Ethics Board cites mayor-loan conflict

The Louisiana Board of Ethics has levied conflict of interest charges against Independence Mayor Michael Ragusa.

The allegations stem from Ragusa’s involvement in a loan application to the Town of Independence Historic District Fund that financially benefitted his sons — Michael Brent Ragusa and Nelson Hunt Ragusa — and his daughter-in-law Sabrina Ragusa.

Under state law, no public servant shall participate in a transaction “involving the governmental entity in which, to his actual knowledge” any member of his immediate family has a substantial economic interest.

The Ethics Board published the charge on its website and asked the Ethics Adjudicatory Board to set a hearing. Ragusa could be subject to censure or a fine of up to $10,000 or both.

Mayor Michael Ragusa said Tuesday he has done nothing wrong. He said he has asked for a expedited hearing.

“I want this over with,” Ragusa said.

Ragusa said he acted with the advice of legal counsel when he signed documents as mayor.

“I did not participate in any vote” of the Board of Aldermen, he said. “I didn’t have any voice.”

The case deals with the Ragusa family members’ company BHS Enterprise, which borrowed $50,000 from the Historic District Fund in 2003 to purchase The BBQ Station Restaurant and make renovations.

According to the ethics charges, BHS Enterprises sold the restaurant on Jan. 27, 2009, to Jimmy Gregory Investments Inc., for $225,000.

The terms of the agreement included a $130,000 down payment and a promissory note between the parties for the remainder to be paid in installments, the ethics board wrote.

The alleged violation relates to a $130,000 loan application made by Jimmy Gregory Investments on Nov. 19, 2008, to the Historic District Fund.

“Mayor Michael Ragusa presented the loan application to the Board of Aldermen and participated in the discussions of the loan application submitted by Jimmy Gregory Investments, Inc.,” the ethics board charging document said. The loan was for the purchase of the restaurant, it added.

The Board of Aldermen approved the loan on Jan. 27, 2009, with loan papers signed by Mayor Ragusa and Gregory, the ethics board said.

A $130,000 check was issued the same day to the title company handling the closing of The BBQ Station Restaurant deal between BHS Enterprises Inc. and Jimmy Gregory Investments. The title company, Cypress Title Service, then issued a check for $94,464.66 to BHS Enterprises and the remaining funds went to Independence to pay off BHS Enterprises’ initial loan from 2003.