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Knocking on ARHA's Door

Federal investigation of agency re-ignites.

They’re back and they came armed with subpoenas — again. Alexandria Redevelopment and Housing Authority’s assumption that they had been absolved of any wrongdoing by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development Inspector General’s office was apparently premature.

Early Thursday morning, Feb. 9, approximately 10 federal agents of the HUD/IG Investigative Division arrived at ARHA headquarters, 600 N. Fairfax St., armed with subpoenas to search several offices and interview certain personnel, including Executive Director William Dearman, according to sources.

Although neither the federal agencies or the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District would comment on the renewed investigation, it was confirmed by ARHA Chairman A. Melvin Miller that this time it was focused on “contracts or a contract let in 2001 and 2002.” However, he would not specify what contracts dealing with what projects.

“This is a continuation of the original investigation. It sounds like the same thing we heard before. It is my understanding, it pertains to a single contract for some work that has been done, as far as I know,” Miller said.

“Some of our employees have been talking to the IG and we are going to see what we can do to stop this. We are trying to get things done and this keeps interrupting us,” Miller said.

Miller added that when he heard the HUD investigators were at ARHA headquarters, he went to the office to speak to them. “This is stemming from some of our disgruntled folks that have been feeding them [HUD] this information,” he said. The HUD investigators “are going to find out we haven’t done anything wrong, just like before,” Miller added. The “before” referred to a HUD/IG investigation in 2005 which centered on ARHA’s administration and implementation of the Section 8 Public Housing Program.

In that instance, a similar early morning raid was made on ARHA’s housing administration offices at 18 Roth St. At that time they confiscated 92 Section 8 files which had raised red flags to HUD auditors. In the final analysis of that investigation it was determined that the problems sprang from sloppy bookkeeping and poor administrative procedures.

Without any official announcement by HUD investigators, Dearman wrote a letter dated Sept. 13, 2005 to Daniel Harding, special agent, Office of Inspector General, HUD, who had led the Section 8 investigation, thanking him for an “exit interview” and concluding “We understand that the investigation of this matter is now closed.”

When Harding was contacted to verify the closed investigation he was unavailable due to being temporarily reassigned to work on the hurricane devastation problems along the Gulf Coast. However, he had reportedly told Dearman during the exit interview that the Section 8 Program investigation was only one element of an ongoing multipronged investigation of ARHA programs and administration.

Additionally, 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.” He reiterated that same statement when contacted about the latest actions of the investigative unit.

THIS TIME, THE “NO COMMENT” strategy seems to have reached a broader constituency. When the public information representative for the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Debbie Wireman, was contacted, she said “Unfortunately, I’m not able at this time to verify if it is under investigation by HUD or the FBI. Everything is coming through the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District.”

During the Section 8 probe she had readily confirmed the FBI was not involved.

Upon contacting Paul McNulty’s office, U.S. Attorney for The Eastern District, that public information spokesperson also said they “were not issuing any statements at this time.” Nor would she verify or deny if there was an ongoing investigation, give any specifics as to the subpoenas, or verify or quash rumors pertaining to searches of offices and residences of ARHA staff members.

The same information lock-down applied to various members of the ARHA Board of Commissioners called for information. They would not answer if they had or had not been interviewed by federal agents on the matter.

Their combined response was best summarized by ARHA vice chair Carlyle C. Ring, Jr. “We have been advised that Mel [Miller] is the appropriate person to contact,” he said. When Miller was asked if the investigators had contacted other board members following his conversation with them the morning of Feb. 9, he answered, “Don’t know.”

When Dearman was called for input, he also said, “I cannot and will not comment at this time.” Previously he had been very forthcoming on the Section 8 investigation even to the point of identifying the number of files investigators had subpoenaed the same morning of the raid without hesitation.

One of the reasons that has been given for all information being funneled through the U.S. Attorney’s Office is that since the Section 8 inquiry time frame, a joint task force has been established to participate in such on-going investigation. It is said to be composed of representatives from HUD, FBI and the Internal Revenue Service. There has been no official confirmation of its existence.

No actions have been taken at this point by the HUD investigators nor have they directly implicated any individuals, within ARHA’s structure or any contractors performing ARHA services. There has also, at this writing, been no confirmation or denials coming from ARHA.