Things can get pretty hot in the kitchen! But when things heat up so much that the head Cook is scared to get burned you know things are out of control. Last week we published “Cook-ing It Up”, an article which scratched the surface of entangling alliances, potential conflicts of interest and unethical behavior involving Lafayette City Councilman Nanette Cook (2/10). In the short time since that article was published much has occurred. Let us catch you up to speed.
RPJ Hospitality, LLC Goes Belly Up
To refresh your memory RPJ Hospitality, LLC is a for profit corporation registered and doing business in the City of Lafayette. Its registered agent is Ravi Daggula and its members are Kshipraprasad Krindinti of Houston, Texas and Robert Autin (son-in-law of Nanette Cook) of Lafayette, Louisiana.
RPJ Hospitality owns and operates Maison Mouton Bed and Breakfast at 338 Sterling Street in Lafayette. That property was set for Sheriff’s Sale on January 11, 2023. RPJ Hospitality previously received special treatment when compared to other Bed and Breakfast establishments in the City of Lafayette through two separate ordinances which came before the Lafayette Consolidated Council and the Lafayette City Council over a span of five years. Cook did not disclose the potential conflict, instead casting her vote in favor of adopting both ordinances granting special treatment to RPJ Hospitality.
On the day the Maison Mouton Bed and Breakfast was set to be auctioned at Sheriff’s Sale, RPJ Hospitality filed for bankruptcy protection. In its pleadings, RPJ Hospitality lists numerous creditors, many of which are government tax collection agencies. These include the Lafayette Parish Sheriff, the Lafayette Parish School Board, the Louisiana Workplace Commission and six different offices of the Internal Revenue Service.
According to public record, the Lafayette Parish School Board obtained a judgment in August of last year for an astonishing $116,013.67. RPJ Hospitality, LLC was ordered to pay $58,749.91 in delinquent sales taxes, interest and penalties. Separately, Daggula and RPJ Hospitality, LLC were ordered to pay an additional $57,263.76 in delinquent sales and hotel/motel occupancy taxes, interest and penalties.
While the “Godmother” may be able to get a break with local regulations, the taxing entities and the mortgagee of the property still want their money!
Donation of Property Indefinitely Pulled from Council Agenda
“Cook-ing It Up” also briefly discussed Cook’s ties to Autin (son-in-law) through his marriage to Claire (Cook) Autin, Cook’s daughter and Director of Basin Arts. Basin Arts is located at 710 Jefferson Boulevard, Lafayette, Louisiana and owned by Sterling Hospitality, LLC. Daggula and Robert Autin are also both involved with Sterling Hospitality, LLC. Daggula is the registered agent with interest in the company belonging to Lamar Street, LLC, which Robert Autin owns.
According to the Lafayette City Council Agenda introductory ordinance JO-05-2023 was set to go before the City Council on January 17, 2023. The proposed ordinance originated with Mary Sliman, LCG Director of Development and Planning, in December of 2022. It sought the donation of property located 116 Ransome Street, Lafayette, Louisiana to Basin Arts. Section 8 of the ordinance specifically outlines Councilman Cook and Clare Cook as being “immediate family” members within the definition of the Louisiana Code of Governmental Ethics.
The application for disposition of adjudicated property was filed in May of 2022 by Clare Cook on behalf of Basin Arts. Witnessing the affidavit of non property owner or non tax debtor attached to the application is Nanette Cook herself! The application indicates that the “property will be improved through landscaping and used as a green space adjacent to the new Basin Arts…” It just so happens that the property already exists as a vacant green space, but it sure would make a great parking lot in an area where parking spaces are limited.
As for that ordinance… it was pulled indefinitely from the Council agenda.
Was the ordinance pulled thanks to our previous article, Cook-ing It Up? We had explored just one of the numerous apparent conflicts of interest between Cook and Autin while hinting that there was more to come. We’ve always said that our public employees tend to do a better job when they know someone is watching. Could this be yet another example of our watchfulness actually changing bad behavior in local government?
Stay tuned. As we continue untangling these threads, there will be much more to come.