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Leon Cannizzaro speaks during the press conference in New Orleans on December 12, 2016.

Advocate staff photo by SOPHIA GERMER

Pointing to his public support of Desiree Charbonnet for New Orleans mayor, Orleans Parish District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro on Thursday recused himself from investigating an anonymous complaint sent to his office accusing Charbonnet of receiving a homestead exemption to which she is no longer entitled. 

Cannizzaro's first assistant, Graymond Martin, referred the allegations to the state Attorney General's Office, citing Cannizzaro's endorsement of Charbonnet.

"While we find no reason to recuse this office, the heightened political season and the desire to avoid even the appearance of impropriety compels the District Attorney's Office to request the assistance of the Louisiana Attorney General's Office in handling this matter," Martin wrote. "Your office should take whatever action you deem appropriate in light of the facts, law and circumstances affecting this matter." 

The referral was the second time in as many weeks that Cannizzaro has removed himself from investigating a complaint involving a mayoral candidate. His office sent a similar letter last week asking Atty. Gen. Jeff Landry's office to look into a claim that Charbonnet's opponent, City Councilwoman LaToya Cantrell, repeatedly misused a city credit card to pay for personal or political expenses. 

The anonymous complaint against Charbonnet appeared to be an effort to put the DA in a tricky spot. Cantrell had criticized him for announcing publicly that he had referred the complaint about her to the Attorney General's Office, which seemed to contradict an office policy against commenting on open cases.

The delivery of an anti-Charbonnet complaint to the DA — a delivery that came with an alert to media outlets — seemed aimed at forcing the DA to make a similar announcement about his favored candidate.

If that was the goal, it worked, although the complaint itself has essentially been debunked already.

The complaint says that Charbonnet, a former Municipal Court judge, has been improperly claiming a homestead exemption for several years for the residence she once lived in with her ex-husband in the Lake Terrace subdivision. The complaint notes that she registered to vote using the address for the apartment she lives in miles away on Magazine Street. 

Charbonnet's name remains listed on the Lake Terrace property on the assessor's website. But Erroll Williams, the Orleans Parish assessor, said Charbonnet no longer receives the exemption and has not claimed an exemption on any other property in the parish. Charbonnet's ex-husband, Bryan K. Jefferson, said he pays the mortgage and taxes on the Caldwell Drive residence. 

"The claim has been debunked," said Kevin Stuart, a spokesman for Charbonnet's campaign. "We're confident it will be dismissed as the frivolous, baseless waste of time that it is." 


Follow Jim Mustian on Twitter, @JimMustian.