CLINTON, LA (WAFB) - In a unanimous vote Tuesday, town aldermen directed Clinton mayor, Lori Bell, to return four Chevy Tahoes she leased at a cost of more than $200,000 without their approval. But this may have opened a new can of worms, as the company that financed the vehicles is now threatening to sue the Town of Clinton for breach of contract.
Earlier this month, WAFB's 9News Investigators filed public records requests to obtain copies of the lease contract from Bell's administration. The contract, administered by First Government Lease Co., an Illinois financial firm, is dated June 6, 2016, and signed by the mayor and Police Chief Fred Dunn. The problem with the lease is two-fold: the board of aldermen never approved it and the police chief signed it in place of the town attorney.
Below the mayor's signature is a short paragraph of legalese, followed by a signature line reserved for the "Counsel of Lessee," which in this case, is Clinton Town Attorney Charles Griffin.
Paul Graver, the owner of First Government Lease, says Dunn represented himself as the town attorney, or at least having power of attorney to sign the lease. "It was signed by someone who represented themselves as Lori's counsel," Graver said. "I have a certificate from someone who represented themselves as Lori's counsel."
The chief denied any intent to represent himself as the town attorney. "I didn't see that," Dunn said, explaining he never noticed the small print stating "Counsel for Lessee," nor the preceding paragraph certifying himself as the lessee's lawyer.
Alderwoman Mary Dunaway says none of the board members were even aware of the lease until 2018, when word began to spread that the town was having budget problems.
"Even those who were on the board at the time the lease was signed were not aware of it," Dunaway said. "That's why I think everybody knew returning them [the vehicles] was the right thing to do."
Board members grew concerned the four Tahoes were eating into the town's revenue at a pace of nearly $4,400 per month.
During Tuesday's vote, the board asked Town Attorney Charles Griffin to try to negotiate a way out of the lease. And it appears Griffin made no new friends at the finance company Wednesday.
Graver, whose company financed the Tahoes, says he has done business with Clinton for many years. He says he was surprised when he received threatening phone calls from lawyers on Wednesday.
He then issued a warning of his own.
"I will sue them into the Stone Age," Graver said. "I will grab the couch out of the lobby and shake it upside down until I get every quarter out of the couch! I will come in and break the gumball machine and take every single penny!"