Cantrell’s Woes Continue: Judge Blocks Wisner Funds, Watchdog Group Investigates Apartment Use

Photo Credit: Jenn Bentley, Big Easy Magazine

The punches keep rolling in for beleaguered mayor LaToya Cantrell. On Thursday, civil court Judge Kern Reese granted a request from the New Orleans City Council to temporarily block the use of all Wisner funds without court approval. Following that news, the Metropolitan Crime Commission (MCC) released a report showing that Cantrell has been living in an Upper Pontalba apartment for several months, and asked that the council investigate whether or not Cantrell has been paying rent.

Wisner Trust Litigation

According to Reese, Cantrell’s 2020 decision to extend the Wisner Trust was “not proper,” given that an appellate court ruled in 2014 that the trust had expired. Because of that, Reese said revenue from the 38,000 acres of land around Port Fourchon are “public funds” that should not be distributed without proper oversight.

“There has never been justification as to why the city would take fully owned land and donate it,” Judy Barrasso, a lawyer for the council said on Wednesday. “Why would the city just give it away?”

Cantrell’s 2020 decision essentially stripped the council of any oversight of the city’s use of the Wisner funds. Since then, she has continued distributing funds to both public agencies and nonprofits, but with no communication on where the money was going, and for what.

Cantrell’s Apartment Use

According to the MCC, Cantrell has been regularly using a two-bedroom, two-bathroom Upper Pontalba apartment, and has been receiving deliveries and has been seen being picked up in a city-owned vehicle outside the apartment. They have asked the council to investigate whether Cantrell has been paying rent, which they estimate should be around $2,991 per month while living at the apartment.

Gregory Joseph, the Director of Communications of the Office of Mayor Cantrell released a statement on the mayor’s use of the property, saying:

“The Mayor’s usage of the city-owned apartment at the Pontalba remains consistent with the usage of past mayors. In addition, the most recent Franchise Agreement contains no rules governing how that unit should be used or operated.

Lastly, according to the French Market Corporation – the owners of the Pontalba Building – Mayor Cantrell, along with past Mayors, are under no obligation to pay for using the apartment.”

However, according to past administrations, the apartment was never lived in and was only used after-working events in the French Quarter, or as a place for out-of-town dignitaries and guests of the city to stay.

Councilman Joe Giarrusso said the council will have to look into what the policies for the apartment are. “When it came, for example, for other things, there’s all these developed policies, you can go on the city’s website and see what all the policies are for employees. But this one, I just didn’t know about.”

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