Report: Legislative Auditor Investigating Lafayette Consolidated Government
LAFAYETTE, La. (KPEL News) - According to a report out today, the state's legislative auditor's office has started an investigation into Lafayette Consolidated Government and Lafayette Mayor-President Josh Guillory.
Early Tuesday afternoon, The Current reported that the legislative auditor's office was in town and investigating the parish.
The report also noted that several entities, including the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, EPA and FBI, are allegedly looking into major flood protection projects launched by LCG.
Roger Harris, the legislative auditor office executive counsel and assistant legislative auditor for investigations, spoke with KPEL News, but would only confirm his agency is conducting an investigative audit at LCG and that they were in Lafayette today to open the investigation. However, he could not say what the investigation was about.
However, one property owner also told The Current that the legislative auditor's office had also reached out to him.
Lafayette home builder Ed Francez, who owns one-third of the St. Martin Parish property LCG destroyed early last year when it secretly removed decades-old spoil banks, says investigators from the legislative auditor’s office also knocked on his door today. LCG did the work in St. Martin Parish without Francez’s knowledge or permission, and he is now vowing to file suit in the coming weeks.
Francez says it was obvious to him the investigators had done their homework. “Their questions were specific to my piece of property,” he says. “They seemed to understand everything that went on. Their basic focus was, you own one-third, the city owns two-thirds, and they took your dirt and your trees. It was about that spoil bank project. They didn’t go into any other issues.”
This comes not too long after the Lafayette City Council took steps to hire an investigative auditor to look into Guillory and his projects, eventually voting to fund the move late in 2022.
Much of the controversy surrounding the investigations and legal battles LCG is involved in stems from drainage projects conducted in certain parts of the parish.
The Homewood Detention Pond
In May of 2022, Judge Valerie Gotch-Garrett ruled against LCG in the suit over the Homewood Detention Project.
"While LCG undoubtedly conducted some analyses, data collection, and modeling regarding the Homewood Detention Project, this Court finds that LCG fell short of an adequate determining principle and/or that the decision to expropriate this particular site was arbitrarily determined," Gotch-Garrett wrote.
Garrett noted that LCG "did not adequately consider other properties in selecting the location of this project." Garrett continued that LCG cherry-picked information from a study to justify seizing the land.
"In other words, LCG focused only on Dr. Habib's findings which supported LCG's decision to take the Bendel property, while discarding findings in the same report that suggested other projects would be more beneficial," Judge Gotch-Garrett wrote.
In December, an appeals court ruled that "Three judges agreed unanimously with the trial judge that they took the property improperly, that it was an abuse of discretion to take the property," according to New Orleans attorney Randall Smith.
The Lake Farm Road Detention Ponds
One victory for LCG came when the Louisiana State Supreme Court declined to take up a case against LCG over the Lake Farm Road ponds.
By declining to take up the case, the Third Circuit's ruling stood, allowing the project to go forward.
The St. Martin Parish Spoil Bank
In a case that is currently in federal court, LCG is fighting for the court system to recognize it had the right to remove spoil banks on land purchased by St. Martin Parish. LCG took the Vermilion River spoil bank controversy to the 15th Judicial District Court, asking a judge to rule that LCG "complied with all lawful regulations, ordinances, rules, procedures and laws with the spoil bank project, and specifically, request(ing) a judgment that no permit was required by the Corps for the project as the revised proposal that was implemented did not fall within Corps jurisdiction."
LCG removed the spoil bank on St. Martin Parish-purchased property, but the latter is asking LCG to restore, replace, and reconstruct the spoil bank it "illegally" removed.