Federal investigation into Mayor Cantrell, Vappie looms amid quarrels with City Council

Published: Sep. 13, 2023 at 11:12 PM CDT|Updated: Sep. 14, 2023 at 9:39 AM CDT
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NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - Two leading staffers have stepped down from their pivotal roles in a series of developments at City Hall.

This decision follows Mayor LaToya Cantrell and NOPD Officer Jeffrey Vappie’s move to hire criminal defense attorneys amidst an ongoing federal investigation.

Political analyst from Dillard University, Robert Collins, describes the current climate as a “crisis du jour” – a crisis of the day, noting, “What we see in the city right now is just a great deal of instability.”

A report by Lee Zurik revealed that Mayor Cantrell and Officer Vappie have sought the services of renowned criminal defense lawyers. Cantrell has retained Eddie Castaing, leading to speculation about potential criminal liability.

Joe Raspanti commented on the hire, pointing out, “Eddie doesn’t do real estate law. He’s a criminal lawyer.” He added, “I think the mayor may see that she has some criminal liability going forward. And that’s why she retains somebody like Eddie Castaing.”

Sources confirmed to FOX 8 that federal investigators have questioned witnesses about providing gifts or monetary favors to Cantrell. Although the FBI has subpoenaed records from these vendors, Mayor Cantrell has yet to be formally accused of any criminal wrongdoing.

NOPD Officer Vappie, a Cantrell’s executive protection team member, is also under federal scrutiny.

Reports reveal he spent significant time inside the city-owned Upper Pontalba apartment with the mayor and frequently accompanied her on official trips.

Amidst questions about Vappie’s work hours, he has sought legal counsel from former US Attorney Harry Rosenberg.

Former NOPD Deputy Superintendent Arlinda Westbrook left her role on Monday under undisclosed circumstances. Meanwhile, the City’s Department of Public Works acting director, Sarah Porteous, has announced her resignation, effective September 27.

The city has yet to select a replacement for either position.

Further intensifying matters, the city council commenced the process to terminate Cantrell’s Communications Director, Gregory Joseph, citing incompetence, neglect of duty, and gross misconduct. The allegations stem from political mailers distributed during Cantrell’s recall campaign, which taxpayers funded.

According to Collins, these issues didn’t spring up overnight. He attributes some of the tension to a voter-approved charter revision last year, which gave the council the power to approve or disapprove department head appointments.

“That would not have happened under any previous administration. They felt they had to rein in the powers of this mayor, of this specific mayor,” Collins said.

While these events are specific to Cantrell’s administration, Collins believes they will have long-term implications for future administrations.

FOX 8 contacted both attorneys, Castaing and Rosenberg, for comments on the matter but received no response.

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