The gist: Lafayette architect Henry Boudreaux pleaded no-contest to theft over $25,000 in connection with allegations he bilked a Vermilion Parish couple during a massive renovation project to their historic home. No-contest has the same effect as a guilty plea.
On July 18, 15th Judicial District Judge John Trahan sentenced Boudreaux, a first offender, to five years hard labor, suspended, and three years of supervised probation. He’ll also have to complete 48 hours of community service.
The criminal case — Boudreaux was indicted in July 2015 and initially pleaded not guilty — stems from a civil lawsuit filed by local attorney Ben Blanchet and his wife, Anne, in September 2012. The couple said they hired Boudreaux for a “million-dollar addition” to their 1840s Acadian-style home in the community of Meaux.
According to the lawsuit, Boudreaux billed the Blanchets nearly $1 million in architectural and contracting fees for the project. Boudreaux’s deposition in that case, which is ongoing, revealed numerous instances where he claimed to have “mistakenly” billed for 20 or more hours of work in one day, according to an appeals court ruling in the case. “Further, Boudreaux’s own testimony leaves little doubt that he defrauded the Blanchets of hundreds of thousands of dollars,” the court continued.
In 2015 Boudreaux was fined $10,000 by the 3rd Circuit Court of Appeal, which found he filed a frivolous appeal of a $66,000 sanction imposed on him by District Judge Marilyn Castle, who a year earlier found that Henry Boudreaux “purposely abused the legal process and misled the trial court to delay and extend the litigation” in the Blanchet case.
Restitution could be in the millions. A restitution hearing has been set for Sept. 26. Per the felony theft plea agreement negotiated by Assistant District Attorney Kenny Hebert, Judge Trahan will decide not only how much Boudreaux owes the Blanchets, but also how much he owes yet another former client, Cheryl Heymann, who also sued Boudreaux and his wife, Sonya, similarly alleging the the couple bilked her out of hundreds of thousands of dollars for work on two residences.
“It’s a document-heavy case,” Hebert tells me of the evidence that will be presented at the restitution hearing.
Heymann alleges Henry Boudreaux sought kickbacks from contractors as part of the conspiracy to defraud her; the Blanchets claim he overcharged for low-quality materials, charged them for services never rendered and marked up subcontractor prices in violation of their agreement with him.
“I expect the DA will show evidence well in excess of $1 million, probably closer to $2 million,” says attorney Mike Skinner, who has served as advisory counsel to the Blanchets in the criminal matter. “They’re having, unfortunately, to go back now and redo much of the work that was done by Henry Boudreaux at great expense.
“What we believe happened is that there was a scheme to do whatever was necessary to take as much as possible from the Blanchets,” Skinner adds.
Heymann says the couple’s dishonesty and shoddy work devastated her financially, eventually forcing her to hold an estate sale, put her Lafayette home on the market and relocate to Florida. Henry and Sonya, in contrast, continued to live a life of luxury, she claims. “My money was keeping them in champagne,” Heymann says.
Public records show that Henry and Sonya have repeatedly placed assets in Sonya’s name alone; it’s the reason Henry was able to qualify for a public defender in the criminal case.
Both Skinner and attorney Lane Roy, who represents Heymann, say the civil suits will be reassessed after the restitution hearing. Heymann says she named Sonya in her 2016 suit because she routinely wrote checks to Sonya for work performed by Henry.
“I think I have a good suit against [Sonya],” Roy tells me.
Heymann also sued the couple’s business, HSB Design and Contractors LLC. The suit claims that none of the defendants had a contractor’s license, that they had not registered with the Louisiana State Licensing Board for Contractors and that they did not have insurance, as Louisiana law requires. In August 2016, Henry Boudreaux was arrested for residential contractor fraud in connection with Heymann’s complaint.
Henry Boudreaux’s public defender did not respond to an email and text message request for comment by press time.
“Stop reporting fiction without knowing the truth,” Boudreaux tells me in a text message response to a request for comment on this story at around 1:45 p.m. Wednesday. Boudreaux, who has declined repeated requests for comment from this reporter in the past, did offer a sit down interview to “tell my side of the story since my entire career of 35 years has been destroyed by the one side fiction created by the press.”
In one of many text exchanges throughout the afternoon, the architect writes: “You have no idea how many clients I have created amazing residences for without complaint or issue. My craft is very technical and creative with extraordinary coordination skills.” He went on to say that there are probably only a couple of architects in town who could have performed the type of work needed to meet these clients’ expectations.
“Again you don’t know the particulars because they don’t want anyone to know their demands on my office and on the project and why I cost them more than they expected,” Boudreaux insists.
What to watch for: How much Boudreaux is able to repay, whether his clients will also be granted a civil money judgment to begin the process of seizing assets and whether Boudreaux loses his architectural license as a result of the felony conviction.
“Mr. Boudreaux has made the Board aware of a civil case against him,” says Kathy Hillegas, executive director of the Louisiana State Board of Architectural Examiners. “Now that he has pleaded no contest to felony theft, we will open an investigation into this matter to identify any violations of the Architects Licensing Law.”