Will Cantrell, NOPD, City Attorney Cooperate in OIG’s Investigation of Vappie Mystery Tapes?

Photo courtesy of Mayor Latoya Cantrell’s Facebook 

Transparency has never been a hallmark of Mayor LaToya Cantrell’s administration. Though the recall only failed because officials were unable to submit enough petitions timely, there is no doubt that many New Orleanians are unhappy with Cantrell’s leadership. Instead of trying to rebuild trust among the thousands of disgruntled voters who signed the petition, she continues to plow forward on her own unique path. One good example is Cantrell’s recent refusal to allow city officials to speak at a public hearing on the federal consent decree. Although Federal Judge Suzie Morgan canceled the meeting, she probably won’t be so gracious next time. When the subject matter is unpleasant, will Cantrell continue to muzzle city employees whose salaries are paid by taxpayers?  

A dark cloud is hanging over Cantrell and the NOPD because of the ongoing investigation of Officer Jeffrey Vappie, Cantrell’s former bodyguard. After news reports and the Metropolitan Crime Commission broke the stories that Vappie was spending far too many hours with Cantrell in the city-owned Pontalba apartment and was billing the city an excessive amount for that and other mayor-related work, the NOPD’s Public Integrity Bureau (PIB) had no choice but to open an investigation. 

Almost a dozen interviews were conducted of Vappie and other officers. Then mysteriously a thumb drive with interviews – but not a draft PIB report- made its way to the City Attorney’s office and even more mysteriously into the hands of the media, including this publication which posted the interviews. Many statements made by Vappie and other officers revealed a flawed payroll system and other irregularities in the way the executive security detail operated. After the tapes were publically circulated, New Orleans Inspector General Ed Michel decided to open his own investigation as to what happened. 

Michel and his dogged team will be asking more than a few questions to get to the bottom of this mystery. Was it Cantrell that requested the copy of the tapes?  Who gave the City Attorney the thumb drive and why? Did Cantrell or other members of her senior staff review the tapes? Did she direct the City Attorney to advise the PIB on how the final report should be written? How was it that a thumb drive with the tapes was given – allegedly unintentionally – to a citizen with no connection to the NOPD? Did the City Attorney’s office make the tapes available to other third parties? Finally, was it Cantrell’s plan to have the PIB cover-up the negative testimony and present sanitized results? Surely, Cantrell never intended for the tapes to be dissected by the media and the public.

It will be up to the Inspector General to ascertain how the tapes got to the City’s Attorney’s office and for what purpose and who else had access to them, said Raphael Goyeneche of the Metropolitan Crime Commission. “Both the NOPD and the City Attorney are compromised to conduct this investigation,” Goyeneche told WWL Radio broadcaster Newell Normand on Monday, April 3.  “We are going to have to wait on the Inspector General’s office for answers.”

Cantrell has the ability to answer many questions about Vappie and the tapes but she has not been forthcoming. The logical conclusion is for the Inspector General to offer and expect to take the mayor’s statement as well as statements from the NOPD and the City Attorney. Yet there is a very distinct possibility all three will stonewall Michel and his team.  

Almost every criminal investigation presents its own twists and turns and unique evidence, Normand explained to listeners. With the mayor at the heart of all the questions, this investigation is surely unprecedented. Will Cantrell remain silent and ignore the Inspector General?  Based on her past history, the voters should not expect straight answers to tough questions anytime soon.     

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