Without warning early Tuesday morning four members of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development's Inspector General Investigative Unit descended up Alexandria Housing and Redevelopment Authority offices seizing records pertaining to its Section 8 Housing Program.
According to William Dearman, ARHA executive director, "They are concentrating on 91 files pertaining to the Section 8 Program. But, they have given no indication as to what they are looking for."
Head of the investigative team, Agent David Harding, out of the HUD Inspector General Office in Baltimore, Md., would not give any details of the investigation except to say it was related to the recent audits of ARHA operations. There have been a series of such audits over the past five months into all aspects of ARHA activities.
Michael Zerega, media relations in the Washington, D.C., office of the HUD Inspector General, said, "We do not comment on ongoing investigations. I will not confirm or deny that it is going on. We defer all inquires on investigations to the U.S. Attorney's office. If this were just an audit, I'd be glad to discuss it, but not when it becomes an investigation."
Only Steve Martin, head of ARHA's Hope VI project, was present at ARHA's Office of Housing, 18 Roth St., when the team arrived at approximately 8:30 a.m. "We had no warning they were coming so I immediately called Mr. Dearman," he said. Dearman arrived about one hour later from his home in Stafford County.
"I was in the shower when I got the call from Steve that there were four members of the Inspector General's office here. The only thing they've told me thus far is that they wanted those 91 files," Dearman said at approximately 10:15 a.m. By then he had been joined at the Roth Street office by A. Melvin Miller, chair, ARHA Board of Commissioners.
By 3:30 p.m. Tuesday Dearman had still not heard from Harding who, according to Dearman, had told him he would speak with him when the team completed its search. Miller was also unaware of the nature or depth of the investigation.
All 91 files being sought were closed files, according to Dearman. However, some allegedly contained the names and Social Security numbers of deceased recipients of Section 8 benefits.
UPON HIS ARRIVAL, Dearman held a meeting with ARHA staff at that office. "I wanted to talk with staff so they are not demoralized by this event. I explained to them if something is wrong, if someone has done something wrong or if we have done something wrong, we'll correct it," he said.
"It could be any number of things. There are a variety of things under Section 8 in many of our projects and in individual locations," he said.
Section 8 vouchers are now awarded to individuals and are portable from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. However, many previous vouchers are tied to a given unit within the overall housing inventory of a particular authority, according to Miller.
"We have many that are for a given unit within several of our sites. When that unit becomes vacant the new occupant must be Section 8 eligible to be able to move in," Miller said.
Dearman acknowledged that the investigative team indicated they would be continuing their investigation for another four to six weeks. "They are looking at both Section 8 and public housing records," he said.
HUD AUDITORS have been going through each of ARHA's operations individually. Last week they completed the HOPE VI audit, according to Martin.
"I had an exit interview with the primary investigator heading up the audit about three weeks ago and he didn't give any indication anything was wrong. But, we haven't heard anything from them (the auditors) until this team showed up this morning," Dearman said.
Inquiries about the progress of the audits have been raised by various ARHA commissioners during the board's regular meetings. Each time, they were assured by both Dearman and Miller that HUD's actions were standard operating procedure.
At one meeting Miller indicated that ARHA and other authorities close to the Washington metropolitan area might be subject to increased HUD activity because "their (HUD's) travel budget has been cut and they can look at us without incurring travel costs. We can expect even more."
However, Tuesday's visit was from investigators not auditors.
Other ARHA commissioners contacted Tuesday morning about the surprise investigation had no indication it was going on. Both vice chair Carlyle C. Ring, Jr. and Commissioner Ruby Tucker stated they would "certainly try to find out more now that they knew about it."
Although Office of Inspector General procedures provide for "liaison with the Federal Bureau of Investigation and use of FBI information," FBI media relations spokesperson Debbie Wireman stated late Tuesday afternoon, "There is no indication we are involved with this investigation at this time."