New Orleans’ controversial mayor has found herself embroiled in yet two more scandals involving her bodyguard and her ‘image consultant’ – hot on the heels of having to pay back nearly $29,000 for excessive first class flight.
LaToya Cantrell, 50, became in 2018 the first woman elected as mayor of New Orleans.
And now she’s faced questions over her selective use of a male bodyguard – who has spent hours with Cantrell while she allegedly does little work, and who joined her on a luxury trip to Los Angeles to meet Brad Pitt.
Cantrell’s stylist – who she has paid $175,000 since 2017 – is also facing a possible criminal probe over the thousands she’s spent on clothes for the lawmaker.
Yet in recent months her administration has been dogged by allegations of misuse of funds and resources – with the Democrat leader even complaining to the Society for Professional Journalists about the scrutiny.
The journalist body found the investigations were ‘entirely appropriate and journalistically ethical.’
Cantrell raised eyebrows last month when she claimed that she needed to fly first class, because it was not safe for a black woman to fly economy.
‘Anyone who wants to question how I protect myself just doesn’t understand the world black women walk in,’ she told a press conference.
New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell has repaid the city nearly $29,000 after she was found to have used city cash to get a first-class flight to France
The mayor paid for the flights after she spent more than $40,000 on a four-day trip in June to France, with her own first-class flight costing almost $18,000
Critics noticed that despite fearing for her safety on a flight to Paris, she felt sufficiently safe to walk alone around the city’s French Quarter, despite New Orleans having one of the highest murder rates in the United States.
Amid the scandal, Cantrell repaid the cash spent on her first class flights: $40,000 on a four-day trip in June to France, with her own first-class flight costing almost $18,000 while her aides traveled in economy.
Officer Jeffrey Vappie joined her security team in 2021 and has flown around the world with her
‘My travel accommodations are a matter of safety, not of luxury,’ said Cantrell, who earns approximately $188,000.
On Thursday, Fox 8 News noted that Cantrell, whose husband Jason is a lawyer, had paid for one of her bodyguards, Officer Jeffrey Vappie, to travel first class with her.
Vappie joined her team in May 2021, and began joining her on her trips – with the first of eight being a flight to Scotland.
In September this year, Vappie and Cantrell flew first class to Los Angeles, for events that included a dinner with Brad Pitt.
Robert Collins, a political analyst at Dillard University, told Fox 8 that he could not understand why Vappie needed to be at the event, given the high level of security that would already be in place in Beverly Hills.
‘You don’t need protection at an event where there’s almost certainly already security there,’ said Collins.
‘Because it’s a fundraising event. There are VIPs there. So you know that there are going to be police officers and protection. So that’s probably an event where you do not need protection.’
He also questioned why Cantrell began flying her security detail with her only when Vappie was brought onto the team.
‘The timeline doesn’t really make any sense,’ Collins said.
‘The taxpayers are going to ask: if you really need protection, why didn’t you have protection on the earlier trips? Why don’t you have protection when you’re walking by yourself in the French Quarter? Why are you selectively choosing when to have a protective detail and when not to have a protective detail?’
Since October 2021, Cantrell’s decision to bring security on trips has cost taxpayers more than $50,000, Fox 8 News calculated.
Fox 8 News reported that Vappie had been spending time at Cantrell’s city-owned apartment in the Upper Pontalba Building, near the city’s historic French Market.
Cantrell also admitted to living in the Upper Pontalba Building, a city-owned apartment in the city’s French Quarter, rent-free. It lies only three miles from her $500k house
Cantrell’s home in New Orleans’ Broadmoor neighborhood, which she shares with her husband Jason, is estimated to be worth upward of $500K
Vappie and the mayor are seen leaving the Upper Pontalba Building apartment together
The city’s Metropolitan Crime Commission showed photographs of New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell entering and leaving the apartment
The channel obtained surveillance camera footage through a Freedom of Information Act request, and found that Vappie was inside the building for long stretches of time.
Of the 45 days covered by the cameras, Vappie was there for 27 of them, and spent 112 hours there, Fox reported.
Other members of her security detail waited inside, but Vappie was inside – even seen watering the plants on her balcony.
The city’s inspector general launched an investigation into whether Cantrell used the apartment for personal use.
On Wednesday, Fox 8 News’s Lee Zurik, who has been following the story, was accused by the mayor of ‘violating’ her ‘as a human being’.
Zurik asked her, at a press conference: ‘Mayor Cantrell, you say you’re working 24/7 and the records show that you spend a lot of time with an officer.
‘The city has crime and infrastructure issues. You spent nearly 20 percent of the year out of town or out of the country with an officer. Is any of that appropriate?’
Cantrell replied: ‘So Mr. Zurik, I’m glad you’re here.
‘It kind of freaks me out to see you because you have been very inappropriate in my opinion. But relative to your accusations, none of them add up at all.’
She defended her use of the apartment, and her work for the city.
‘But in regards to my work in the city of New Orleans, it’s really been unmatched,’ she continued.
‘I can point to the results on the ground. The budget hearings that are underway right now speak to my work that my administration and team have done and continue to do for the city of New Orleans relative to public safety, relative to housing, relative to infrastructure and I can literally go on and on.’
Cantrell is facing questions over money paid to her stylist, Tanya Haynes (pictured)
Cantrell was also facing questions about $175,000 in payments made since 2017 from Cantrell’s campaign to her ‘image consultant’, Tanya Haynes, and her business, Jolie Image Consulting.
The payments to Haynes have generally increased over time, reaching $6,000 per month in 2021, the records obtained by 4WWL show.
Two stores where Haynes shopped – Ballin’s Boutique, where she often bought clothes for the mayor, and BC Kitchen and Bath, where Haynes recently ordered a new $17,000 kitchen – have been subpoenaed.