An Orleans Parish Criminal District Court judge signed subpoenas Monday for credit card accounts that Mayor-elect LaToya Cantrell has controlled as a City Council member, the court's judicial administrator confirmed.
The subpoenas, requested by state Attorney General Jeff Landry's office, are the first sign that Cantrell's use of a credit card tied to her City Council office might rise beyond an issue in her successful mayoral bid and become a criminal matter.
It also indicates that Landry, who as attorney general has frequently criticized New Orleans for what critics say is political gain elsewhere in the state, intends to move forward with a formal investigation before Cantrell even takes office.
And while City Council records have shown Cantrell’s credit card spending differed in degree — but not in its basic outlines — from that of her colleagues, Landry’s office apparently has focused its inquiry only on the woman who in May is scheduled to become the city’s first female mayor.
Criminal District Court Judicial Administrator Rob Kazik confirmed that a judge signed the subpoenas Monday morning but declined to discuss other details of the orders, which would require Cantrell to produce documents related to the inquiry.
Asked whether any subpoenas targeting other council members or their offices were signed Monday, Kazik said, “No.”
Cantrell's office had not yet received the subpoenas by mid-afternoon Monday and had not heard about them before being contacted by The New Orleans Advocate, a spokesman said.
"We just heard about the subpoenas, so at this point we are gathering information before taking any next steps," spokesman David Winkler-Schmit said.
Mike Montalbano, a special agent for Landry's office who presented the subpoenas to the court, declined to comment when reached by phone. Ruth Wisher, a spokeswoman for the Attorney General's Office, also declined to comment.
The City Council’s credit card use became a high-profile issue before the mayoral runoff earlier this month, as former Municipal Court Judge Desiree Charbonnet alleged that Cantrell had used cards paid for by her office for personal expenses and unnecessary trips.
That controversy consumed much of the head-to-head matchup between Charbonnet and Cantrell, though an examination of records from all seven council offices showed that Cantrell’s spending, though higher, was not substantially different from that of her colleagues.
New Orleans City Councilwoman LaToya Cantrell has used her taxpayer-funded city credit card to pay for at least $8,950 in personal or politica…
Charbonnet’s camp maintained that about $9,000 in reimbursements Cantrell made over the course of her time in office, including a large lump sum given to the city shortly after she qualified to run for mayor, showed that the card had been used improperly.
Cantrell and her campaign cast those payments as evidence that she was diligent about ensuring taxpayers were not asked to pay for items that were of a personal or political nature.
The controversy quickly escalated beyond a simple campaign attack. A spokesman for District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro, a key supporter of Charbonnet's, took the rare step of publicly stating that his office had received an "anonymous complaint" about Cantrell's spending and had forwarded it to the Attorney General's Office for possible investigation.
That complaint was apparently the same document the Charbonnet campaign had provided to members of the news media, and the fact that Cannizzaro's office referred to it publicly led to allegations that he was attempting to further inflame the controversy for political reasons.
In a highly unusual escalation of a political controversy in the New Orleans mayor's race, District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro — a major backer …
That prompted the Cantrell campaign to suggest Cannizzaro was using his office for political purposes and to file an ethics complaint against him.
The state Legislative Auditor's Office has also requested detailed information on the credit card use by all council members from the council's administrative offices.
Even if Landry files charges against Cantrell, it would not preclude her from taking office as mayor. The City Charter calls for a mayor to be suspended or removed from office only for physical or mental incapacity or if the mayor pleads guilty to or is convicted of a felony.
New Orleans City Councilwoman LaToya Cantrell has spent more on her city credit card than her colleagues, but the types of purchases she made …