A federal grand jury earlier this month ordered Jefferson Parish to turn over records pertaining to "payments, income, compensation or reimbursements" received by Parish Council Chairman Chris Roberts from 2010 through last year, according to a copy of a subpoena obtained by The New Orleans Advocate.

It is unclear what the grand jury is investigating or how wide the probe may be. But the subpoena, received Feb. 18 by Parish Attorney Michael Power's office, seems to be the first public indication that Roberts — who in his 2015 re-election campaign faced a lawsuit accusing him of filing late tax returns — is under scrutiny by federal law enforcement officials.

In a statement Thursday, Roberts said he had expected "proper authorities" would conduct due diligence and "inquire about" allegations brought up against him in the unsuccessful 2015 lawsuit.

"Approximately a month ago, we were asked to provide documents and proof of all income and business income/losses as it relates to the years 2010-current," Roberts said. "We are fully cooperating by providing the requested information in detail and will continue to do so if additional documentation is requested. We will have no additional comment."

U.S. Attorney Kenneth Polite's office and the FBI declined to comment on the matter, citing policies against discussing any investigations that may be ongoing. 

The records that the subpoena instructs the parish attorney to provide to the FBI by March 9 include forms showing the amount of taxes withheld from Roberts' paychecks, tax withholding documents, and reports of the various types of income he earned outside of his council salary. 

The subpoena was requested by Assistant U.S. Attorney Sean Toomey.

Roberts' annual council salary exceeds $111,000, according to parish records. In his most recent personal financial disclosure form, he indicated that he also was involved in some private businesses, including a landscaping company where he is listed as general manager.

Roberts, 39, has been in public office since he was 21. He served on the Jefferson Parish School Board from 1998 through 2003 and has been on the Parish Council since 2004.

During a council meeting last month, he and Parish President Mike Yenni — who has been ensnared in a sexting scandal for several months — traded accusations of ethical lapses in a rare public display of the contempt that the two political rivals hold for each other.

Defending himself from assertions that he was under federal investigation after sending text messages purportedly offering a form of oral sex to a 17-year-old boy in 2015, Yenni alluded to the lawsuit Roberts faced during his re-election race that same year. The suit accused the councilman of filing his tax returns late and sought to disqualify him as a candidate in the race.

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Yenni, who claims he has never been contacted by federal authorities, also referenced a civil case in which Roberts was accused of failing to pay back a personal loan of more than $186,000 from a major West Bank landowner.

Roberts largely attributed his delay in filing his tax returns to successfully pursuing an appeal of a $90,000 Internal Revenue Service lien put on his property over 2008 and 2009 taxes, an amount the councilman said should have been subtracted from 2006 business losses. 

He ultimately won a favorable ruling from the Jefferson Parish judge presiding over the disqualification lawsuit, and he has repeatedly questioned why the plaintiff in the case was later named the property code enforcement director for Kenner, where Yenni was mayor from 2010 through 2015.

Meanwhile, Roberts in December signed a consent judgment affirming that he owed the debt to a company owned by land magnate Joseph Marcello.

The councilman has said the debt stems from his and a former business partner's acquisition of a sandwich shop that the lender's son didn't want anymore, The partner later abandoned the venture by declaring bankruptcy while Roberts battled follicular lymphoma, a type of blood cancer.

Yenni last month questioned whether Roberts in recent years may have cast council votes to facilitate building projects in an undeveloped tract of land that Marcello owns a portion of. Roberts denied ever involving himself in any proposal that called for payments to Marcello or his company.

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Follow Ramon Antonio Vargas on Twitter, @RVargasAdvocate.

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