[UPDATE: The Independent has learned that Lafayette City-Parish Council Vice Chairman William Theriot has asked City-Parish attorney Mike Hebert for guidance in requesting that the Legislative Auditor be called in to audit LPTFA. Theriot emailed Hebert early Friday morning.]
Now that the Louisiana Board of Ethics has filed charges against development consultant Greg Gachassin, it’s time for Lafayette government's leaders to turn their attention to the complicit role of the Lafayette Public Trust Financing Authority's attorney and board members.
The Independent was first to report that on June 14 the Louisiana Board of Ethics voted to charge the Lafayette developer and his Cartesian Co. with violating the state’s Code of Governmental Ethics while he was a member of the LPTFA’s board of trustees and again after he resigned from the LPTFA board. The Ethics Board’s action is much like filing a civil lawsuit against Gachassin; within the next four to six months the Ethics Adjudicatory Board, a three-member panel of administrative law judges, will conduct a hearing on the charges, determine whether they should stick and assess a penalty based on the Ethics Board’s recommendation.
In filing the charges, the Ethics Board spells out how the local developer laid the foundation for lucrative work with the LPTFA while he was serving as an appointed board member from November 2003 to November 2009. His alleged violations involved Villa Gardens, a single-family low-income development on Patterson Street, and Cypress Trails, a low-income apartment complex on Sophie Street in north Lafayette. In both cases, Gachassin’s Cartesian Co. signed $500,000 consulting contracts with partnerships associated with those projects, which were backed financially and/or initiated by the LPTFA, a public trust organized by the state in 1979 primarily to help develop low-income housing in Lafayette. Gachassin has a similar consulting contract with the controversial Joie de Vivre development (that Thursday changed its name to Uptown Lofts), a gig he’ll make about $1 million on, and the Lofts at Olivier, two downtown projects spearheaded by the LPTFA.
Late Thursday night, Tea Party of Lafayette member and community activist Carol Ross sent an email to the Lafayette City-Parish Council asking the council to do everything in its power to get to the bottom of this ethical dilemma that — at least for now — appears to officially be limited to Gachassin’s role. “It would be in the best interest of Lafayette Consolidated Government and the taxpayers to get to the bottom of this sad affair,” Ross writes. “I strongly urge that the council ask for the Legislative Auditor to come in and get all the facts, just as they did with regard to Mr. Gachassin. It would go a long way toward assuring the public that programs are being run for the good of the people, not just those who stand to profit from them.”
We could not agree more. The Independent also was first to question whether Gachassin should have ever been allowed to step into the role of development consultant on these projects in its April 2011 cover story, “How Gachassin Games the System.” Here’s a snippet from that story:
Notably, no one — not one of the trustees, John Arceneaux (who replaced Gachassin as chairman), Julius James Stagg IV, Ryan L. Marine and D.E. “Dusty” Dought, or longtime LPTFA attorney Richard Becker — raised any questions about Gachassin returning as a paid consultant, according to the minutes of the meeting. Nor did anyone bother to check with the Louisiana Board of Ethics on whether Gachassin going to work for the LPTFA’s own development would constitute a violation of the state’s ethics laws. ...In a review of years of the LPTFA’s minutes for that story, The Independent could find no documentation of any such conversation. Because he did not protect the best interests of the LPTFA in this matter by doing his own due diligence, Becker should answer for his inaction, too. As should the LPTFA board members at the time.
It could very well be that none of his fellow trustees was surprised when Gachassin appeared before them on behalf of the project — Dought was absent — because when LPTFA was awarded the low-income housing tax credits from the state in October 2009, Gachassin notified the LPTFA that he intended to resign and become a consultant on the project, according to Becker. By the time he appeared as a consultant, Gachassin had filed paperwork with the Louisiana Secretary of State’s office, creating The Cartesian Company at 326 Settlers Trace Blvd. in River Ranch. In January 2010 he announced its creation in a press release, calling it a real estate development and finance solutions company, specializing in development, project management, capital solutions and public-private partnerships. ...
Becker says because of the 2008 ethics revisions he wanted assurances from Gachassin that — “in [Gachassin’s] opinion” — his serving as a consultant on the project would not violate the law. Becker believes such ethical considerations were Gachassin’s alone, saying he asked that Gachassin perform the necessary due diligence and report back to LPTFA: “In a subsequent conversation with Mr. Gachassin, he advised me as counsel to the LPTFA that he had indeed performed such due diligence and that after consideration and review concluded that the proposed consulting agreement with CTLP was not a violation of the Louisiana Ethics Code.”
|LPTFA attorney Richard Becker|
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