Cantrell used city credit card for personal expenses; Charbonnet questions other purchases

Cantrell used city credit card for personal expenses; Charbonnet questions other purchases
Published: Oct. 27, 2017 at 1:15 AM CDT|Updated: Oct. 27, 2017 at 10:11 AM CDT
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NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - Public records show New Orleans mayoral candidate Latoya Cantrell used more than $8,000 of taxpayer money for personal expenses on her city-issued credit card. Cantrell paid the money back, but in some cases years after making the purchases.

However, her opponent, Desiree Charbonnet, questions more than $20,000 of additional purchases, for which she argues Cantrell never kept proper records.

Days after qualifying for the mayoral race, Cantrell reimbursed the city $4,400 for personal charges made on her City Council credit card. The purchases include charges that date back to 2013, including a $318 payment at the Limelight Lodge in Aspen.

It was not the first time Cantrell reimbursed the city for personal charges.

Last January, Cantrell wrote a $450 check for eight meals at New Orleans-area restaurants, including Five Happiness, Felipe's and Marcello's. Cantrell charged some of those meals in 2014 and 2015, but reimbursed the city years later.

Many of Cantrell's other charges also raise questions.

Last June, Cantrell charged $193 at Reginelli's. There, taxpayers paid for kids' drinks, five pizzas, a Budweiser, Coors Lite and a Nola Blonde.

Three days before Thanksgiving last year, Cantrell charged taxpayers for 71 whole turkeys and 77 Grade A hens. The two charges cost $1620.95.

It is unclear why taxpayers needed to foot the bill. State law does not allow politicians to donate or give away items purchased with public money.

The Charbonnet campaign handed over these records to FOX 8 news earlier this week. We authenticated the records before publishing this story.

More detailed receipts from City Hall raise even more questions about Cantrell's credit card spending. She had dozens of charges at Rouse's for Hershey's kisses, drinks, Jolly Ranchers, York Peppermint Patties and sugar.

The Charbonnet campaign said Cantrell has $21,000 of charges with no explanation or no business purpose noted.

FOX 8 found dozens of credit card receipts that do not detail why Cantrell made the purchase with public funds. For example, on Sept. 18, 2015, Cantrell charged $262 at Willa Jean. Someone at the table ordered a $10 mimosa.

Receipts from the meal do not clarify who was there or what city business may have been discussed.

"Possibly there's nothing personal or campaign-related in there, but let her come forward with the proper documentation," Charbonnet campaign spokesman Kevin Stuart said. "City officials do have to do business for the city, but you can't have personal expenses on these things."

Cantrell's campaign released a statement Thursday.

The Councilwoman does a thorough periodic reconciliation to insure appropriate compliance, and there were occasional and inadvertent errors and they were picked up during the reconciliation process and remedied. -

As required, the Councilwoman supplied receipts for the charges made on her credit card. In the rare instances where receipts could not be located, the Councilwoman made the reimbursement.

Her reimbursement is not an admission; it's an act of fiscal responsibility.

In the five years on Council, Councilwoman Cantrell has discussed and debated and participated in the approval for five city budgets totaling billions of dollars and never has there been any inference of impropriety, unethical mismanagement or any illegal conduct, but in fact she has proven herself a prudent and dedicated steward of public funds.

Stuart said if elected, Charbonnet will look at tougher restrictions for anyone with access to a city credit card.

On Thursday, Orleans District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro forwarded an "anonymous" criminal complaint against Cantrell to State Attorney General Jeff Landry's office. Anyone can file such a complaint. It should be noted that Cannizzaro publicly backed Charbonnet in this mayoral election.

Cantrell's campaign responded by saying that Cannizzaro is using the anonymous complaint for his own political advantage and called it another desperate ploy by the Charbonnet campaign that finished nine points behind on Election Day.

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