Defiant Cantrell calls Vappie investigation ‘witch hunt,’ says recall threat ‘in the rear-view mirror’

Published: Mar. 22, 2023 at 12:56 PM CDT
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NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - A defiant Mayor LaToya Cantrell called an investigation into timesheet irregularities involving members of her executive protection team a “witch hunt,” and said she felt vindicated by the failure of a petition seeking to force her into a recall election.

“It was a failed (recall) attempt, so that’s in the rear-view mirror,” Cantrell said Wednesday (March 22) at a City Hall press conference. “I’m here to serve, and I serve everyone. And I will continue to do the best job I can do for everyone in this community.”

Gov. John Bel Edwards announced Tuesday that no recall election would be held because of more than 67,000 signatures submitted by petition organizers, only 27,219 were certified as from valid Orleans Parish electors.

The petition needed 44,976 certified signatures to be considered successful. Cantrell was re-elected to a second term in November 2021 by garnering 48,750 votes.

“Clearly, a weight lifted, no doubt about that,” Cantrell said of the failed attempt to unseat her with three years left in her final term. “But what is evident is that there has been an intentional effort to discredit me as mayor. And it’s come from all sides and angles, from those who are elected officials and those who are not. And I expect it to continue.”

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The mayor said she has not listened to any leaked recordings of the New Orleans Police Department’s internal investigation into timesheet and duty irregularities involving officer Jeffrey Vappie. As the “Outside the Office” investigation by Fox 8′s Lee Zurik revealed, Vappie is the lone former member of Cantrell’s protection detail who spent long hours with the mayor -- both on and off the clock -- inside the city-owned Upper Pontalba apartment in the French Quarter.

Vappie’s wife has asserted in divorce papers that her husband and “Mrs. L.C.” were engaged in an extramarital affair, and sources told Fox 8 the accusation involves the mayor.

“I really disagree,” Cantrell said Wednesday, when asked if her relationship with Vappie was an embarrassment. “He was a member of my protection team and a trusted advisor and served with distinction.”

Cantrell said she has not been interviewed by the NOPD Public Integrity Bureau detectives investigating Vappie for potential payroll fraud or violations of department policy. The mayor also gave no indication that she would join calls for an independent investigation. Critics have said the NOPD’s probe is tainted by leaked interviews and the fact that PIB detectives ultimately report to Cantrell, a central figure in the probe.

“The PIB investigation is one we can stand by,” Cantrell said. “It has been very thorough ... one I would say is a witch hunt.

“I’m going to lean on the investigation of the PIB. It’s very clear there was no wrongdoing, as far as any involvement with Officer Vappie. It was strictly professional and we will keep it that way. ... I’m just hopeful the investigation will come to an end and people will stay in their lane and focus on the work ahead.”

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The mayor also dismissed questions about why she appointed Vappie to the Housing Authority of New Orleans board and had him attend its meetings while on the clock with NOPD, supposedly working executive protection.

“No wrongdoing there,” she said. “One of the things that has been misrepresented is time, in regards to my detail.”

Cantrell did not address another possible violation of state law, the mailer sent to many New Orleans voters last month as the recall petition deadline neared. The mailer touted accomplishments of Cantrell’s administration while showing her name and likeness, which experts have said was illegal since taxpayer funds were used to design, produce and distribute the brochure.

The mayor said her goal was “to not be distracted or deterred by this foolishness, all that has been coming at me directly and indirectly around me.”

“What I will say is a huge thank you to residents who understood the work was being done and wanted to see the work continue by this administration,” she added.

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