Recently Sorrento Mayor Mike Lambert received a phone call to inform him that a work crew had commenced to cut a section out of Main St., the small town’s primary thoroughfare. Lambert arrived on the scene to witness a work crew from a company named Circle M operating a concrete saw. The crew was attempting to remove a large section of the roadway between Trabeaux St. and Guedry St. in the southbound lane of travel.
The Creole has learned that a check in the amount of $77,500 drawn on Sorrento’s account was cashed by a company called Design & Build sometime in mid-2012 for the work being performed by Circle M a year later. The cancelled check is in the possession of Sorrento’s current town attorney and was signed by Councilman Randy Anny. The Creole has further learned that an investigation into the matter has been initiated by Ascension Parish Sheriff’s Office (APSO).
We have also learned that Roy Maughan, Jr. is listed as the Registered Agent for both Design & Build and another company involved in this issue, H & O, according to the Secretary of State. Maughan Jr. happens to be the attorney for Councilman Randy Anny in a matter before U.S. District Court-Eastern District of Louisiana. Maughan denies any close or longstanding connection with Anny though Maughan confirmed that Anny owes a debt to Roy Maughan, Sr. which is evidenced by a promissory note on file in St. James Parish.
The existence of a contract between Sorrento and Design & Build Consultants, LLC was found, which pertained to the work in question. According to Councilman Anny, a Special Meeting was held approving both the contract and the payment in 2012. Still further investigation determined that Design & Build had subbed out the work to H & O, LLC which, in turn, apparently subbed it out to Circle M.
Randy Anny’s home was scheduled for sheriff’s sale on June 6, 2012, pursuant to Case No. 101,260 filed by J. P. Morgan bank in the 23rd Judicial District, only weeks before the supposed meeting occurred. The property was spared after payment to the plaintiff of $36,182.85.
Design & Build is a company that has been certified to receive special consideration in the awarding of government contracts due to the fact that its majority owner is a disabled veteran who happens to be an African-American.
The Creole did receive two calls from persons claiming to speak for the company handling the work. A gentleman who identified himself as “Randy Gomez” made contact Tuesday morning but could shed no light on the matter at hand. Randy Gomez is listed by the Louisiana Secretary of State as an officer in H & O Equipment, LLC, the company to which Design & Build subbed the work.
Later on Tuesday, The Creole was contacted by Roy Maughan Jr. He denied any wrongdoing by Design & Build with regard to the contract at issue. He claimed that Design & Build is still owed over $60,000.
As to Design & Build’s disabled veteran/African-American owner, he is not talking, at least to The Creole. The Creole learned from a reliable source that he has denied any knowledge that the contract in question exists. He claims to be unaware that Design & Build ever received a check in the amount of $77,500 from Sorrento.
“I had no idea what was going on,” said a baffled Mike Lambert. “I was not aware of any work order dealing with any issue in that area of town.”
Lambert proceeded to investigate the matter with the Circle M workmen after he had halted the project.
“I was told that they were cutting out the portion of Main St. to access a sewer line and perform certain repairs. It was the first I had heard of the project,” said Lambert who was inaugurated on July 1 of this year.
Not yet a month on the job, Mike Lambert is only beginning to realize how dysfunctional his predecessor’s administration really was. A project the size of the one being performed by Circle M on that early July day requires a sizable appropriation from Sorrento revenues and such an appropriation requires an ordinance by the Town Council.
La. Revised Statute 33:462 states “All expenditures of money for any purpose whatever shall be in pursuance of a specific appropriation made by order and in no other manner…” The excerpt is from the Lawrason Act which regulates how Louisiana municipalities are governed. Lambert was aware of no such action by Sorrento’s council and scoured the official minutes of the council meetings to no avail. No minute entry exists in the official record of Sorrento council meetings which addresses the work being performed that day.
If this all sounds strange, it gets stranger. The law requires Sorrento to appropriate the funds for the contract at issue, which requires a meeting of the town council. Even though Anny stated a meeting did occur, no record of any such meeting exists in Sorrento’s minute logs. According to those logs no meeting was conducted from June 19-July 12, 2012.
At the time, then Mayor Wilson Longanecker, Jr. had taken a leave of absence and Councilman Randy Anny had assumed mayoral duties, including authority to write checks for the town. Anny insists that a Special Meeting did take place, he believes around July 2, 2012. The meeting was not open to the public and Town Clerk Paige Robert could not attend due to a prior commitment.
According to Anny, former Councilman Jason Adams made the motion to approve the agreement with Design & Build and former Councilman Milton “Needlenose” Vicknair seconded. Only one other councilman was there, John Wright or Marvin Martin. Anny could not recall which, and the motion passed unanimously.
As for the minutes which are required to be kept, Anny recalled someone else taking on that responsibility.
“I believe the Town Attorney (Donovan Hudson) was taking notes and put those notes in the file,” Anny said.
Those notes were supposed to have been transcribed in the official minutes by Town Clerk Robert. She stated that she received the file but no notes were included.
Town Attorney Donovan Hudson was questioned by The Creole.
“I don’t know anything about the meeting or the contract with Design & Build,” Hudson responded. “From late June of 2012 until after the Fourth of July, I was in Georgia. I could not have attended a meeting in Sorrento. This is the first I’m hearing of it.”
“Wasn’t there a tape recording of the meeting?” Hudson asked. “It’s my understanding that the official minutes are the recording.”
What about the tape recording?
“The tape recording equipment was locked in the safe,” said Randy Anny. “Paige (Town Clerk Robert) and Mrs. Fern (Barnett)” were not present “and we didn’t have the combination.”
One could argue, as former Town Attorney Hudson did, that whatever transpired cannot legally be considered a town meeting and therefore, no appropriation was made, vitiating any contractual arrangement between Sorrento and Design & Build.
Legalities aside, it is certain that Design & Build cashed the check.