Hartford Authority Can't Use Federal Funds To Settle Gordon Matter
JEFFREY B. COHEN
November 23, 2008
The federal government has told the Hartford Housing Authority that it cannot use federal funds to settle a lawsuit brought by former Executive Director Lancelot Gordon because Gordon engaged in "a pattern of financial improprieties."
Gordon was fired by the authority in August 2006 because of accusations that he misused roughly $11,000 in authority money. He later filed a federal lawsuit to get his job back, claiming that he was fired because he was trying to uncover widespread corruption at the agency involving developers, politicians and agency officials.
Gordon's firing and the subsequent allegations led to a tumultuous few months at the authority, and the drama culminated later that fall when Mayor Eddie A. Perez contentiously removed three of the board's five members, eventually remaking the board entirely. The authority, under the oversight of the former board, had "failed to manage public funds in an efficient and appropriate manner," Perez said in 2006.
But the allegations of Gordon's own misuse of money are again at issue.
At the time of his firing, the authority said Gordon had hired a private detective for the authority, paid for his agency-issued car to be painted and repaired, misused his agency credit card while attending out-of-town conferences, improperly expensed a health club membership, and bought two laptop computers — one of which was lost or stolen while Gordon traveled for work.
As lawyers tried to work out a settlement and avoid litigation, federal officials told the authority in a letter earlier this month that Gordon's admitted financial wrongdoings prohibited the use of federal money to settle his lawsuit.
"In our view, based on the evidence which is largely undisputed, the HHA took appropriate, responsible, and prudent action in terminating Mr. Gordon's employment contract," wrote Miniard Culpepper, New England regional counsel for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
Culpepper noted that this could mean a jury trial for Gordon's case.
"Nonetheless, the evidence we have reviewed, including admissions by Mr. Gordon that he double-billed the HHA for travel-related expenses and admissions that he engaged in other financial improprieties, should provide the basis for summary dismissal of some or all of the claims against the HHA," Culpepper wrote.
Mark Ojakian, the authority's current chairman appointed by Perez to steer the authority out of the mess of 2006, said the authority is now considering its options, including an insurance settlement. He said the board has ruled out using any public funds at all to settle the case.
Gordon's attorney, Craig Dickinson, declined to comment.
But Courtney Anderson — the former authority chairman ousted by Perez two years ago along with commissioners Angel Arce and Yolanda Castillo — said that the federal government got it right.
"The only news now as far as I'm concerned is that HUD had the guts to say today what Eddie Perez wouldn't say two years ago," Anderson said. "And that is that the commissioners, at least back then, did what we had to do."
In response to a request to speak with Perez, spokeswoman Sarah Barr said in an e-mail that Perez had a number of reasons for removing Anderson, Castillo and Arce. She added that "there were other issues of control and management that required a new direction on the board."
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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