Saturday, December 02, 2006

Audit looks into IMG contracts

A housing authority review by a federal agency showed apparent conflicts of interests.

A Roanoke consulting firm simultaneously had multiple contracts with the city Redevelopment and Housing Authority while two of its employees held key leadership roles within the authority, documents show.

City Councilman Bev Fitzpatrick worked as an associate for the Issues Management Group while serving on the authority board in parts of 2002 and 2003. Another IMG employee, Charlotte Mason, worked as the authority's human resources director from 1999 to 2004, according to documentation obtained by The Roanoke Times under the Virginia Freedom of Information Act.

During that period, IMG, led by former housing authority board Chairman Rob Glenn, held nearly $1 million in contracts with the authority.

A federal audit report released Friday details problems with the awarding of seven contracts between the authority and IMG, and it also cites apparent conflicts of interest involving Mason and Fitzpatrick, based on their authority roles versus their ties to IMG.

The apparent conflicts are "significant programmatic concerns" but do not "imply violations of criminal code," according to the report. However, because of those problems and others, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development is asking the Roanoke authority to pay back at least $2 million.

David Paxton, a lawyer representing Fitzpatrick, said in a statement that the HUD report makes it clear that no violation of civil or criminal law is involved or implied with the possible conflict.

"At this point, the most important thing for the public to understand is that Bev never benefitted financially and never tried to manipulate the rules in any way," Paxton said.

The HUD audit report likely will be sent to other federal agencies, including the HUD arm of the U.S. Inspector General's Office, which could conduct a criminal investigation, HUD officials said during a teleconference Friday afternoon.

Fitzpatrick, who left the housing authority board in 2003 to take a seat on city council, has said he knowingly did nothing wrong.

Mason worked both full time and part time as the authority's human resources director. She was terminated from her authority job last year, according to information provided by the authority. Mason has since left IMG, too, and now works for another Roanoke company. Reached on Tuesday and told of her potential inclusion in the authority audit, Mason declined comment and said she would be consulting with an attorney. She did not return phone messages Friday.

According to documents obtained by The Roanoke Times, internal IMG documents, including bios, resumes, marketing materials and invoices, were found on housing authority computers. Many of those documents had been created by Mason.

E-mails involving housing authority business were sent from Mason to recently retired authority Director John Baker, as well as Rob Glenn, using Mason's IMG e-mail address. E-mails also show that she worked with Baker and Glenn on personnel issues.

The HUD audit was prompted in part by authority Director Ellis Henry, who became concerned about potential preferential treatment, conflicts of interest and questionable spending practices after he assumed his job this spring.