(Eric Cormier / American Press)
Last Modified: Saturday, December 01, 2012 9:35 PMAlmost a year has passed since a discrimination complaint was filed against Lake Charles officials by a developer who failed to obtain a piece of property on the lakefront.
Baton Rouge businessman Chris Rinaudo, who tried to get the residential-retail development Lakeside going, filed the complaint against the city in January.
He contends the city’s decision not to allow the multimillion-dollar proposal to move forward in 2011 cost the company $700,000.
“While working with the City of Lake Charles to create a multi-purpose housing and retail development we were denied HUD financing because the City Council voted against it. We believe this was done because of the race of potential recipients of the housing program. The decision by the city will have a discriminatory impact against African-Americans,” reads the complaint, filed with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
Interviews conducted by the American Press with Lake Charles officials and the consultant assisting the complainant indicate that neither Lakeside nor the city has heard from federal officials in months about the investigation of the complaint.
HUD officials notified the two parties in January that the investigation would conclude in 180 days. Both sides have different opinions on what the federal government’s silence means.
The last communication the city had with HUD was six months ago, said City Attorney Billy Loftin. He contends the city did nothing wrong in its dealings with Lakeside.
“I feel comfortable with the city’s state in regards to the complaint. We provided that information to our legal representation on this matter (New Orleans attorney Roy Cheatwood) and have not heard anything,” he said. “It is up to HUD to finish their investigation, but we have not heard anything in months.”
HUD does not discuss ongoing investigations.
Gary Lacefield, a former HUD investigator who is a consultant for Rinaudo, concluded that the extended length of time, in which nothing has been revealed by the agency, is an ominous sign.
“From my experience, if there is very little substance to a case, then they investigate fairly timely and would dismiss the complaint,” he said. “The longer an investigation takes, that typically means there is substance to the allegations.”
Along with requesting documents associated with the failed deal between the city and Lakeside, federal investigators have interviewed different people involved.
Among them are Atlanta developer Roger Landry, who worked with Rinaudo in trying to get the deal completed. Landry was recently awarded the opportunity to work on a plan to buy 3.5 acres of land at 600 Ryan St. He offered $1.06 million for the property and intends to build a $20 million mixed-use facility, with 170-plus residential units and 22,000 square feet of business space.
Landry has said he was interviewed, but stressed that he was not legally associated with Lakeside’s deal and had nothing to do with the complaint, even though he spoke to the City Council on numerous occasions on the project’s behalf.
Lacefield said Rinaudo initiated the complaint. He said HUD investigations are time consuming.
“It’s methodical. And when you have allegations like the ones that were presented, then there’s a lot to look at,” he said. “If it is taking this long, there is something of substance there.”