The first weekend of Mardi Gras in New Orleans is always a lucrative one for local businesses, especially for those located in the historic French Quarter neighborhood.
But when the carnival season kicked off last weekend in southern Louisiana, one business failed to bring in the expected cash from the influx of revelers. That business, a parking garage company, says the blame lies with Vice President Joe Biden and the Secret Service agents who were protecting him Saturday during a visit to the city.
“It was a big loss over the weekend,” Sterling Chauvin, the chief operating officer of the Premium Parking Service, explained in an interview with The Daily Caller.
While parades were rolling Saturday evening, Biden happened to be attending a fundraiser for Democratic Sen. Mary Landrieu at the Ritz Carlton in the French Quarter. Adding to the chaos that day was a freak accident – a Secret Service dog fell to its death from the parking garage Chauvin operates – that made national news.
But what has Chauvin, his co-workers and the owner of the parking garage still steaming is how Secret Service agents unexpectedly showed up that evening and closed off an entrance to the garage as they secured the area around the Biden fundraiser. They believe, he said, that they lost customers because of the decision.
“They blocked off everything around the building,” Chauvin recalled. “The streets. Everything. And this on a Saturday in the middle of parades.” (RELATED: Bloomberg praises Biden’s tough stance on gun control)
“We had no idea that the vice president and Sen. Landrieu were coming,” he continued. “We had no idea they were going to take possession of the top floor of my building and run armed officers up and down the ramps without letting us know. We got no warning.”
On Monday, Chauvin wouldn’t reveal exactly how much money he thinks the company lost, but said it “[made a] lot less than last year.”
“We looked at the numbers today and Jim, who is my owner, is not going to be happy,” he said, explaining that they had been charging drivers $20 and $30 a car to park that night.
Max Milien, a spokesman for the Secret Service, told TheDC on Tuesday that while agents blocked one of the two entrances to the parking garage for security reasons, the parking garage remained open during the Biden fundraiser.
“We did not close any parking garages,” he said in a phone interview.
Added Milien: “We make every attempt during the advance process and even during the day of the events to minimize disruptions and to advise businesses and owners what to expect ahead of time.”
But according to Chauvin, the agents who showed up to the garage in at least three cars that day refused to explain why they were there. One agent repeatedly told Chauvin to back away when he tried to ask questions about what was going on, he said.
“All I was trying to do was find out how long they were going to be up there, what I needed to tell my valets, so we could conduct business,” he said.
Chauvin said one agent – who was stationed on the roof with the dog that later died – was particularly unpleasant. At one point, he offered the agent his business card while trying to learn why Secret Service was there.
“He said, ‘I don’t need your card, sir. I don’t care who you are. Please step back,'” Chauvin recalled.
When Chauvin asked the agent, who was wearing a badge on his bulletproof vest, who his supervisor was, the agent offered a mocking response: ‘The president of the United States.”
“He was just totally rude,” Chauvin said.
Milien, the spokesman for the Secret Service, said the agency had not received any complaints about the behavior of agents that day. “We’re unaware of any instances involving our employee or agent,” he said.
Chauvin ended up leaving the parking garage while agents were there, but about four hours later, someone called him and told him that a Secret Service dog had plunged to his death from the 7-story parking garage. That fall would be about 60 to 65 feet high, he said.
He had seen the dog earlier with the agent he had been speaking with.
“The dog that was in the back of his car was the dog that jumped off the roof,” Chauvin said.
“I wasn’t there when it happened, but my valets told me they heard a thump. One of the valets [saw] the dog come down when he was looking out.”
After the dog fell, the agent was seen running down the steps.
“They could hear him screaming and crying when he came down,” Chauvin said. “He was really emotional. They get attached to dogs, which I can understand.”
But what has the operators of this business still upset days after the event is how the agents were able to appear at the garage that day, barking orders to employees without explaining very much.
“They did this in the middle of Mardi Gras,” he said. “I mean, we had parades going on and cars trying to park.”