ZURIK: Concerns about when Mayor Cantrell chooses to have security and when she doesn’t

Updated: Nov. 16, 2022 at 10:01 PM CST
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NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - So far in 2022, taxpayers have paid more than $50,000 for members of Mayor LaToya Cantrell’s security team to travel with her on trips across the country and around the world.

In the past, Cantrell said her reason for flying first class was for safety.

“I do travel business class, absolutely, I need to be protected,” Cantrell said.

However, a review by the city attorney’s office found that first-class travel upgrades were a violation of city policy. Cantrell repaid nearly $30,000 for those expenses.

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But Cantrell hasn’t always used security when she travels, and video from a public security camera shows her walking alone in the French Quarter at night.

In 2019, Cantrell took nine trips to destinations including Copenhagen, Cuba, New York and Washington D.C. She was never accompanied by a security officer.

Cantrell also never brought executive protection on trips in 2020 and the beginning of 2021.

In May 2021, Officer Jeffrey Vappie joined Cantrell’s executive protection team. Five months later, Cantrell brought an officer on a trip for the first time, traveling to Scotland with Vappie.

Dillard political analyst Robert Collins says it appears Cantrell is selectively choosing when she wants to have protection.

“The timeline doesn’t really make any sense,” Collins said. “So, the taxpayers are going to ask, OK, well, if you really need protection, why didn’t you have protection on the earlier trips? Why don’t you have protection when you’re walking by yourself in the French Quarter? Why are you selectively choosing when to have a protective detail and when not to have a protective detail?”

Vappie is the officer who FOX 8 found spending hours on the clock at the city-owned Upper Pontalba Apartment with Cantrell. We obtained 45 days of video from a security camera outside the apartment through a public records request.

In those 45 days, Vappie visited 27 days and spent 112 hours in the Pontalba. Records requests from some of those times show the mayor was doing little work while inside the apartment.

Cantrell used Vappie as her security on a trip to Los Angeles in September. Both flew first class, but it’s unclear who paid for the travel upgrade. During that trip, Cantrell spent an evening in Beverly Hills at a dinner with Brad Pitt at a 24,000-square-foot mansion.

Collins wonders if a security officer was necessary for that trip.

“That’s really the question,” Collins said. “You don’t need protection at an event where there’s almost certainly already security there. Because it’s a fundraising event. There are VIPs there. So you know that there are going to be police officers and protection. So that’s probably an event where you do not need protection.”

Since Vappie joined the mayor’s executive protection team, he’s been on eight trips. Another member of her executive protection team, Robert Monlyn, has traveled with the mayor on five trips. Two of those were at or around the time that Vappie was out on extended sick leave for two months.

Cantrell took security on all her trips this year except one to Reno, Nevada and New York in June. That trip was also during the time Vappie was on sick leave.

The head of the Metropolitan Crime Commission, Rafael Goyeneche, believes there needs to be a thorough investigation.

“So all of that would be something that an investigator would look into to determine if there are any administrative violations by the mayor and or the officer,” Goyeneche said.

When Vappie and the mayor traveled to Washington D.C. in November of 2021, the travel agent booked a room for Vappie at the Washington Hotel. However, those records don’t show a hotel room for Cantrell.

The travel records look similar to a trip to Singapore over the summer that the mayor canceled last minute to stay in New Orleans. Vappie was scheduled to be Cantrell’s security officer on that trip. Receipts show Cantrell didn’t have a hotel room booked. Vappie’s room total for the trip was about $4,000. The city was issued a credit for the canceled flights for that trip, but no documentation shows if the city was reimbursed for the hotel expenses.

Since October 2021, Cantrell’s decision to bring security on trips has cost taxpayers more than $50,000.

Goyeneche wonders why the mayor makes taxpayers pay for her police protection on these trips if she doesn’t feel she needs protection while walking through the French Quarter at night.

“So in the city where she’s known, in a city that is experiencing violent crime surges that we haven’t seen in decades … The obvious answer is that it’s more dangerous for the mayor to be walking by herself and driving herself around in the city of New Orleans than it is attending a fundraiser at a mansion with a movie star,” Goyeneche said.

The trip to Los Angeles is one of at least 14 places around the country and the world the mayor has traveled to this year. According to her schedule, through Nov. 15, she’s spent 57 days of this year traveling.

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