NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - Just over a week after avoiding questions about the criminal investigation into her spending, Mayor-elect LaToya Cantrell addressed allegations at a Chamber of Commerce meeting today, telling attendees she's not a criminal.
It's the first time Mayor-Elect Latoya Cantrell has spoken out about the "legal issues" she says she's facing.
Fox 8 News spoke to a legal analyst to learn more about Cantrell's decision to bring up the controversy and why she approached it the way she did.
"The only thing in my heart is to do good," Mayor-elect Latoya Cantrell told a room full of people, Wednesday.
After weeks of remaining tight-lipped about the investigation into her spending, Mayor-elect Cantrell briefly brought up the issue in the first several minutes of her speech to the chamber of commerce and its attendees.
"Never imagined in my wildest dreams that I would have to engage an attorney of any sort, especially being married to one, but one that's tied to criminal defense," said Cantrell.
"She's being advised by a very high-priced team of criminal defense attorneys and they're very good at what they do and so, I'm sure they're advising her the best thing to do is to get ahead of the story and to go ahead and set the agenda," explained Dillard University Professor of Urban Studies and Public Policy Dr. Robert Collins.
Collins says Cantrell likely didn't realize the sort of scrutiny she'd be under as mayor-elect.
The attorney general confirmed, last month, his office is investigating Cantrell over her use of three, city-issued credit cards.
"Never in my wildest dreams, especially knowing, 'Hey, I haven't done anything wrong.' Definitely not a criminal," Cantrell said, Wednesday.
"This is basically a situation she's going to argue that I paid the money back, the money's been paid back. This is a civil matter. If there are any penalties later, they should only be civil penalties," said Dr. Collins. "She obviously doesn't think there's any criminal liability and obviously does not believe there should be any criminal penalties."
Public records show Cantrell reimbursed the city nearly $4,400 just before qualifying to run for mayor. The mayor-elect previously argued the charges she did not pay back were purchases made for outreach in the community.
"Make no mistake about it, I will surround myself with good people, ensuring I am leading with real integrity but accountability. That's something you should not have to worry about. So, I'm just wanting to reaffirm not only my commitment to you, but I'm encouraging you to continue to stand by me because, together, we're going to do great things for our people and I mean all of the people in our city," Cantrell explained.
"I believe she's trying to make the argument to the voters, now to the citizens since the election is over, that even though I may have had some issues in the past, that was when I was on the city council. Now that I'm going to be mayor, I'm going to have the ability to appoint a large team of attorneys, accountants, financial people, so you won't have to worry about me making these sorts of mistakes in the future that I made in the past because I'm now going to have people checking everything I do," said Dr. Collins.
Collins anticipates we won't hear much more from Cantrell about these legal issues until she has to respond to them in court.