Metro Councilman Buddy Amoroso and his property management company Prime Properties LLC have been slapped with fines from the Louisiana Board of Ethics for violating ethics laws that do not allow public servants to have business or financial relationships with the agencies they oversee.
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Amoroso asked the Louisiana Board of Ethics to do an investigation after The Advocate ran an article in late 2015 revealing the existence of a 2002 Board of Ethics opinion that advised him to choose between running for office and running Prime Properties. He did not run for Metro Council then, but ran a decade later and took office in 2013.
By that time, Amoroso had already entered into a lease with a single mother of five who had a Section 8 housing voucher from the City Hall's Office of Community Development. The Metro Council oversees the Office of Community Development.
Between 2013 and 2016, Amoroso's company received $27,069 from the Office of Community Development as the agency subsidized the woman's rent, which rose from $900 a month to $965 a month during the same period. She moved in 2016 out of the apartment on Chalmette Street.
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Amoroso signed paperwork Thursday morning agreeing he had violated the law. He said he will pay on Friday his personal $5,000 fine and the $3,000 fine the Ethics Board imposed on Prime Properties.
In an interview Thursday morning from his City Hall office, Amoroso said the money his company received from the Office of Community development was less than 1 percent of its total revenue. The woman who had the Section 8 voucher from the Office of Community Development was the only tenant with a voucher from that particular city agency to rent one of his company's 600 units, Amoroso said.
Still, Amoroso said, he wanted to be open about the ethics violation.
"I've always tried to be transparent, I've always tried to do what's right," he said. "That's why I entered the consent agreement and am willing to pay the fine."
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Amoroso had unsuccessfully tried to convince the Ethics Board to dismiss the investigation.
His attorney, Gray Sexton, filed a motion to dismiss the investigation earlier in 2017, which pointed out that Amoroso's mother — and not Amoroso himself — owned Prime Properties. The documents also said Amoroso did not have direct supervision over the Office of Community Development, as the office falls under the mayor-president and not the Metro Council.
"The Office of Community Development is a department of the executive branch of the East Baton Rouge Parish Government and as such it constitutes its own agency, separate from the East Baton Rouge Parish Metro Council," reads the unsuccessful motion to dismiss.
Though Amoroso also has a handful of tenants who receive Section 8 vouchers from the East Baton Rouge Housing Authority, the Ethics Board did not find those to be in violation of the law because the Housing Authority is financially separate from city government — unlike the Office of Community Development.
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Amoroso said Prime Properties will not longer accept tenants who receive Section 8 vouchers from the Office of Community Development. But looking back at the situation that caused the fine, Amoroso also said he does not know what he could have done differently to avoid it.
"The only thing I could have done was once I was sworn in, evict this person," Amoroso said. "I think that's wrong."