Disastrous Assistance Program?

by Leslie Turk

**Wednesday, August 11, 2010
Written by Leslie Turk

Prompted by $243,000 in irregularities with a federal contract involving former councilman Chris Williams, state and federal officials converged on the Lafayette Housing Authority this week.**

Chris Williams has not slowed down a bit since leaving the Lafayette City-Parish Council in early 2008. In fact, Williams is working harder than ever: He works full-time for the Department of Special Services at UL Lafayette, where he also teaches a political science class at night each semester...

Former Lafayette Parish City-Parish Councilman
Chris Williams is holding down at least two
full-time jobs.

**Wednesday, August 11, 2010
Written by Leslie Turk

Prompted by $243,000 in irregularities with a federal contract involving former councilman Chris Williams, state and federal officials converged on the Lafayette Housing Authority this week.**

Chris Williams has not slowed down a bit since leaving the Lafayette City-Parish Council in early 2008. In fact, Williams is working harder than ever: He works full-time for the Department of Special Services at UL Lafayette, where he also teaches a political science class at night each semester.

He also spends extended hours during the week helping out at the family restaurant business, Country Cuisine on University Avenue, and - quite remarkably - puts in another 40 hours a week as a case manager for the federal Disaster Housing Assistance Program, a contract he has held since late 2007 with the Lafayette Housing Authority.

When Williams was initially awarded the contract to help people displaced by hurricanes Katrina and Rita, he was making $886.15 every two weeks, or $11.08 per hour. However, the value of the contract has been increasing incrementally since that time, with the approval of LHA Executive Director Walter Guillory, as more people were displaced by hurricanes Gustav and Ike. Williams now makes $37 per hour and gets a $600 monthly car allowance. That's $84,160 annually.

The contract similarly compensates broadcaster Porsha Evans, a close associate of Williams who is listed as Beatrice Wilson on LHA's documents.

At least in the case of Williams, the contract calls for him to work from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday, a physical impossibility for Williams due to his other work obligations. To work any hours outside of those, Williams and others had to get authorization from LHA Deputy Director Jonathan Carmouche, who is charged with supervising the DHAP. Carmouche says he granted that permission due to the growing number of people seeking assistance and the pressing need for some case managers to be out in the field helping people.

Guillory says the LHA has handed over all documentation on the troubled contracts, which came to public light as a result of an independent audit of the LHA, to its attorney, Daniel Stanford. Guillory says he prefers that all information about the matter come from Stanford at this time to ensure its accuracy.

Contacted Monday afternoon, Stanford was still sifting through the various contracts and renewals, saying he only found out about the program last week. The attorney, who did not know the total budget for the federal contract LHA administers (Guillory called it "a lot" in promising to get the information to Stanford so he could provide it to The Independent Weekly), says he gave Carmouche, whom he calls "the lead guy" on the contract, a list of questions and had not yet received all of the answers. He confirmed that all of the contractors are still working.

The attorney did say there are some data entries showing work being done by the case managers. "There is information to show [Williams] was providing services; Porsha was providing services," says Stanford, who is questioning how the contract workers were recruited, how their work was supervised and is also seeking answers about the general parameters and guidelines of the program for his client, the LHA. "How did they determine who to hire? Did they receive résumés? Did they put an ad in the paper?"

In the aftermath of the 2005 hurricanes, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development took over long-term rental assistance for tens of thousands of eligible displaced families from FEMA through the DHAP. In an interagency agreement between HUD and FEMA, DHAP claimed it would play a vital role in helping families rebuild their lives, get on a path to self-sufficiency and have the opportunity to return home. HUD has been using its national network of public housing agencies, like LHA, to provide the assistance and case management services for these families. Per the contract with the LHA, case managers like Williams are supposed to help the families with rent subsidies, security deposit assistance and utility deposits.

But an audit of the LHA for 2009, released to LHA June 30 of this year, raises a number of red flags about who is really benefitting from the federal government's program. There are enough irregularities in the contracts that both the Louisiana Legislative Auditor and HUD officials converged on the housing authority this week to dig deeper into the audit's findings.

In its report, independent auditor Allen, Green & Williamson, based in Monroe, notes the lack of oversight and monitoring associated with the contracts, the least of which is that the workers (there are five case managers and two support staff on the contract) do not even turn in time sheets or any other documentation for the assistance they are providing but are paid for 80 hours of work every two weeks. The audit questions $243,000 paid to vendors.

For the first time since the contract's inception in late 2007, the contractors are now turning in time sheets. Williams' bill for the period June 28 through July 25, 2010, is from Lafayette Training and Career Development Center, which lists its address as 715 NW Evangeline Thruway (a building that primarily houses the Orida Edwards Law Firm), but Williams requests that the check be mailed to P.O. Box 2215 in Lafayette.

Without exception and without any time noted for lunch or dinner, during these four weeks Williams claims to have worked: Monday-Thursday, 5:30 p.m. to 10 p.m.; Friday, 1 p.m. to 9 p.m.; Saturday, 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.; and Sunday 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. Carmouche believes Williams is working those hours, saying case managers are supplied with laptops that allow them to work remotely from any location. The program has an office in the Townhouse Office Plaza at the corner of Pinhook Road and Travis Street, Carmouche says, but Williams works out of the LHA's Macon Road facility when he needs office space or support.

Robert Carmouche, director of UL's Department of Special Services (no relation to Jonathan Carmouche), says Williams' hours at the university are 7:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Thursday with a lunch hour, and until 12:30 p.m. Friday. He is employed as a full-time counselor, splitting his time between the Talent Search and Upward Bound programs, says UL's Carmouche, working with high school students and staff to encourage them to pursue a rigorous curriculum in preparation for college.

Williams has been full-time at the university since August 2008, university officials confirm, and earns $41,000 a year. (His last month of employment with the Louisiana Community and Technical College System as director of corporate service was January 2008, the same month he left the Lafayette City-Parish Council.) Each semester Williams makes another $2,000 through University College teaching one of two political science classes, either black politics or state and local government. Combine that with his LHA contract and Williams' annual earnings, at least what we have been able to determine, total more than $127,000.

"Where is the work?" asks state Rep. Rickey Hardy, who defeated Williams in a 2007 runoff. "I was very surprised to know that he could be at two different places at the same time," adds Hardy, who has been tracking Williams' whereabouts since learning of the LHA contract from LHA Board Chairman Buddy Webb two weeks ago. Hardy maintains Williams was at the family restaurant during some of the time he claims to have been working on the disaster assistance program. It was Hardy who asked the legislative auditor to look into the matter.

Legislative Auditor Daryl Purpera did not return a message left at his office Monday, and a message left on Williams' voice mail at the university Monday also was not immediately returned.

Others on the DHAP contract are Charlie Esie, Linda Jefferson, Myra Parker, Gwen Angelle and Susie Senegal, LHA's Carmouche confirms.

Like Hardy, LHA Board Member Donald Fuselier, a former city prosecutor, also has more questions than answers. "You were supposed to be working 8 to 4:30. So who are you counseling at 9 o'clock at night, 10 o'clock?" asks Fuselier. "It doesn't look good."

LHA Chairman Webb says the contract problems came to light recently when Walter Guillory requested the board look into hiring a new auditor. Webb asked to see the most recent audit and was taken aback by the sloppy record keeping, how much the contractors were being paid and the hourly increases that had been approved. The audit pointed out other deficiencies in the LHA as well.

These disturbing findings come on the heels of a similar audit of the Opelousas Housing Authority, which Guillory also previously directed in a dual role with the LHA. That audit discovered $2,800 Guillory purchased with OHA funds for personal clothing, along with other questionable expenditures for musical instruments and several violations of state open meeting laws by the board.

"[Guillory] just did not have time to keep his fingers on [the LHA] like he should have," Fuselier says. "He'll have to clean it up. Some heads are going to have to roll."

Webb is confident the legislative auditor and HUD will resolve the issue, in part by looking into just how many people got assistance. "To me there would be phone records supporting how many phone calls they made and to whom. If they used their personal phone, they should have a phone record. There should be a worksheet," he says. "I don't know what their defense is going to be."

Webb, however, has thrown in the towel on the LHA. The 61-year-old banker who has served on the board for a decade tendered his resignation Friday, in part citing health issues. While he maintains he had been planning to rotate off the board soon, his exit was expedited by the audit's findings. "Part of me is extremely disappointed, and part of me is just extremely upset," Webb says. "I'm disappointed in Walter. I would have thought he would have a better handle on [the contracts] and better judgment."