Lafayette Consolidated Government lawyers have determined that a senior assistant to Mayor-President Joel Robideaux did not violate conflict-of-interest regulations when obtaining a personal business loan funded with federal grant money, Robideaux told reporters Tuesday night.
The report concerning the $35,000 loan to Marcus Bruno in 2016 was delivered to City-Parish Council members a few hours before Robideaux spoke. It has not been released.
“I think everything that was required was done. It was all above board. It meets all the regulations, all the rules,” Robideaux said.
City-parish employees who exercise any responsibility regarding activities supported by Dept. of Housing and Urban Development block grants are not allowed to benefit from those grants, according to federal regulations. Employees are also banned when they are in position to help make decisions or gain inside information about how those grants are used.
The loan came from a revolving fund seeded with grant money provided to the nonprofit Lafayette Neighborhoods’ Economic Development Corp., which administers the loan fund.
The Robideaux administration successfully sought council approval for Lafayette Neighborhoods to receive an additional $150,000 in grant money for the loan fund in January 2017, three months after Bruno received his loan. The city-parish last provided new grant money to the organization in 2001.
The Lafayette Neighborhoods board chairman, Regis Allison, previously told The Advocate that Bruno helped spearhead closer ties between the administration and the organization.
“He was suggesting that the administration and LNEDC should form a relationship that would be beneficial to both sides,” Allison said.
Bruno then worked with the community development director, Shanea Nelson, to recommend appointments to the Lafayette Neighborhoods board and on revisions to the group’s bylaws. He communicated directly with Lafayette Neighborhoods staff and board members via his city-parish email account about the organization’s business.
In one instance last year, board member Bently Senegal told Bruno in a one-on-one message that he would report to Bruno the results of a coffee meeting Senegal planned with another board member.
Robideaux said Tuesday lawyers determined that Bruno's activities did not put him in a position to gain inside information or participate in decision making regarding the city-parish’s use of grant money. He declined to elaborate on the basis of that determination.
The Lafayette Neighborhoods board, which meets in private, is responsible for determining when to take legal action against delinquent borrowers. Bruno’s payments on the loan were returned for non-sufficient funds in three consecutive months late last year. It’s not clear what, if anything, the organization’s board decided to do regarding Bruno’s bounced payments.
Robideaux and Bruno maintain that Bruno’s payments on the loan are current.
HUD instructs local officials to request a waiver from the regulations when faced with potential conflicts of interest. Bruno did not seek such a waiver for his loan. Asked if Bruno should have, Robideaux replied “no,” without elaborating.
Robideaux’s comments Tuesday night were his first verbal statements since The Advocate published an article on the loan Feb. 9. He did not respond repeated requests for interviews and statements in the weeks before the article was published. He subsequently complained the article was misleading in a press release, on social media and in an email to council members.