The Lafayette City-Parish Council on Tuesday decided not to pursue a special investigation into a federally funded business loan provided to Marcus Bruno, a senior aide to Mayor-President Joel Robideaux.
Councilman Jay Castille sponsored the resolution calling for the Dept. of Housing and Urban Development, the Louisiana Ethics Board and District Attorney’s Office to investigate, but he agreed to defer the resolution because Robideaux has already initiated federal and state reviews.
Castille said he would introduce an amended resolution on March 26 to ensure the results of the pending reviews are disclosed to the council.
The Advocate reported last month that Bruno in 2016 obtained a $35,000 loan funded with HUD grant money that originated with the city-parish. The loan was provided from a revolving fund operated by a third-party administrator, the nonprofit Lafayette Neighborhoods’ Economic Development Corp.
Bruno helped Lafayette Neighborhoods secure additional grant money after receiving the loan, and he maintained direct communication with at least one board member about the organization’s business. The Robideaux administration is responsible for ensuring Lafayette Neighborhoods loan files comply with federal regulations.
City-parish employees are not allowed to benefit from HUD block grants when they are positioned to help decide or gain inside information has to how those grants are used, according to federal regulations.
Castille said he introduced the resolution on Tuesday because he was dissatisfied with the administration’s initial legal review finding that Bruno had not committed regulations. That conclusion was based in part on the fact that the grant that funded Bruno’s loan was authorized in 2001, before Bruno joined city-parish administration.
The report also noted that Bruno never worked for Lafayette Neighborhoods, and therefore was not positioned to have inside information or help decide how the grant money was ultimately used.
Castille said Tuesday he wanted a more expansive review of Bruno’s involvement with the loan fund, as opposed to a narrow review of the administration’s own opinion that Robideaux is seeking from federal and state authorities.
“What we received was a cursory review,” Castille said.
But Stephen Oats, the contracted assistant city-parish attorney who authored the administration's opinion, said HUD and the state ethics board would not be limited by the wording of the administration’s request.
“HUD will look at whatever they want to look at. Same with Ethics,” Oats said. “They aren’t just going to look at my materials.”
Castille said the matter who put a “cloud” over local government, and he wanted clarity as to whether any wrongdoing had occurred.
Councilman Kenneth Boudreaux said the next steps need to be handled with sensitivity.
“It involves an individual who is an employee, has a family. He’s intricately involved in the community,” Boudreaux said. “These things can be damaging.”
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