Acadiana Business

LHA asks authorities to investigate theft allegations at Villa Gardens

by Leslie Turk

HUD spokeswoman confirms three agencies were asked to look into allegations of theft at publicly funded north Lafayette development six days after The IND's Sept. 3 story, "The House that LPTFA Built?"

U.S. Housing and Urban Development Regional Public Affairs Officer Patricia Campbell tells The IND/ABiz that on Sept. 9, Katie Anderson, the chief operating officer of the Lafayette Housing Authority, sent separate letters to three investigative agencies as a result of The IND's Sept. 3 story, "The House that LPTFA Built?"

Campbell says the letters were sent to the HUD Office of the Inspector General, District Attorney Mike Harson and the Louisiana legislative auditor asking them to look into the allegations of misappropriation of building materials and mismanagement at the Villa Gardens low-income housing tax credit project "as outlined in [The IND's] article."

"They will decide whether they will proceed or not," Campbell says.

"I have not seen any such letter since we were closed Friday the 6th for our move [from the parish courthouse to the Whitney Bank building downtown]," Harson writes in an email response. "Therefore I cannot say what our role will be."

The other two agencies/offices did not immediately responded to The IND's inquiry about whether they received the letter and what action they plan to take.

Photo by Robin May

Greg Gachassin

As part of a year-long investigation, The IND interviewed several subcontractors who worked on the publicly funded Villa Gardens, Cypress Trails and Villas at Angel Point projects, all of which were overseen by development consultant Greg Gachassin and constructed by Bennett Builders. All were funded by federal low-income housing tax credits awarded by the Louisiana Housing Corporation.

LHA was only involved with Villa Gardens, a development consisting of 43 single-family homes built in 2011 in the 500 block of Patterson Street. Cypress Trails is a project of the Lafayette Public Trust Financing Authority, an entity Gachassin once chaired.

Although the LHA was originally involved in Villas at Angel Point, HUD pulled out of the development, leaving The Cartesian Company as project consultant and John S. Ford of Angel Manor PCS-LLC, which owns the property at 323 Patterson St., in an undisclosed role.

State records show that The Cartesian Company's Kacee Thompson submitted a tax-credit application to the state in September 2010. In February 2011 the $6.8 million elderly housing project was awarded $734,000 in Go Zone tax-credit funding (a type of low-income housing tax credit) over each of the following 10 years.

Subcontractors who spoke to The IND on the condition their names not be used say a home at 101 Shady Ridge Lane was largely built with materials from those federally subsidized housing developments. Two subcontractors say they personally witnessed bricks being moved from one public job site - and have credible knowledge that material was either moved from other publicly funded job sites or improperly charged to them - to 101 Shady Ridge Lane.

Photo by Robin May

Riley Fielder

That home is occupied by Riley Fielder, Greg Gachassin's business partner in Park Group Construction, and Bennett Builders' head superintendent on all three of the aforementioned developments.

Until earlier this year the home Fielder lives in, located in Fountain View subdivision, which Gachassin developed off Kaliste Saloom Road behind his Wingate by Wyndham hotel several years ago, was owned by Gachassin's company, The Lauren Group. In March 2013 the house was sold to an entity called "Gachassin Law Firm Profit Sharing 401K Plan for the Benefit of Nicholas Gachassin, Jr." for $250,000, according to records in the Lafayette Parish Clerk of Court's office. The cash sale was signed by Kacee Thompson, an authorized rep of The Lauren Group, according to the court document. Thompson also works for Greg Gachassin's The Cartesian Company, his real estate development/consulting business that, along with Gachassin himself, has been charged with violating the state's Code of Ethics for entering into contracts with LPTFA while serving on its board and again after leaving it. The ethics code requires that board members wait two years before either entering into contracts with their former boards or benefitting financially from doing business with the entity.

LPTFA Chairman John Arceneaux did not immediately respond to an emailed request asking him what, if any, action the public trust will take in light of the allegations. To this day, the trust continues to do business with Gachassin.

Read "The House that LPTFA Built?" here.