Feds blast NOPD’s investigation into Officer Vappie for overlooking possible payroll fraud
NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - In a new report, the Federal Consent Decree monitor says the New Orleans Police Department’s approach to the investigation into Jeffrey Vappie reflects a “cavalier attitude” toward the Public Integrity Bureau’s obligations and the importance of officer accountability.
The NOPD’s Public Integrity Bureau launched its investigation into Officer Vappie following a series of FOX 8 investigations that showed Vappie spending long hours both on and off the clock inside a city-owned apartment with Mayor Cantrell.
The NOPD completed its report on March 10th. FOX 8 requested a copy of that report on May 4, but still hasn’t received it. The NOPD report is included in the Consent Decree Monitor’s report. It shows the NOPD sustained three violations against Vappie.
It concludes Vappie violated a “performance of duty” rule when he worked more than 16 hours and 35 minutes on several days.
It also says he violated a “professional conduct” rule when he spent time alone with Cantrell outside his regular duty, which according to the report, goes against the training he received. The report also outlines two of Vappie’s coworkers bringing their concerns about the behavior to Vappie’s attention and telling him to stop.
The Public Integrity Bureau report also found Vappie violated a “performance of duty” rule, when he attended two Housing Authority of New Orleans board meetings while being paid to protect the mayor. FOX 8′s reports revealed Cantrell appointed Vappie to the HANO board, and that he went to at least two meetings while taxpayers paid him to work for the NOPD.
However, the Consent Decree Monitor says the PIB investigation didn’t go far enough, failing to consider potential payroll fraud by Vappie and a potential personal relationship between Vappie and the Mayor. It also says NOPD investigators should have aggressively pursued an interview with Mayor Cantrell during the investigation.
“The PIB really didn’t look into the payroll fraud allegations. So, I think that’s an issue. So, I think the issue here is that, while the PIB did an investigation and found violations, I don’t think they went far enough in their overall investigation, looking at the larger issues of payroll fraud, and also whether or not there were higher ups in the administration that knew about the activity and approved it,” Dillard University Political Analyst Robert Collins said.
The NOPD’s investigation also detailed an interview with a longtime member of the Executive Protection team, NOPD officer Louis Martinez. In March 2023, FOX 8 received several leaked audio recordings of the PIB investigation into Vappie. Those recordings contained audio of Public Integrity Bureau investigators interviewing several officers, including Vappie.
Martinez’s interview was not included in the leaked audio, but according to the PIB report, Martinez told investigators he noticed Vappie’s unprofessional behavior with Cantrell, saying “There’s a line you don’t cross, and I asked him if he crossed it, and he said no. I took him at his word.” Martinez says when he saw the reports on FOX 8 he was surprised and hurt.
The PIB investigation concluded that investigators were unable to confidently assess Vappie’s credibility during his interview. Investigators say he seemed confused about his work schedule rotation, antagonistic regarding his tactical positioning while dining with his protectee, and unable to articulate some of his duties when he was not assigned to his protectee.
The investigators wrote that Vappie’s behavior with Cantrell was unprofessional and caused a major embarrassment to the NOPD. It went on to say the behavior discredits the hard work that the other members of the Executive Protection team display.
While the investigators found “beyond a preponderance of evidence … Vappie violated NOPD rules and regulations,” the Consent Decree Monitor says the investigators should have done more digging.
Collins says the report further calls into question whether the NOPD should have asked a third party to investigate, instead of handling it internally.
“Because of the sensitivity of the matter, because of the potential political implications, because of the positions of the parties involved, this investigation should have been done by third party agency that had no connection with the city of New Orleans. I mean, I think that’s the way it should have been done in order to maintain the trust of the public,” Collins said.
He added, “These are law enforcement officers. Any issue that deals with potential violations of the law is certainly within their purview to investigate and to look at even if even if they are not the agency to charge. Certainly they can, if they find criminal violations, they can turn those violations over to the state or to the to the US Attorney’s Office.”
Thursday evening, the City of New Orleans filed a lengthy response, accusing the Consent Decree Monitor of being politically motivated and ignoring the evidence in the case. That filing says there was not sufficient evidence that Officer Vappie was not performing his duties while in the city-owned apartment with Cantrell. The city says, “It may look bad. It may be unprofessional. And it was a violation of his training in [executive protection] to be in the Mayor’s apartment for extended periods. But there was no evidence that he was not performing his unique [executive protection] duty at any time other than while at two HANO meetings.”
The city went on to say there is no NOPD policy that prohibits detail members from being in the residence of the protectee. The city accuses the monitor of being “unusually focused” on speculation about what was going on inside the apartment.
The city also defended Vappies time in the Pontalba apartment, and when he watered plants on the balcony, saying those actions fit into the broad traditional roles of executive protection duties, even if they are not traditional police work.
The city’s response concluded, “What the Monitor refuses to accept is that there was insufficient evidence – not suspicion or speculation – that Officer Vappie engaged in nepotism or payroll fraud.” Adding, “The Monitor’s team directly pressured the PIB investigators to reach a sustained finding despite a lack of evidence to support that finding. It is beyond alarming that the Monitoring team paid to evaluate the integrity of PIB investigations sought to undermine that very quality. The PIB investigators refused to bow to this pressure, which is a testament to PIB.107 But this revelation will cast a dark shadow over all future Monitor involvement with the NOPD.”
The city’s response said disciplinary measures have been recommended for Vappie.
While the city disagreed with the Consent Decree Monitor’s findings, the Department of Justice agreed with the monitor. Attorneys from the Civil Rights Division filed a response saying the United States agrees issues should be addressed. The attorneys say the allegations are ones of serious misconduct and question whether the NOPD had made a referral for a criminal investigation of Vappie. The Department of Justice response asks the federal judge overseeing the Consent Decree to require the city to respond to the outstanding consent decree compliance issues.
See a spelling or grammar error in our story? Click Here to report it. Please include the headline.
Subscribe to the Fox 8 YouTube channel.
Copyright 2023 WVUE. All rights reserved.