A state ethics panel formally dismissed charges against Mandeville Mayor Donald Villere this month, more than four years after they were filed.
The charges dated back to Villere’s first run for mayor in 2010, when he opposed then-City Councilwoman Trilby Lenfant.
In the days before the election, Villere’s campaign accused Lenfant of voting in favor of city contracts that went to her husband’s business partner. Villere also claimed Lenfant had taken city-owned generators for her personal use and received a favorable break on her property taxes, among other things.
Lenfant filed a complaint with the Ethics Administration, alleging that Villere knew the statements were false or misleading.
Villere beat Lenfant by three votes out of nearly 2,500 cast.
After nearly a year of investigation, the Board of Ethics agreed with Lenfant and filed two charges against Villere. Those charges then went before a panel of three administrative law judges called the Ethics Adjudicatory Board.
That panel essentially said the Board of Ethics had not met the standard to file charges and that any evidence collected after the charges had been filed could not be used. In its decision, the panel noted that the Board of Ethics had one year from the complaint to file charges but that Villere was not deposed until a few weeks before the deadline.
“The BOE was required to have fully completed its investigation of the allegations against (Villere) prior to filing formal charges against him,” the panel said. Based on the evidence presented, the BOE’s allegations were not supported, the Ethics Adjudicatory Board said.
“Even if the BOE could prove that (Villere) failed to investigate the accuracy of his campaign statements, ... a failure to investigate alone does not indicate that the statements were made with a reckless disregard for the truth,” the panel said. Further, the evidence “falls short of proof of actual malice” on Villere’s part.
Not surprisingly, Lenfant, who now serves in Parish President Pat Brister’s administration, was disappointed.
“The decision was based on procedural law and not the facts,” she said.
She faulted the Board of Ethics for failing to complete the investigation in time and said Villere was “not vindicated at all.”
Villere, on the other hand, said he was “pleased that the Ethics Adjudicatory Board made the correct decision. It’s been a long time coming.”
Villere, who was re-elected in 2012, faces an election challenge from Councilman Rick Danielson in the March 2016 municipal elections.
Follow Faimon A. Roberts III on Twitter, @faimon.