The gist: Mayor-President Joel Robideaux has proven evasive in his evolving attempts to defend a suspect loan received by one of the his top aides. The Acadiana Advocate kicked over a hornet’s nest with a story that raises questions of conflict-of-interest and influence-peddling.
Robideaux first refused the paper’s repeated attempts to be interviewed. But after the story hit, he jumped to defend Marcus Bruno, his assistant for governmental affairs, taking a big swipe at the paper in the process. “I am deeply disappointed in the misleading headline and story. … To suggest that this is anything other than a properly issued loan is a serious distortion of the facts.” The Advocate’s Ben Myers first engaged Robideaux on the story back in December. Robideaux’s initial explanation did not address any of the central claims.
A more detailed response came a few days later. A former city department head and then a council member called for investigations into the propriety of the $35,000 small business loan. Robideaux insisted an investigation wasn’t necessary because LCG’s legal department had been reviewing the circumstances surrounding the loan for a month. Robideaux mentioned nothing of an internal inquiry when he first came to Bruno’s defense, however, so Councilman Jay Castille upped the ante by calling for an independent investigation.
Thud goes the 112-page report (more than 100 pages are but attachments). He dropped the stack on council members just before Tuesday’s meeting. The report, produced by assistant city-parish attorney Steve Oats, concludes that the nonprofit’s loan to Bruno does not violate federal conflict-of-interest regulations, despite Bruno’s close ties to the organization. The administration initially declined to release the report publicly, invoking attorney-client privilege, but quickly relented and sent it out Wednesday afternoon. The Acadiana Advocate reported Wednesday night that some of the proceeds were used for Marcus Bruno’s wife’s salary.
What to watch for: Robideaux has yet to respond to The Current’s Monday story about his unusual purchase, just weeks after his 2015 election, of a home owned by Bruno’s wife — a transaction that may have paved the way for the Brunos to qualify for the small business loan months later. Read that story here.