Zurik: Cantrell, Vappie hire criminal defense attorneys

Mayor LaToya Cantrell has reportedly hired criminal defense attorney Eddie Castaing as a...
Mayor LaToya Cantrell has reportedly hired criminal defense attorney Eddie Castaing as a federal investigation continues.(WVUE-Fox 8)
Published: Sep. 13, 2023 at 5:15 PM CDT
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NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell and NOPD Officer Jeffrey Vappie have hired criminal defense attorneys, as a federal investigation continues.

Sources tell Fox 8 Cantrell has retained defense lawyer Eddie Castaing, who has worked on several high-profile criminal cases in New Orleans and recently represented Ashton Ryan, the former CEO of First NBC Bank. Ryan was found guilty of fraud and making false statements and was sentenced last week to serve 14 years in federal prison.

Fox 8 legal analyst Joe Raspanti says Castaing has more than 30 years of experience and has handled many high-profile cases.

“Eddie’s a very good lawyer,” Raspanti said. “But I think what you need to take from this is Eddie doesn’t do real estate law. He’s a criminal lawyer. I think the mayor may see that she has some criminal liability going forward. And that’s why she retains somebody like Eddie Castaing.”

Cantrell retains Castaing as sources tell Fox 8 that federal investigators have questioned witnesses and subpoenaed records. The sources with knowledge of the investigation tell Fox 8 that several city vendors have been asked about whether they provided Cantrell with money or gifts. The sources say the FBI also has subpoenaed records from vendors.

Cantrell has not been accused of criminal wrongdoing and sources didn’t say whether any of the interviews or records provided proof of a criminal offense.

“Well, I think what you may want to look towards here is they’re probably looking into whether or not there was any type of quid pro quo,” Raspanti said. “I think that’s probably most likely what the FBI is looking at.”

Sources tell Fox 8 that federal investigators also are looking into the NOPD’s Vappie -- a member of Cantrell’s executive protection team -- who spent hours both on and off duty with the mayor inside the city-owned Upper Pontalba apartment, and frequently traveled with her on city-funded business trips.

Sources tell Fox 8 that Vappie has hired former U.S. Attorney Harry Rosenberg.

“Harry’s another good criminal defense attorney,” Raspanti said. “Harry was a former U.S. Attorney. It just indicates to me that everybody’s putting in their mouthpieces and putting on their eye black, because there may be a coming storm. And so, they are now hiring people who are familiar with representing criminal defendants in federal court.”

Fox 8′s prior reporting on Vappie raised questions about the hours he was putting on his timesheets.

For example, in April 2022, Vappie traveled with Mayor Cantrell to San Francisco for a conference on climate change. The meeting wrapped up at noon on April 8. However, Cantrell and Vappie didn’t leave California until the next night. Their flight left at 11:05 p.m. on April 9, landing back in New Orleans at 5:22 a.m. on April 10.

While the pair landed early in the morning, timesheets show Vappie stayed on the clock until midnight that night. So on April 9 and 10, when all Vappie apparently did was take one flight from San Francisco to New Orleans, he billed taxpayers for a total of 30 hours of work.

Sources tell Fox 8 the FBI is looking into Vappie’s timesheets. Cantrell never signed off on any of Vappie’s hours. That was assigned to an NOPD supervisor.

Raspanti says if the government moves forward with a criminal case, charges likely would need to be approved by the Department of Justice in Washington D.C.

“Well, we’ve seen it before in this city, and we’ve seen a lot of elected officials get indicted,” Raspanti said. “But whenever you do it, what you have to do is, you got to go to big Justice up in Washington D.C. and get permission.”

Raspanti said he believes the attorney hirings are an indication that a case is moving forward.

“No one knows what is going to happen. But them hiring those two guys indicates to me that at least they may feel that there is a heightened likelihood that they’re being looked at very, very strongly by the federal government, and they may be facing some criminal liability,” Raspanti said.

Fox 8 reached out to both Castaing and Rosenberg, but neither would comment.

“When public officials hire high quality criminal defense attorneys of that nature, it means that they have been notified they may have some criminal liability on some issues,” said Dr. Robert Collins, a political analyst at Dillard University. “What we see in the city right now is just a great deal of instability.”

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