The State Ethics Board has received a complaint alleging that Jefferson Parish President Mike Yenni, during his time as Kenner Mayor, violated several campaign finance and ethics rules including paying for non-campaign related travel through his campaign account and then seeking reimbursement from the City of Kenner and pocketing the money personally; accepting trips paid for by City vendors; writing a $550 check from his campaign to St. Elizabeth Ann Seton School as a “donation” and receiving $400 in cash back from a school volunteer; and receiving improper discounts and waiver of late fees from Big Easy Storage where Yenni stored his campaign material.
The complaint alleges that in January 2014, Yenni took a trip to Washington, DC to meet with FEMA officials. He paid for the air travel ($1,008.00) through his campaign account and later submitted a bill to to the City of Kenner for reimbursement. A check was then cut to Yenni personally. Yenni pocketed the funds rather than remitting it to his campaign account.
Curiously, Yenni has long stated that he removed the travel stipend from the Mayoral Budget, yet sought reimbursement for travel anyway.
The complaint also discusses a May 2013 trip to New York City taken by Yenni with several members of the firm Linfield, Hunter & Junius (a Yenni campaign contributor and project manager of Yenni’s 2030 Plan) and City of Kenner employees including Finance Director Duke McConnell, then City Attorney Keith Conley (now Yenni’s Chief Operating Officer at Jefferson Parish), and Deputy CAO for Public Works Jose Gonzalez.
The purpose of the trip was allegedly to meet with Bond Companies regarding the debt incurred in Yenni’s 2030 Plan. According to Mayor Yenni’s personal calendar for May 06, 2013, the group also included a “9/11 Memorial Trip” during the visit.
The NY trip occurred several months before Linfield, Hunter & Junius was awarded the $2.1 Million no-bid contract as 2030 Project Manager and before the City even sent out the request for a Statement of Qualifications (SOQ) for vendors seeking to be the Project Manager.
The complaint alleges that most, if not all, of the expenses related to the trip were paid for by City Contractors.
So, weeks before the City sends out the Project Manager SOQ, Mike Yenni along with several City executives just happen to take a trip with the company that was ultimately awarded the Project Manager contract.
La. R.S. 42:1115A(1) prohibits a public servant from soliciting or accepting, directly or indirectly, anything of economic value as a gift or gratuity from any person or from any officer, director or agent, or employee of such person, if such public servant knows or reasonably should know that such person has or is seeking to have a contractual, business or financial relationship with the public servant’s agency.
The complaint also alleges that Yenni violated La. R.S. 18:1505.21(1) (Personal use of campaign funds) when he wrote a campaign check to St. Elizabeth Ann Seton School for $550. According to reports, Yenni claimed that the check was supposed to be for $150 and not $550. A school volunteer gave Yenni $400 in cash.
A separate complaint was filed regarding Big Easy Self Storage alleging that while the storage space was locally owned, Yenni received a monthly discount and waiver of late charges that was not customarily available to the general public.
La. R.S. 42:1111A prohibits a public servant from receiving anything of economic value other than compensation and benefits from the governmental entity to which he is duly entitled, for the performance and responsibilities of his office or position.
When a complaint is filed, the Ethics Board conducts an investigation into each of these allegations. If found guilty, Yenni could face a fine of up to ten thousand dollars plus restitution.