The Mayor’s Office and every member of the City Council received subpoenas Friday from the U.S. Attorney General’s Office, sources say.
The U.S. Attorney General’s Office wants all documents pertaining to NOAH, the New Orleans Affordable Homeownership — the embattled program that is at the center of a series of 4 Investigates reports. The home remediation program has come under scrutiny for possible criminal activities.
The subpoenas came a day after Mayor Nagin appeared before the City Council, saying that the city is conducting its own investigation into NOAH.
U.S. Attorney Jim Letten would not confirmed the subpoena Friday, but he did acknowledge that a joint investigation being conducted by the FBI, HUD – the U.S. Department of Urban Development – and the U.S. Attorney’s Office has begun.
Letten said his office is also working closely with New Orleans Inspector General Robert Cerasoli.
Former U.S. Attorney Harry Rosenberg says it is logical that with so much public scrutiny that the government would be looking for answers of its own through subpoenas.
“This is apparently a rapidly developing investigation and the normal tool for the federal government is to issue subpoenas, so it can get a hold of documents and start analyzing those documents to see if there is any criminal infraction,” said Rosenberg.
“It is happening very quickly, but obliviously a very significant development. Up until this point there have been FBI agents asking questions. But now with issue of subpoenas and the grand jury, it is going to ramp up the investigation,” said Loyola University law professor Dane Ciolino.
Ciolino said that the subpoenas mark the very beginning of the investigation. “Typically, lawyers are going to want to get the documents first that are relevant to the issues before they start questioning witnesses before the grand jury.”
If after reviewing the documents agents find wrongdoing, then “in the weeks and month to come, you can probably expect some subpoenas for individuals to tesify,” Ciolino said.
It is important to note that the Council and the Mayor’s Office were issued subpoenas for the documents, possibly because the U.S. Attorney trusts the parties to give them the right documents, rather than seizing the documents.
“If they (U.S. Attorney’s Office) were really concerned about the destruction of documents, search warrants would have been issued instead of subpoenas to get the documents delivered,” Ciolino said.
Local attorney Russ Herman, whose firm represents the City Council, confirmed that several councilmembers did receive subpoenas and have until august 21 to turn over documents.
City Attorney Penya Moses-Fields responded: “It would be inappropriate for the City of New Orleans to comment on whether staff members at the New Orleans Homeownership Corporation (NOAH), the NOAH Board of Directors, any of the seven City Council members, the Mayor’s Office, or any other party has received a subpoena from the U.S. Attorney’s Office. The City’s position has always been to be fully cooperative with any investigative body, and we are continuing to do so as it relates to NOAH. All further questions should be directed to the U.S. Attorney
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