NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - Over the past few years, Councilwoman Latoya Cantrell reimbursed the City of New Orleans nearly $8,000 for purchases made with her city-issued credit card. Many of the reimbursements came years after the charges were made.
State law does not allow politicians to donate or give away items purchased with public money, but there are exemptions to the law, including funds used to support the needy
"I have not had any personal gain from the use of my credit card expenditures while being a New Orleans City Council person," Cantrell said during a Monday debate with her opponent, Desiree Charbonnet.
Cantrell reimbursed the city $4,400 just days after qualifying to run for mayor of New Orleans.
She argued she reimbursed meals at local restaurants not because they were personal purchases, instead, she said she reimbursed the city for meals at Five Happiness, Felipe's, Marcello's and Mandina's out of an abundance of caution.
"I wanted to make sure I did the right thing making sure there was no impropriety," Cantrell said. "We're definitely above board and no violations of the council's policy at all. It's outreach."
But there are also questions about Cantrell's use of the card when she did not reimburse the city. Public records show the card was used multiple times to purchase candy, Altoids and sugar.
Cantrell also made a purchase near the holidays for 71 whole turkeys and 77 grade A hens worth nearly $1,600. In the public records, Cantrell does not disclose who received the turkeys, but the city's policy for the credit card that uses taxpayer money does not mandate her to do so.
"Every year I purchase turkeys. It's called outreach that are disseminated throughout District B, particularly in terms of our seniors' families that are struggling - that sort of thing," she said.
FOX 8 legal analyst Joe Raspanti believes Cantrell should be most concerned about the purchases she paid back to the city rather than the use of funds for what she calls outreach.
In one such instance, Cantrell made a purchase at CVS Pharmacy for a greeting card and $50 gift card. Cantrell reimbursed the city $59 one month after the purchase was made.
"I think her taking public funds and using it for her own private needs, even though she subsequently reimbursed at a later date, is going to be a lot more problematic because it's basically an interest-free loan or a line of credit with our money, and I don't think you're allowed to do that," Raspanti said.