Given an opportunity to dispel allegations of corruption leveled by one of his election opponents, Mayor-President Josh Guillory denied under oath any knowledge of federal and state investigations into Lafayette Consolidated Government — while an FBI agent quietly took notes in a back row seat of the Lafayette Parish courtroom.
The denials contradict widely reported probes into his administration, including an ongoing investigation by the Louisiana Legislative Auditor’s Office, which again confirmed to The Current this week that its probe, begun earlier this year, continues.
Guillory’s testimony was taken during a hearing on a suit he filed against one of his opponents, Monique Blanco Boulet, seeking to stop her from calling him and his administration corrupt in interviews, on social media and in political advertisements. He did not sue the other candidate in the race, Jan Swift, who has made similar allegations. All three are Republicans.
In response to several requests for comment last week, LCG officials took issue with questions The Current posed about Guillory’s testimony, saying they mischaracterized the questioning and the mayor-president’s responses.
How we reported this story
We dispatched a reporter to attend the hearing and sought comment after. The Guillory campaign/LCG officials disputed our reporter’s account of the court testimony. We then waited for the court transcript to confirm that account and again asked for comment from the Guillory campaign. We received no response. Read the court transcript here.
Fifteenth Judicial District Court Judge Thomas Frederick denied Guilllory’s request for a preliminary injunction Wednesday, saying Guillory and his attorney, Jim Gibson, who also represents LCG in multiple legal proceedings, failed to present sufficient evidence against Boulet’s use of the word “corrupt.”
The court found that the crime of Corrupt Influencing, cited in Guillory’s petition, was not factually or legally applicable to this case. The judge said Louisiana does not have a “corruption” statute as stated in Guillory’s pleadings and that he would go with the “everyday, common sense definition of corruption,” a term generally understood to mean a bad influence (likening it to his own experience being told he, as a high school senior, was “corrupting the freshmen”).
Boulet has consistently accused Guillory, who is in his first term, and his administration of “corruption, waste and mismanagement” though has stopped short of accusing him of any criminal acts. She attacked him for unlawfully seizing private property for a detention pond project, being cited for more than two dozen serious deficiencies in a recent annual audit, taking police officers away from the force to serve as his personal security and starting a construction rental company at the same time tens of millions of dollars in contracts were being awarded to the same contractor, Rigid Constructors, without sufficient competitive bidding processes.
When attorney Gary McGoffin, Boulet’s counsel for the suit, asked Guillory if he was aware of any investigations, including by the FBI, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers or the legislative auditor’s office, Guillory testified that he was not aware of pending investigations.
Disclosure: McGoffin represents The Current in public records matters.
Several inquiries and investigations have been publicized, openly discussed, and filed in court proceedings over the last two years.
In January investigators from the legislative auditor’s office traveled to Lafayette City-Parish Hall to notify the Guillory administration they were conducting an investigative audit, a story widely reported in local media. A few months later, LCG’s own auditor, Kolder, Slaven & Company, released what was the worst annual audit in more than a decade, finding two dozen widespread deficiencies that led to excessive payments, bad bidding practices and poor internal control over LCG’s spending, potentially violating multiple state laws.
“The investigation is ongoing,” Roger Harris, the legislative auditor’s executive counsel who heads the investigations unit, told The Current Thursday morning.
What the legislative auditor calls an “investigative audit” is an exceptional occurrence, according to former Lafayette city auditor George Lewis, observing that auditors who show up unannounced, as the LLA did earlier this year, aren’t coming for a standard visit.
Still, Guillory sought to downplay the nature of that state investigation, characterizing it as a routine function of state oversight.
“If the LAA [sic] does refer to it as an investigation, I can’t control that,” Guillory, a lawyer, testified. “But I do know they audit us every year,” he added of the legislative auditor. The LLA does not audit LCG every year; the independent firm hired by the City-Parish Council, Kolder, Slaven & Company, has conducted LCG’s regular audits on behalf of the legislative auditor for the past 15 years. No LLA investigative audits were conducted in the past 15 years, firm partner Burton Kolder confirms to The Current, nor were they launched in the 24 years Lewis’s firm did the city’s audits. The LLA’s files dating back to at least 1998 (as far back as its electronic records go) confirm those auditors’ recollections, a spokesperson says.
According to the LLA website, the investigative audit unit “gathers evidence regarding fraudulent or abusive activity in an effort to detect and deter the misappropriation of public assets and to reduce future fraud risks.”
Reached for comment Thursday, City-Parish Attorney Greg Logan said Guillory may not have been aware that the LLA investigation is ongoing.
Also on the state side, The Current reported last month on Louisiana DEQ investigations into LCG/Rigid on drainage projects.
Federal probes have likewise been connected to the Guillory administration.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers confirmed in legal proceedings and statements to the media the existence of at least three investigations — involving the spoil banks removal in St. Martin Parish, the Homewood detention ponds and Coulee Ile des Cannes drainage project.
LCG failed to secure Corps permits, or verify permits were not needed, before commencing all three projects, actions that have driven up legal fees with the potential to result in massive fines and potential prosecution. Rigid Constructors is the contractor on all of the projects associated with the known Corps investigations.
The Corps said last year it was probing the secretive removal of the spoil banks, a project conducted in February 2022 without a Corps permit and without the knowledge and approval of St. Martin Parish. This project was also the subject of several of the 29 deficiencies in auditor Kolder Slaven’s report, including a potential public bid law violation and LCG charter violations.
At the hearing, Guillory’s lawyer claimed the project was no secret, arguing that the councils approved its budget and the land purchase. Council members have nevertheless said they were unaware of the overnight project and didn’t know land was being purchased in another parish.
“I know that there is a cease and desist [order] from the Corps for Clean Water Act and Rivers and Harbors Act violations on the spoil banks that’s still in effect,” St. Martin Parish President Chester Cedars told The Current after Wednesday’s hearing. In legal proceedings, the Corps also disclosed that it referred the matter to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for investigation of “flagrant, willful violations” associated with the spoil banks project.
Cedars remains in litigation with LCG over the unauthorized removal of spoil banks from the St. Martin Parish side of the Vermilion River. Along with LCG auditor Burton Kolder and City Council members Nanette Cook (whose son John is an associate at the McGoffin firm) and Glenn Lazard, Cedars was in court Wednesday, subpoenaed by Boulet’s attorneys to testify. The judge granted Boulet’s request for a dismissal without the necessity of hearing testimony from her witnesses.
Guillory also testified that he had not received any target letters, nor had been interviewed by any federal investigators. The Current reported last year that the FBI was probing Rigid and its potential relationship with Guillory.
Over the past year, The Current has spoken with nine people interviewed by federal agents; three of them, including one LCG official, sat with investigators in recent weeks. Those interviews confirm federal investigators’ interest in LCG and/or the mayor-president.
Former City-Parish Councilman Marc Mouton was contacted by the FBI this summer. He was asked how LCG handled land acquisitions when he was in office from 2000-2008. Mouton recognized one of the same agents he spoke with in the back of the courtroom Wednesday.
“Per longstanding DOJ policy, we don’t confirm or deny the existence of any investigations,” FBI spokeswoman Lesley Hill tells The Current.
“I would have been surprised if an agent had not been there,” says Michael Hill, a former federal prosecutor with extensive experience in grand jury investigations who later spent 25 years defending white collar crime. “The only takeaway,” says Hill, “is that the [federal] investigation remains ongoing.”
The legislative auditor’s office would only confirm that the agency is conducting an investigative audit at LCG.
The FBI has joined two federal agencies scrutinizing Lafayette’s drainage projects, this time with an eye on the relationship between the contractor and Mayor-President Josh Guillory.
In and out of the courtroom, Guillory was at times flanked by City-Parish Attorney Greg Logan, CAO Cydra Wingerter, and Chief of Staff Jamie Angelle. Wingerter sat next to Guillory in the front row, which had been cordoned off on both sides for the parties and their counsel. Angelle says he and Wingerter were on annual leave Wednesday and that Gibson and Logan, who handed notes to Guillory’s attorney during the hearing, were not on LCG’s clock.
Guillory nevertheless claimed a victory in the adverse ruling, using LCG’s communications office to circulate a statement calling it a “great day for Lafayette” and claiming that Boulet, while under oath, “admitted there was zero evidence of any crime and zero evidence of corruption by myself or my administration.”
“There were a lot of different outlets calling, and in reaction to that, comms thought it appropriate to send out his statement since people were requesting it,” Angelle says. “But in hindsight, it should not have been done that way. We acknowledge that it shouldn’t have come from LCG, and it’s been addressed.”
Boulet, to the contrary, repeatedly opined that Guillory has run a corrupt administration when presented with various news stories she used to back that assertion, though she was careful to note neither corruption nor an accusation of criminal acts was stated in the stories.
“I would say it’s insinuated,” said Boulet, who cut a commercial the following day pledging to “put an end to waste and corruption.” — Additional reporting by Andrew Capps