Cantrell silent on fed probe as stylist’s lawyer speaks up | Local Politics

An attorney for Mayor LaToya Cantrell’s image consultant says the mayor reimbursed his client for high-end clothes she bought for Cantrell at a local boutique, purchases that are now the subject of a federal criminal investigation.

Attorney Clarence Roby, representing Tanya Haynes, declined to discuss details about the stylist’s agreement with Cantrell or the federal investigation, though he said Haynes “wasn’t told she was a target.”

When she first spoke for Haynes, Roby said she knew her monthly consulting fee from Cantrell’s campaign was “solely for her image consulting” and not for clothing purchases.

In 2021, Haynes’ consulting fee was $6,000 a month, Cantrell’s campaign financial reports show.

“The campaign was aware of what the money would be used for,” Roby said. “They paid her for advice.”

Roby was less clear on whether Cantrell herself had repaid Haynes for any clothing items purchased on her behalf.

Cantrell, meanwhile, has yet to address reports detailing a state investigation into Haynes’ purchases. The mayor brushed off a reporter’s questions about the agreement as she left the stage at a news conference at Caesars Superdome to promote Saturday’s Bayou Classic football game.

“I don’t answer such questions. That’s crazy,” Cantrell replied.

A special occasion

Her administration referred a series of questions raised by The Times-Picayune about the purchases and the investigation to the mayor’s campaign organization, which declined to comment.

At least two shops in the area including Ballin’s Ltd. in New Orleans, have received subpoenas from federal juries since August, and FBI agents have questioned employees about Haynes purchases, according to people familiar with the investigation.

Laura Rodrigue, an attorney for Ballin’s — where Haynes often bought outfits for the mayor — said last week that the owners are working with federal investigators.

According to a businessman, Ballin’s wasn’t the only outlet where Haynes bought clothes to be worn by the mayor.

Haynes paid hundreds in cash for the white suit Cantrell wore as the grand marshal for the Treme Sidewalk Steppers’ second-line parade in February, said Brad Lockett, who tailored the outfit.

Lockett said making the suit was his only interaction with the mayor, who listed a fitting with him on her official calendar. Lockett said he was not contacted by federal investigators.

Roby said Haynes bought clothes for the mayor and paid for them “like any personal shopper would.”

Haynes “was told that clothes could not be paid for out of a consulting fee,” and complied with that edict, he said.

Roby said that some of the clothes Haynes bought for Cantrell never made it to the mayor, but that Haynes was reimbursed for the items she wore.

As far as he knew, Roby said, no third party was funding the mayor’s dressing room.

“The mayor refunded her money for the clothes she bought for the mayor,” Roby said.

Jimmy Burland, a Baton Rouge attorney who compiles campaign financial reports for Cantrell, told WWL-TV last week that he never checked Haynes’ expenses, but simply recorded the campaign’s payments to her and filed the reports.

“I can’t tell you what she got from those counseling services because that’s all I know,” he said. “I only question spending when I’m asked about it.”

Advisory contract suspended

Roby said Haynes had other customers and that some of the purchases reported by the Fed may have included clothing, which she ended up keeping for herself.

Roby said the purchases Haynes made at another company, BC Kitchen and Bath in Metairie – which received a grand jury subpoena – had nothing to do with her work for Cantrell.

“It had nothing to do with the mayor,” Roby said.

He declined to speculate about federal investigators’ interest in Haynes’ purchases there. The subpoena specifically requests records of a $2,000 debit from a JP Morgan Chase account in November 2020.

As of late 2017, Cantrell’s campaign has paid Haynes and her company, Jolie Image Consulting, at least $231,000, records show. Those payments have generally increased over time, reaching $6,000 a month in 2021, records show.

Cantrell has yet to file a campaign finance report in 2022. Among the questions her campaign has declined to answer is whether the mayor has continued to use campaign funds to pay Haynes since Cantrell was re-elected in late 2021.

It’s unclear if Cantrell hired an attorney in response to the federal investigation. Attorney Billy Gibbens, who represented Cantrell when her credit card spending was attacked at the city council in 2017, said the mayor has not contacted him about the current FBI investigation.

Haynes’ name appeared frequently on the mayor’s official calendar, not until late March, when the calendar indicated that she was preparing the mayor for a United Negro College Fund ball.

Roby suggested putting the counseling agreement on hold for the time being.

“I have advised (Haynes) as a result of the investigation that any future engagements should be put on hold until at least the dust has settled and there is some determination to ensure that she is not the focus of any type of disclosure,” Roby said.