Zurik: Fact-checking Cantrell’s HANO claims involving NOPD’s Jeffrey Vappie

Published: Mar. 22, 2023 at 5:20 PM CDT
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NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - New statements by Mayor LaToya Cantrell contradict public records and what a former member of her security team told investigators.

Cantrell appointed NOPD officer Jeffrey Vappie as a board member for the Housing Authority of New Orleans (HANO) in March 2022. Prior Fox 8 investigations found at least two occasions when Vappie attended HANO board meetings while on the clock for the NOPD. Those investigations also found Vappie spending long hours, both on and off the clock, with Cantrell inside a city-owned apartment.

The NOPD launched an internal investigation and reassigned Vappie as those reports began to air.

Cantrell addressed the HANO board appointment and Vappie’s hours at a press briefing on Wednesday (March 22). Cantrell claimed that Vappie attended those meetings after being reassigned from her team.

However, that doesn’t appear to be true. Fox 8 pulled public records from the HANO meetings and combed through leaked audio recordings of Vappie’s statement to NOPD investigators. Both contradict Cantrell’s claims.

In audio recordings with NOPD Public Integrity Bureau investigators, Vappie said he got permission to attend HANO meetings while on the clock directly from Mayor Cantrell.

PIB Interviewer: “All right. And what time does the board meet HANO?”

Vappie: “Normally? Four o’clock.”

PIB Interviewer: “4 p.m., every Tuesday of the month. Did that board meeting had anything to do with executive protection?”

Vappie: “Absolutely not.”

PIB Interviewer: “So, the board meeting was strictly HANO issues?”

Vappie: “HANO issues, correct.”

PIB Interviewer: “All right. So is there any reason why you would attend that board meeting? Why you’re on the clock for NOPD?”

Vappie: “Yeah, absolutely … With the permission of the mayor. She made, she wanted me to attend those, those meetings. It was one meeting at, one meeting every Tuesday of the month.”

Cantrell downplayed the meetings and potential payroll fraud on Wednesday. Cantrell also claimed Vappie attended the meetings after he was removed from her executive protection team, during a brief period when he escorted Fausto Pichardo around the city as Pichardo worked as a consultant for the NOPD.

“So, in regards to Officer Vappie, you mentioned HANO meetings and time,” Cantrell said to reporters Wednesday. “What I’m hopeful (of), based on the investigation and relative to time, no wrongdoing there. One of the things that has been misrepresented is time and that, relative to my detail.

“During the time that I do understand about those two HANO meetings, Officer Vappie was paired with Chief Pichardo -- in terms of Fausto Pichardo, and so, a consultant that I partnered with, relative to the New Orleans Police Department. And so, that’s, that really speaks to Officer Vappie’s time. But, clearly, no wrongdoing, but doing the work of the City of New Orleans.”

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Zurik: Investigators grill mayor’s security about travel and Vappie’s HANO board appointment

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However, the facts don’t seem to support Cantrell’s claims. The city hired Pichardo in late August 2022. Vappie told investigators he drove Pichardo for a short time starting after that.

PIB Interviewer: “Pichardo, Fausto Pichardo, right?”

Vappie: “Yes.”

PIB Interviewer: “Do you remember the exact date that happened?”

Vappie: “I don’t remember the exact date.”

PIB Interviewer: “OK. You know around about time?”

Vappie: “I would say the ... Yes, I would say the end of September, maybe October? That’s my guesstimation.”

Records show Vappie attended a HANO board meeting while on the clock for NOPD on March 29, 2022, and another on Aug. 23, 2022. Both meetings were before the city hired Pichardo.

On March 29, Vappie’s NOPD timesheet shows he worked from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. HANO records show he was present at the board meeting that started at 4 p.m. that day. On Aug. 23, Vappie claimed to work for NOPD from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m., but also was present at HANO’s 4 p.m. board meeting that day. The records seem to clearly show Vappie attended the HANO meetings not while working with the police consultant, but while on the mayor’s executive protection team.

The records show no matter what Vappie’s assignments were those days, he attended the meetings while on the clock for the NOPD, being paid taxpayer money while attending board meetings that NOPD investigators said had nothing to do with his work for the department.

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