Lafayette Mayor-President Joel Robideaux on Sunday evening defended his aide, Marcus Bruno, after The Advocate reported that Bruno took a private business loan funded with federal grant money.
After obtaining the $35,000 loan, Bruno then helped the nonprofit that administers the loan fund, Lafayette Neighborhoods’ Economic Development Corp., obtain more grant money from city-parish government. He also helped recommend new members to the Lafayette Neighborhoods board and consulted on revisions to its bylaws.
The loan fund is fed with U.S. Dept. of Housing and Urban Development block grant money provided by the city-parish. City-parish employees are not allowed to personally benefit from the block grants when they are “in a position” to participate in decision-making or receive inside information concerning those grants, according to HUD regulations.
Robideaux said in a statement he is “deeply disappointed in the misleading headline and story,” adding that any suggestion “this is anything other than a properly issued loan is a serious distortion of the facts.”
Robideaux did not specify what he found misleading. His statement did not address the federal conflict-of-interest regulations.
A HUD spokesman told The Advocate the agency asks loan grantees to seek a waiver, supported with a legal opinion, when faced with a possible conflict. No one in the administration sought a waiver related to Bruno’s loan, according to HUD officials.
The Robideaux administration last month did not respond to emails, texts and verbal requests for information concerning the loan program and Bruno’s involvement.
An administration spokeswoman, Cydra Wingerter, was informed Jan. 19 of the loan to Bruno. Wingerter said she would pass along the information, along with a request to interview Robideaux. Wingerter did not respond to follow-up requests for an interview or comment from the administration.
The administration did not respond to another request Monday morning.
Bruno was provided the $35,000 loan in October 2016, less than a year after Robideaux took office with Bruno joining as the mayor-president’s governmental affairs assistant.
The loan fund is for small businesses, and city-parish government is responsible for ensuring the loans result in “public benefits,” as defined in federal guidelines. Bruno signed for the loan on behalf of his business, LA Consultants, but refused to tell The Advocate what he did with the proceeds.
Lafayette Neighborhoods is federally required to provide loan documentation to the city-parish, including loan monitoring reports and forms that certify how the money would be spent and whether the borrowers created or retained jobs.
However, no such documents were provided in response to a public records request. Oats and Marino, the law firm handling The Advocate’s public records request, said the city-parish does “not possess any other records responsive to The Advocate's request,” suggesting the city-parish has no files for Lafayette Neighborhoods loans — including Bruno's — made prior to last year.
After obtaining a federally funded loan from a nonprofit development group to help his private business, an aide to Lafayette Parish's mayor-p…
Robideaux's noted in his statement that Bruno and his wife are “minority small business owners,” and the news release containing his statement says that Bruno had obtained a “minority small business loan.” Loan eligibility requirements on the Lafayette Neighborhoods website do not specify the loans are only for minorities. Robideaux also noted that Bruno had secured the loan with a mortgage on his house.
Bruno’s payments on the loan were returned for non-sufficient funds in three consecutive months late last year, according to Lafayette Neighborhoods bank statements. The Advocate obtained the statements for September, October and November via public records request.
It’s unclear if Bruno’s payments were returned in any other months, or if he had made up for the missed ones. Robideaux and Bruno say his account is current. The Lafayette Neighborhoods board of directors is responsible for deciding when to foreclose on delinquent borrowers.
Bruno has a personal relationship with at least one Lafayette Neighborhood board member, Bently Senegal, who last year promised to keep Bruno apprised of the outcome of a meeting Senegal was planning with another board member, according to emails obtained through public records request.