GONZALES — Sorrento has accused a St. Gabriel construction company of fraud over an unfinished 2012 sewer project that prompted an Ascension Parish Sheriff’s Office investigation and talk of murky connections to a broader federal investigation, which ensnared a town councilman’s boat.
The town claims in a lawsuit that Design & Build Consultants LLC and its subcontractor, H&O Investments LLC, never did the sewer repairs under Main Street near Trabeaux and Braud streets, though the town paid the company $77,500.
Endowed with check writing authority in the absence of then-Mayor Wilson Longanecker Jr., who was on medical leave, Councilman Randy Anny, mayor pro tem at the time, signed the check on July 6, 2012. The advance payment came without a council vote but under a 7-month-old council directive for emergency sewer repairs.
Questions about the sewer job came to light in mid-2013 when Mayor Mike Lambert and four council members came to office, sparking the Sheriff’s Office investigation, town officials have said.
The results of that probe have never been publicized, but talk soon emerged about a broader federal inquiry swirling around the town. Lambert said nearly two years ago that he turned over unspecified town records to a federal grand jury.
Then, in February, FBI agents seized Anny’s boat, dubbed “Who’s Ya Daddy,” that was parked in his driveway in Sorrento.
FBI officials and officials with the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Baton Rouge have refused to confirm or deny the existence of any grand jury investigation. Sheriff Jeff Wiley did not confirm or deny his office’s investigation into the contract.
Anny has disputed any wrongdoing with the sewer contract and declined to comment about the seizure of his boat, which was returned.
The Town Council voted in November 2013 to sue Design & Build, but only recently have Lambert and Town Attorney Matthew Percy pursued the lawsuit after discussing it again with the council last month. Percy said Tuesday the town wanted to get all the facts before it sued.
Filed July 6 in 23rd Judicial District Court, the suit questions the validity of the contract between the town and the two companies and whether the town’s payment was legal.
Town officials previously said they have been unable to find a written contract in their records.
The check itself describes the payment as a deposit and was half of the $142,000 job.
Roy Maughan Jr., a defendant in the suit and a former lawyer and registered agent for Design & Build, has said the payment was for mobilization, though state contractor groups say advance payments in public works contracting are unusual and risky for local governments.
In addition to Maughan and the companies, the town also names nine other people as defendants who are officers in Design & Build Consultants or H&O Investments.
Maughan disputed the suit’s allegations. He has represented both companies and is listed in the suit as an officer of H&O.
Maughan also represents Anny in separate legal matters.
Maughan said Tuesday the mayor stopped work in mid-2013 just as the job was about to start. Percy, the town attorney, sent a letter to Design & Build to halt work until further notice, Maughan said.
He said that as far as he knows, the company never received a directive to restart work, though he has not represented Design & Build recently.
“I think that the mayor was somewhat misinformed about the scope of what had already been performed, and to suggest in the lawsuit that Design & Build was refusing to perform was just wrong,” Maughan said.
The phone for Terry Reado, a defendant and an owner of Design & Build, was unanswered Tuesday.
In response to Maughan, Percy said the town will rest on the suit’s allegations and see what the litigation brings.
“We’ll just let it take its course,” Percy said.
Follow David J. Mitchell on Twitter @NewsieDave.