(TriceEdneyWire.com) – Less than a week after an attorney for the City of New Orleans told a federal judge that a Baton Rouge-based contractor has backed away from the project that will remove four Confederate-era statues from public spaces in New Orleans after receiving death threats, the contractor’s car was set aflame.
The New Orleans Advocate reported last week that the car, a $200,000 Lamborghini belonging to H&O Investments owner David Mahler, was discovered burning in the Baton Rouge-based company’s parking lot at 17435 Opportunity Avenue shortly after midnight Tuesday.
On Jan. 14, during a hearing on the City of New Orleans’ plans to remove the four statues, attorney Rebecca Dietz told U.S. District Judge Carl Barbier that H&O Investments has backed away from a project to remove the monuments, citing death threats received by the contractor and his wife at their Baton Rouge residence and on social media.
Five days later, the contractor’s Lamborghini was torched by someone, police reported.
St. George Fire Department Captain Jerry Tarleton said the department received a call about the fire about 12:20 a.m. Tuesday and found the car in the company’s parking lot. He said the fire was extinguished after about 35 minutes.
Tarleton said that while investigators may likely never know who started the fire, the department hasn’t ruled anything out.
By the time the fire was put out, all that remained was the seat frames, tires and a pile of melted debris.
While the fire chief said car fires caused by mechanical issues are not uncommon, Tuesday’s fire was different.
“The only thing unusual about it is the type of car,” Tarleton told The New Orleans Advocate. “It’s unusual because no one was around, and the car was not in an enclosed area.”
H&O Investments attorney Roy Maughan Jr. told The New Orleans Advocate that the fire appears to have been planned and that the facts surrounding the incident are suspicious.
“A car doesn’t spontaneously combust during the night,” Maughan said. “Given the events of last week and controversy with that, it’s natural to question whether these events are related.”
In an earlier story, The New Orleans Advocate reported that H&O told the City of New Orleans that the company had received numerous telephone complaints after it was made public that the company had been hired to remove the Confederate-era statues, “including death threats personally directed to David Mahler and his staff, in addition to threatening calls received by his wife at their residence.”
Maughan said Mahler was upset when he was told about the destruction of his car, which was reportedly parked in a corner of the company’s parking lot.
“We reported the circumstances of it,” Maughan told The New Orleans Advocate last week. “We’re hoping that whatever actually occurred will be discovered and appropriately be dealt with.”
Maughan said the FBI was contacted after the death threats were made.
The Landrieu administration also contacted the FBI after it learned of last week’s incident.
Before the Jan. 14 hearing in federal court in New Orleans, H&O Investments told the City of New Orleans that the death threats, messages left on social media and threats from existing clients to cancel contracts with the Baton Rouge company prompted it to walk away from the statue-removal project.
“Unfortunately, due to these circumstances, H&O is unable to perform the tasks originally assigned in association with the removal of any monuments for the city of New Orleans,” Maughan wrote.
“I want to emphasize we hope there’s no connection,” Maughan said Tuesday. “If it was purely coincidental, that would be the best.”
After months of fiery debate about the removal of the Liberty Monument and statues of Confederate leaders Robert E. Lee, Jefferson Davis and P.G.T. Beauregard, the New Orleans City Council voted in December to remove the monuments from public spaces and to relocate them to still-undetermined locations.
Just hours later, four groups — the Monumental Task Committee, Louisiana Landmarks Society, Foundation for Historical Louisiana and Beauregard Camp No. 130 — challenged the 6-1 City Council vote, leading to the Jan. 14 hearing in federal court.
While numerous media reports said that U.S. District Judge Carl Barbier did not appear to be swayed by the four groups’ arguments, he said he would consider both sides’ arguments before issuing a ruling in the case.
H&O received more bad news recently as the Baton Rouge-based company was hit on Jan. 15 with a federal class-action lawsuit filed by five former employees of H&O Lawn 360 who say the company didn’t pay them overtime wages owed to them and falsified tax returns.
The Baton Rouge Business Report, the publication that first reported the federal class-action lawsuit, said that calls to H&O seeking comment were not immediately returned.