Continuing Saga of New Orleans Public Housing – Feds Turn Up Heat On HUD Sec’y Alphonso Jackson

by on December 27, 2007 · 0 comments

A report today in the online publication Government Executive details mounting evidence from federal investigations linking HUD Secretary Alphonso Jackson to scandals in New Orleans-including the demoliton contract for the St. Bernard public housing complex.

New Orleans, December 26-Today’s Government Executive (GE), a business daily for federal managers and executives, features a report , “Probe of HUD chief heats up,” focusing on growing troubles for HUD Secretary Alphonso Jackson. In that report journalist Edward T. Pound writes, “Investigators from HUD Inspector General Kenneth Donahue’s office, FBI agents, and Justice Department prosecutors are examining whether Jackson lied when he testified that he never intrervened in HUD contracting.”

The article also reports, “Jackson now faces the biggest crisis of his career.” Two of the three cases being investigated lead straight to the offices of HANO/HUD in New Orleans. And of those two, one concerns Jackson’s possible involvement in the awarding of the demolition contract for the St. Bernard public housing project. In the latter case, Pound reports, the feds are going after Scott Keller, described as Jackson’s “right arm,” for his role in steering the St. Bernard demo contract towrds Colombia Residential, a company Jackson once worked for, and which still owes him hundreds of thousands of dollars. Because of that, “a HUD special agent served a search warrant at Keller’s Alexandria, [VA] home last month,” GE reports.

Government Executive also reports that in June 2006 Jackson put Keller in charge of HANO, which HUD took over in 2002. Among his tasks, GE reported, Keller “played a central role in dealing with issues that affected the business of Jackson’s contracting friends in HANO.” “Keller was smack in the middle of the HANO decision to award the $127 million redevelopment to the team that included Columbia Residential to restore [sic] the St. Bernard public housing projects,” Pound reports. A four person panel made that decision last February. It turns out that “Keller not only helped choose the panel but also served as a member,” GE reports.

In an October 4 story this year in Government Executive, Pound reported that a HUD spokesman said Jackson “was not part of the [panel] selection team and played no ‘role in the selection of any team members.’ ” In that same article Pound wrote that Scott Keller told him “that because of the press of other HUD business he did not participate in, or influence, the selection of the Columbia Residential team.” Keller left HUD in August after failing to get Senate approval for a Bush appointment to a higher HUD position. But Margaret Stone, a private financial advisor who attended the panel’s discussions this past January and February, contradicted Keller’s claims. In today’s story Pound reported, “Stone said that Keller attended the first meeting of the selection panel in January and spoke by phone at the final meeting in February. Her account was confirmed by two others familiar with the discussions.” And as to Keller’s claim that he didn’t influence the discussions, Stone told GE that “Keler promoted Columbia Residential’s plans ‘from the beginning…He certainly liked them a lot…He advocated strongly for the best solution to the project, which he thought was Columbia Residential.’ ”

As to the final decision, a third report by Pound in Government Executive on November 21 stated “Internal HANO records show that the Columbia Residential team barely won the evaluation, 68 points to 67.” In that same report, Poind wrote that in September 2002, HANO brought in another company, Columbia Highlands, whose part owner Noel Khalil, is also an owner of Columbia Residential. Columbia Highlands “was paid $3.3 million through March of last year,” by HUD/HANO, according to this report.

The November report also discussed the role of Lori Moon, who had worked for Alphonse Jackson when he ran the Dallas Housing Authority, and who “Jackson arranged …to serve” at HANO in 2002. Moon initially hired Colombia Highlands there. But “Moon said that Jackson and other HUD officials never told her about Jackson’s financial ties to Khalil,” the November story reported. “Had she known, she said, she would not have selected Colombia Housing for management work at HANO.”

Pound concludes today’s Government Executive report as follows:

If HANO has its way, it won’t be long before St. Bernard meets the wrecking ball. Last month, the housing authority awarded a $9 million contract to Columbia Residential and the Bayou [District] foundation to arrange for the demolition of the project to make way for the development. In a last-ditch attempt to block the demolition, four of St. Bernard’s displaced residents filed suit this week against HUD and HANO in U.S. district court in Washington. The suit cites Jackson’s financial ties to Columbie Residential and says, ‘Nothing in the record of the selection panel indicates that the members were aware of this potential confllict of interest or addressed it in their deliberations.

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