As questions swirl about the legitimacy of checks written by St. Tammany Parish District Attorney Walter Reed’s campaign fund to two companies owned by his son, one payment in particular has come under scrutiny: a $29,400 check to the firm Liquid Bread for what was described on campaign reports as “catering” services for a September 2012 fundraiser.
But what, exactly, were those services?
The Reed camp can’t quite seem to agree.
A Reed campaign invoice for the event shows that Liquid Bread, Steven Reed’s company, was paid to provide “beverage and liquor” for 2,450 guests.
Likewise, Rick Wood, a spokesman for the district attorney, said this past week that Steven Reed “owned a liquor license” and that he “provided setups and alcohol.”
But Steven Reed “adamantly” denied to nola.com that he provided any liquor for the event. In a story published Tuesday, he told the organization that he provided “setups” only — that is, juice, soda, ice, cups and other items needed in bartending.
The next day, Wood changed course somewhat, saying in an email to The New Orleans Advocate that his earlier description of the services “may have been unintendedly inaccurate.”
Wood added: “I was trying to communicate only that the bill that the campaign paid was paid was for goods and/or services provided.”
Wood declined to respond to repeated follow-up questions about what those goods or services were. Reed’s campaign treasurer also did not respond to numerous calls seeking comment or clarification about the payments. Steven Reed, meanwhile, has not responded to multiple emails requesting clarification.
The Reed camp’s reluctance to provide clear answers about the event may result from this conundrum:
Steven Reed, though he owned a bar in downtown Covington at the time and thus possessed a liquor license, lacked the catering license he would have needed to supply liquor to an off-site event. On the other hand, the amount Liquid Bread was paid for the event — $12 per head, for nearly 2,500 people — is suspiciously high if no liquor was provided. The Lake House, which supplied the food for those same guests, was paid only marginally MOre, about $14 per head.
Richard Chenoweth, who has owned the Gulf Coast catering firm Scranton’s for 33 years, said he would charge between $2 and $4 a head for bar setups without alcohol, depending on factors like quality and variety. For a full bar setup including alcohol, the price would range from $9 to $17 per person, he said.
Lea Freeman, sales director at Pigeon Catering in New Orleans, said she would charge about $6 per head for setups without alcohol and $15 per person or more for setups with alcohol.
In other words, if Steven Reed did not provide alcohol to the event, his price of $12 a head looks to be at least double and perhaps several times industry norms.
Under state law, it’s illegal for a politician to use his campaign account to make direct payments to a family member, unless the expenses are bona fide campaign costs, the campaign doesn’t intentionally overpay for the goods or services, and the company has been “doing business regularly” in Louisiana for a year or more.
If liquor was not provided, the size of the paycheck to Liquid Bread could have been a deliberate overpayment by the Walter Reed campaign.
Questions also remain about whether Steven Reed’s two companies, Liquid Bread and Globop Inc. — which together have received almost $95,000 from Walter Reed’s campaign in the last seven years — meet the definition of “doing business regularly.”
Neither company appears to have a listed phone number or a visible presence on the Internet, for instance.
Some of the other expenses paid to Globop and Liquid Bread also are murky. Most of the payments to Globop — where Walter Reed was listed as “secretary and director” in the company’s 2011 report to the Louisiana secretary of state — were for unspecified “production” expenses. The various payments to Liquid Bread were for other catering functions.
Walter Reed is no longer listed as an officer of Liquid Bread, and he has said he never had an ownership stake in the company.
A spokeswoman for the state Office of Alcohol and Tobacco Control said neither Steven Reed nor Liquid Bread had a catering permit or a special-events permit, one of which would be required for the company to supply liquor to off-site functions.
A representative of the Department of Health and Hospitals said that agency investigates formal complaints it receives about caterers who operate without a license, but that no such complaint has been received in this case.
Follow Gordon Russell on Twitter @gordonrussell1.