Jefferson Parish Councilman Chris Roberts told fellow council members in a letter Tuesday that he feels the allegations leveled at Jefferson Parish President Mike Yenni are more scandalous than they've been portrayed publicly. In the letter, Roberts described in explicit detail a sexual act that Yenni is accused of offering to perform on a teenager.
Yenni, whose office was engulfed by controversy last fall after WWL-TV reported that the FBI had looked into text messages he exchanged with a 17-year-old male, has admitted only to sending “improper” texts. He has denied ever having “sexual contact” with the teen.
The letter Roberts sent Tuesday gets more graphic than any media account of the text messages in question. Citing sources familiar with the texts, Roberts’ letter contains a reference to a form of oral sex Yenni is said to have offered to perform on the 17-year-old.
His description roughly matches the content of text messages reviewed by news outlets, though Yenni has never acknowledged the authenticity of any particular exchange.
Roberts added, “This to me is far more extreme than the portrayal to date that has been brushed off as innocent communications that went astray or simply were misunderstood."
Roberts wrote that he has received emails from residents asking about Yenni’s creation of an education task force and about whether Yenni will be attending the parish's annual Family Gras celebration during Carnival.
During an appearance on a midday radio show Monday, Jefferson Parish President Mike Yenni wa…
Roberts said he had meant to discuss the matter privately with other council members but didn’t see the point of keeping it secret after some of his own text messages sent over the weekend to Councilwoman Jennifer Van Vrancken were leaked to a reporter.
Those messages had to do with a controversy over whom to appoint to a vacant seat on the council, which has divided Roberts from some of his colleagues. They were shared with The New Orleans Advocate on the condition that the recipient not be identified and that they not be quoted directly due to the graphic nature of some of the language in the messages.
Van Vrancken on Tuesday told WVUE-TV that the graphic portion of Roberts' message was "lewd and crass" and had offended her.
"I would not expect my husband, my father, a male colleague to send to any lady," Van Vrancken said, according to WVUE. "I found that offensive."
WVUE-TV said Roberts told the station that his intent was to "simply relay to her what was said."
In any event, Roberts' letter Tuesday dealt mainly with the accusations against Yenni.
“I see many falling back into normal routines and acting as if this either did not occur or it is acceptable for us as a parish," Roberts wrote. "I tend to believe that if the public is made aware of what I know to be true, their opinions would likely be expressed far greater than has been the case in recent months.”
The choice of who should fill an empty seat on the Jefferson Parish Council has turned conte…
Asked for comment, Yenni called Roberts' letter a “mean-spirited and dishonest” attempt to revive the issue now that it seems to have faded as an issue since the initial weeks after the revelation. He was also critical of media outlets' decision to cover the letter.
“It’s obviously a way to spark things back up,” he said, “and I wholeheartedly denounce this disgusting portrayal of me.”
Jefferson Parish Councilman Chris Roberts is not liable for damages in a lawsuit that a prom…
Yenni said he has publicly apologized for the shame caused by the episode and once again asserted that he has remained effective as parish president despite the scandal. He pointed out that concerns about a public backlash against him causing the defeat of tax renewals in a December election turned out to be needless.
“Now they have nowhere else to go, so it’s just, ‘Throw anything out there at him,’ ” he said.
“It’s typical ambush politics by Chris the day before a council meeting,” Yenni said of Roberts' letter.
A campaign to force an election on recalling Yenni continues to gather signatures, but it is uncertain whether it can get the required number of Jefferson voters to sign up by the April deadline.
Roughly halfway through a 180-day window to force a recall election against Jefferson Parish…
On Tuesday evening, WWL-TV reported that those currently on the council who had said they had signed that petition were Roberts, Van Vrancken, Ricky Templet and Cynthia Lee-Sheng. Mark Spears didn't say if he had; but he noted that if he hadn't, that didn't rule out his eventually signing it, WWL-TV said.
WWL-TV said that Paul Johnston, the sixth current council member, did not answer requests for comment Tuesday.
Staff writer Ramon Antonio Vargas contributed to this report.
Editor's note: A copy of the letter Roberts sent to the council can be viewed here. The letter includes a graphic description of a sex act. Further, this post was updated since it was first published to add comments Van Vrancken made to WVUE-TV.