September 14, 2006
By DANIEL E. GOREN And JEFFREY B. COHEN, Courant Staff Writers
The day after a federal lawsuit was filed alleging corruption inside the Hartford Housing Authority, Mayor Eddie A. Perez said he has asked city lawyers to determine if he has the power to disband the authority's current board of commissioners.
Perez said Wednesday he is not ready to take that step, and is waiting for a city audit of the authority. But, in the wake of allegations of influence peddling and bid rigging outlined in the lawsuit filed by ousted Executive Director Lancelot Gordon Jr., the mayor said he is leaving his options open.
"I'm outraged that we are even in this situation," Perez said. "This is a public institution and the public trust has been violated. Once the authority put themselves under a microscope, the best way to be is transparent, to provide a clear understanding of what actually transpired, and say what led them into such a terrible situation."
"All my options are on the table," Perez added. "This is a serious, serious matter."
The city's chief auditor, H. Patrick Campbell, said Wednesday that he was still investigating. The city began looking into the authority before the lawsuit was filed.
The U.S. attorney's office, the FBI and the office of the chief state's attorney will not say whether they are investigating, but other sources have said federal authorities already are probing the housing authority.
Authority board Chairman Courtney Anderson, for example, said Wednesday he has been contacted by the inspector general's office of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development in recent weeks, since Gordon began raising questions.
HUD also will not confirm its agents' involvement, but it has collaborated with the U.S. attorney's office on other cases. In a case investigated partly by HUD agents and prosecuted by the U.S. attorney's office, a guilty plea came Monday from Barbara Rawls-Ivy, a member of the New Haven Board of Aldermen. She admitted embezzling $49,000 in federal housing funds and faces up to 10 years in prison when she is sentenced Dec. 4.
Gordon, 58, was fired after less than a year as executive director for what the commission called nearly $11,000 in financial transactions in which Gordon did not follow the authority's procurement policy. But Gordon claims he was fired because he was trying to uncover entrenched corruption at the agency.
In a lawsuit filed in federal court, Gordon implicated prominent developers, Hartford politicians and authority employees in what he said were attempts to rig bids on lucrative contracts, steer jobs and secure public housing for friends.
Those involved in the corruption, the lawsuit claims, conspired to get rid of Gordon from the moment he was hired because he refused to go along with them.
Named as defendants are three members of the five-member board of commissioners: Chairman Courtney Anderson, Treasurer Angel Arce and Vice Chairwoman Yolanda Castillo. The lawsuit also names prominent Meriden developer Salvatore Carabetta as being involved, although he is not being sued.
All three commissioners denied Gordon's allegations. Carabetta did not respond to messages left at his office.
Anderson said Wednesday he would expect the mayor to take steps to remove any commissioner found to have acted improperly.
"I think that in any situation where there is any real impropriety by a commissioner, then I would hope the mayor would take some action," Anderson said. "But I expect the auditors will come in and find there are no improprieties by any commissioners, certainly not by me."
The lawsuit details several instances in which Gordon alleges commissioners attempted to influence bids.
One involved a meeting Gordon allegedly had with Arce and Carabetta at the Olympia Diner on the Berlin Turnpike in July 2004. At the meeting, the lawsuit states, Arce asked Gordon if there was "anything he could do" so that Carabetta could win a $300 million project to rebuild Westbrook Village and Bowles Park.
The lawsuit also details alleged efforts by Arce and Anderson to influence Gordon's contracting procedure on a $6.5 million contract to build 40 units of housing at Stowe Village. Anderson wanted an acquaintance of his to get the contract, the lawsuit says, while Arce pushed for JoCal Construction Co., a local contractor, to get the work.
Jorge Calderon Jr., the owner of JoCal, Wednesday denied any wrongdoing and said he's just a small-time minority contractor trying to build his business.
"I'm not political at all. I got to know Angel a little bit, got to be friends with him, we helped him with his campaign. OK, I accept that," said Calderon, in his small Windsor Street office. "But to do that stuff? Look, my father always said to go the straight route."
Calderon is a member of the Greater Hartford Minority Construction Council and said that Arce is a good advocate for minority businesses at the authority. But he said that Arce never inserted himself into the process as an advocate for JoCal.
"It's going to hurt me really bad, and I don't think it's fair for what they're doing political-wise to drag me into it," he said. "Yeah, I tried to get work there, but I went the straight route."
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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