appear to have bought additional properties.
Campaign finance reports from the Board of Ethics list Robideaux’s personal address on Ruth Drive. The Current was only able to find two other residential properties owned by Robideaux and his wife’s company. According to tax assessor records, one is 505 Southdown Place, purchased in 2012 for $135,000. The other, located at 404 Holden Ave., was purchased by the couple from the Diocese of Lafayette in 2006 for $130,000 and transferred to DBL Enterprises in 2012.
The Holden Avenue home has long been occupied by shady political operative Joe Castille, Robideaux’s campaign manager whom campaign finance reports reveal is paid $3,000 a month per a “consulting agreement.” Castille figures prominently in Robideaux’s “Crypteaux” currency and blockchain initiative.
In part because of his lack of involvement, Harris, who could not be reached for a follow-up interview Monday, says he wants to sell the Haydite rental. A potential buyer expressed interest in seeing the house about a year ago, but Harris was unable to pursue the matter. “At that time I couldn’t get Joel to return my call,” he says.