Lee Zurik Investigation: Ethics Board charges Aaron Bennett, two attorneys

Aaron Bennett
Aaron Bennett
Stephen Braud
Stephen Braud
Bob Ellis
Bob Ellis

The State Ethics Board has charged businessman Aaron Bennett and two attorneys for violating the State Ethics Code.

The questionable relationships and payments were laid out in a series of FOX 8 investigations last July.

"That raises a serious concern for any member of the public," says Tulane law professor Joel Friedman.

Friedman voiced those concerns about businessman Aaron Bennett and his relationship with attorney Stephen Braud.

Our story showed Bennett's company, Benetech, bid on a lucrative construction management contract with then-Plaquemines Sheriff Jiff Hingle.  Their point of contact was Hingle's attorney, Stephen Braud.  Benetech was awarded the contract, and a few months later -- while Braud continued to work for Hingle -- he also became Bennett's and Benetech's attorney.

"The government is a public entity," says Friedman.  "They have a fiduciary responsibility to the public to engage in arm's length transactions with any entity in which they want to enter into a contract.  When the person responsible, or listed in the RFP [requests for proposals] as the government side has some financial interest in the company that ultimately gets the contract, that raises a question to me, raises the question about whether the government was involved in an arm's length contract."

The State Ethics Board says, during the time Braud worked for the sheriff and Benetech, Benetech paid him $22,000. The Ethics Board says that's against the law and charged Braud, Bennett and Benetech with ethics violations.

The charges against attorney Bob Ellis involve his work with the City of New Orleans and Benetech, the arrangement also revealed in a FOX 8 investigation last summer.

We showed that, at one time, Ellis was on the payroll of both Benetech and the City of New Orleans.  During that time period, Benetech had a city contract and the Ethics Board says Ellis, as a city employee, helped Benetech receive FEMA funds from the City of New Orleans.  This happened at the same time Ellis was being paid by Benetech  at least $30,000, according to our research.

The Ethics Board charged Ellis and Bennett.

Remember -- Aaron Bennett has already pleaded guilty to charges in federal court.  None of those charges involve Braud or Ellis, although FOX 8 News has reported federal investigators have been looking into Ellis and his connections to Bennett and former Mayor Ray Nagin.

We reached out to the attorneys for Braud and Ellis -- neither got back to us.

Both men will get a chance to defend themselves against these charges.  If the Ethics Adjudicatory Board finds them guilty, they can face a fine.