Lafayette Mayor-President Joel Robideaux on Friday reiterated support for his assistant, Marcus Bruno, after City-Parish Councilman Jay Castille called on the administration to investigate Bruno’s personal use of federal grant funds.
The Advocate reported this month that Bruno in 2016 received a $35,000 private business loan from Lafayette Neighborhoods’ Economic Development Corp., which provides loans to small businesses with grant money provided by the city-parish.
City-parish employees who are “in a position” to gain inside information or help decide how to use the Department of Housing and Urban development grants that feed the loan program are not allowed to personally benefit from those grants, according to federal regulations.
After he received the loan, Bruno helped lead the administration’s efforts to secure additional grant funding for Lafayette Neighborhoods while consulting on recommendations for the nonprofit’s board and revisions to its bylaws, according to emails obtained through public records requests.
The Lafayette Neighborhood board decides when to foreclose on loans in default. Bruno’s payments on his loan were returned for non-sufficient funds for three consecutive months last year, according to Lafayette Neighborhoods bank statements. Bruno and Robideaux maintain that he is current on payments.
The administration is responsible for monitoring loan files to ensure the money is being used for a “public benefit,” as defined in federal regulations. Bruno refused to tell The Advocate what he did with the proceeds. He said he was not aware of the regulations concerning conflicts of interest.
Robideaux initially responded in a statement that he was “deeply disappointed” with The Advocate’s reporting, which he called “misleading.” Castille on Friday called for “a public, thorough, and fair investigation” into the loan, while noting that “it is not entirely clear what procedures are in place, if any, to guard against this and other potential conflicts of interest.”
Robideaux followed with an email to council members — which he then released to the media — stating that a nearly complete legal review “confirms that nothing improper has taken place.” He said he would make a full report at the Feb. 19 council meeting.
Robideaux told council members he “elevated the issue to a higher level of scrutiny” following a Jan. 16 public records request for Bruno’s emails. That followed “veiled public records requests” dating to November, he said.
Robideaux’s statements insisting the loan was proper have excluded any mention of state and federal regulations concerning conflicts of interest.
The Advocate requested interviews, written statements and factual information concerning Lafayette Neighborhoods and Bruno in phone calls, emails and texts with the administration’s spokeswoman, Cydra Wingerter, over three weeks leading up to Feb. 9, when the article appeared online.
The interview requests included a Jan. 19 phone call in which Wingerter was notified of The Advocate’s intent to report on the loan in the context of the pertinent regulations. The requests also included a Jan. 23 email asking specific questions about the administration’s knowledge of Bruno’s participation in the loan program, as well as any training it conducts on conflicts of interests.
The administration did not respond to any of The Advocate’s requests prior to the article, nor an additional request following Robideaux’s initial statement.