By Lee Zurik & Dannah Sauer | WVUE | January 17, 2023
NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) – A source tells Fox 8 a new court filing accuses New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell of having an extramarital affair with a member of her security team.
The wife of New Orleans police officer Jeffrey Vappie filed the amended divorce petition earlier this month. It claims that in November 2022, she became aware of an inappropriate relationship between her husband and a woman identified in court documents as “Mrs. L.C.” A source tells Fox 8 that “Mrs. L.C.” refers to LaToya Cantrell.
Rafael Goyeneche, president of the Metropolitan Crime Commission, said the court filing raises ethical and potentially criminal concerns for both Cantrell and Officer Vappie.
“I think this divorce petition basically raises several ethical and potentially criminal issues for Officer Vappie. And the mayor is caught in the crosshairs of all of this,” Goyeneche said.
In the filing, Vappie’s wife claims her husband has been in an ongoing sexual relationship with “Mrs. L.C.” since May 2021. That’s the same month Vappie joined Cantrell’s executive protection team. It also cites specific dates in August and September 2022 when the alleged affair took place.
That includes Aug. 2, 2022. Fox 8 previously reported that on that day, a public security camera in front of the city-owned Upper Pontalba Apartment showed Vappie spent 5 hours and 40 minutes of his workday inside the apartment with the mayor.
In the petition, Vappie’s wife says her husband admitted the adulterous affair to her. Goyeneche said a relationship between Vappie and Cantrell could violate several NOPD policies if Vappie’s supervisors weren’t aware.
“Well, involvement in a romantic relationship with one of his assigned duties,” Goyeneche said. “Professionalism, performance of duty, adherence to law, and honesty and truthfulness.”
Goyeneche said even more severe violations could be found if Officer Vappie wasn’t doing the work expected of him by the police department during the time he was on the clock.
“Potentially, payroll fraud,” Goyeneche said. “If he was on city time, padding his payroll. If he was malfeasant in office, he wasn’t performing his official assigned duties while he was with the mayor. Those are some potential state violations.
“And if there are federal violations involved, it could be wire fraud, because he put in timesheets for time that he may not have actually been working. There may be a program fraud, because federal funds were used to fund city government and the police department. And if he wasn’t doing his assigned responsibilities during those times, those are potential federal violations. And the mayor is potentially a principal to all of that.”
The FBI, city Inspector General, and NOPD already are investigating these and other allegations involving Vappie and Cantrell. Goyeneche said the alleged inappropriate relationship could violate city policy and more.
“She is the chief elected official in the city of New Orleans. She knows full well that officers are supposed to be performing their duties,” Goyeneche said. “And she is essentially Officer Vappie’s assignment. So, if she is having him come visit her, and this petition talks about dates and the videos that you have (showing) Officer Vappie coming and going from that Pontalba building, and none of the other (security detail) officers were coming and going from that.
“Those are all indications The potential payroll fraud, malfeasance in office, and there’s the corresponding federal violations that could apply to those same factual circumstances there.”
Tulane University Adjunct Assistant Professor Rosalind Blanco Cook, who worked in the communications department for former mayors Marc Morial and Ray Nagin, says a relationship with a subordinate is improper in any line of work.
“Typically, in corporations, companies, even sometimes mom-and-pop operations, it’s very touchy about having relations or starting dating a subordinate,” Cook said.
She also believes New Orleanians may be upset to find out about allegations of Cantrell’s relationship with a subordinate, as the pair spent hours together during the workday at the city-owned apartment.
“I think that the majority do not like it,” Cook said. “They’re sort of like, ‘What’s next?’ They don’t like the idea that perhaps first … the subordination and then also the idea that she’s not putting in the time that she should be putting in.”
The divorce filing says the Vappies have lived separate and apart since Nov. 10, 2022. That’s one day after Fox 8′s first investigation into Vappie and Cantrell aired.
Goyeneche believes investigators will want to speak to Vappie’s wife, to determine her knowledge of their relationship, and get a better understanding of whether city work was being done while Cantrell and Vappie spent hours together inside the apartment.
Fox 8 asked Mayor Cantrell’s office for a response to the court filing, but didn’t hear back. Vappie was removed from her security team as our investigations began to air.
Editor’s note: Fox 8 learned about the Vappies’ initial divorce filing last November, but made an editorial decision not to report on the couple’s split, believing it to be a personal issue contained in public documents. That changed when the amended court filing alleged a sexual relationship between the mayor and her subordinate, a violation of city policy. The filing opened more questions about how Cantrell and Vappie spent time at a city-owned apartment during the workday, when both were being paid by taxpayers.