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Tags: HUD

Administrator for HUD Grant Program Traded Apartment for Sex



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Your tax dollars at work: The Department of Housing and Urban Development provides grants to programs like Project Reconnect “to help the formerly incarcerated find housing, counseling and jobs once they’re released.” At least, that’s the way it’s designed.

And then sometimes the money gets used like this:

From 2012 until last year, Hart worked for the city’s Housing Department as a caseworker for Project Reconnect, which uses federal dollars to help the formerly incarcerated find housing, counseling and jobs once they’re released. Problem was, Lawrence Hart helped someone who wasn’t even remotely qualified for the program get a Carrollton apartment at a deep discount using U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development dollars: Lawrence Hart. He got the place by using someone else’s name on the application; court docs refer only to a “Person A.”

That was bad enough. But Hart also admitted to federal prosecutors earlier this year that he helped a woman, known only as Person B, get an apartment through Project Reconnect. Here’s how he did it, according to court records: “Hart propositioned her for sex and expedited Person B being placed in an apartment because she agreed to have sex with Hart.” He kicked her out in January 2013, only after the woman broke up with him.

The good news that former caseworker will spend 15 months behind bars, according to the U.S. Attorney’s office, and has also been ordered to pay back $8,619.

Tags: HUD , Fraud , Government Waste

HUD IG: No, This Isn’t a ‘Full-Scale Investigation’ into Christie



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Remember this blockbuster news from Representative Frank Pallone (D., N.J.), that the inspector general of HUD was investigating Chris Christie for his “Stronger Than the Storm” ads? “On Sunday, Pallone told CNN that the inspector general conducted a preliminary review and concluded there was enough evidence to launch a full-scale investigation into the state’s use of federal funds.”

The only problem is that it’s not true, according to a statement from HUD’s inspector general issued late yesterday:

On August 8, 2013, this office received a request from Congressman Frank Pallone Jr., regarding the State of New Jersey’s Post-Hurricane Sandy Community Development Block Grant Disaster Recovery Action Plan. Audits of Federal expenditures of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, including disaster-related activities, are something that this office does routinely. The Department granted a waiver to allow the State to use $25 million of its award on a marketing campaign to promote the Jersey Shore and encourage tourism. An audit was initiated in September 2013 to examine whether the State administered its Tourism Marketing Program in accordance with applicable departmental and Federal requirements. This is an audit and not an investigation of the procurement process. We expect to issue our audit report expeditiously. We will have no further comment until the audit report is issued.

A central point of Pallone’s accusation is that the Christie administration picked one advertising agency over another because one would feature the governor in the tourism ads, and the other didn’t. But that accusation doesn’t appear to hold up, at least according to the written proposal for the ads:

“Given widely inaccurate reporting on Stronger than the Storm, we welcome the Inspector General’s report,” the firm shot back in a statement. “It will show that MWW’s proposal included no mention or suggestion of using the governor in the paid advertising campaign. The decision to include the governor was arrived at after the contract was awarded, based on timing, availability, and federal expenditure rules.”

Springsteen and Bon Jovi were on tour and the deadline was tight, among other reasons, so the public relations firm turned to the Republican governor after winning the bid, according to Josh Zeitz, a senior vice president at MWW.

And Christie was not included in a list of New Jersey “icons” featured in the 205-page ad proposal from MWW, according to a copy reviewed by POLITICO.

CNN, which originally reported Pallone’s accusation, noted the HUD IG’s clarification that it was not investigating the procurement process . . . in the eleventh paragraph of its story.

Tags: Chris Christie , HUD , Frank Pallone

Christie Administration: Oh, by the Way, HUD Took Seven Weeks to Respond to Our Request on Sandy Aid



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Yesterday, Representative Frank Pallone (D., N.J.) announced that the inspector general of the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development would be launching a “full investigation” of how the administration of Chris Christie used federal disaster-relief funds, four and a half months after Pallone complained about tourism-promotion commercials that featured Christie.

Today, in advance of Christie’s State of the State address, the governor’s office announced it is dedicating an additional $145 million of existing federal recovery funds to two Sandy housing recovery programs. The release says the transfer of funds will allow “1,000 Sandy-impacted homeowners to move off of the Reconstruction, Rehabilitation, Elevation, and Mitigation (RREM) Program waitlist and more than 1,200 storm-affected families to move off of the Homeowner Resettlement waitlist.”

Deep in the press release is this point:

In light of the significant waiting list for housing recovery programs and an analysis of the State’s business and housing recovery needs, the Christie Administration sought and received the federal government’s approval to transfer $160 million of the federal Sandy recovery funds designated for Grants and Forgivable Loans to Small Businesses to the above-named programs.

After a 14-day public comment period, the Christie Administration submitted the substantial amendment on November 22, 2013 to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) for its review. HUD approved the amendment today. [bold mine]

The New Jersey Disaster Recovery Action Plan, which was approved April 29, 2013, details how the State is distributing the $1,829,520,000 in federal Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) Disaster Recovery funds to help homeowners, renters, businesses and communities impacted by Sandy.

Do you detect a certain tone in the Christie administration’s mention that they submitted the proposal back in late November, and are only getting approval today, seven weeks later? As if they might have a complaint themselves with HUD, and how quickly they’re responding to their requests regarding this aid?

Part of Pallone’s complaint from yesterday: “Even today we have a lot of people in my district and throughout the state who still have not received the funding to help restore or rebuild their home.”

Housing and Urban Development Secretary Shaun Donovan and Christie discussing Hurricane Sandy recovery efforts, at the Governor’s Office in Newark, N.J., Nov. 16, 2012.

Tags: Chris Christie , HUD

Christie’s Spokesman: ‘Stronger Than the Storm’ Approved by Obama Administration



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Governor Chris Christie’s deputy communications director, Colin Reed, issues a statement about the “Stronger Than the Storm” campaign that . . . er, cites the Campaign Spot:

Good Morning –

If you’re reporting on the “conveniently-timed announcement” from Congressman Pallone this morning, please see the following on-the-record response from me:

“The Stronger Than The Storm campaign was just one part of the first action plan approved by the Obama Administration and developed with the goal of effectively communicating that the Jersey Shore was open for business during the first summer after Sandy. Federal agency reviews are routine and standard operating procedure with all federally allocated resources to ensure that funds are distributed fairly. We’re confident that any review will show that the ads were a key part in helping New Jersey get back on its feet after being struck by the worst storm in state history.”

Attached for your background is the relevant section of the Action Plan showing what the Obama Administration approved in connection with the tourism marketing campaign.

Further, the effectiveness of the ad campaign has already been praised by the Obama Administration at a Senate hearing last November:

In November 2013, HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan Said These Campaigns “Are Effective In Growing Economic Development In Those Areas And Therefore They Actually Reduce The Cost Of Recovery To The Federal Government”

SECRETARY SHAUN DONOVAN: “. . . There has been an effort in a number of states, not just in Sandy, but historically as well in many, many prior storms to encourage economic development and we did see a small amount of CDBG money that was used for an economic development campaign to encourage people back to the beaches. . . . The evidence that we have seen is that those campaigns are effective in growing economic development in those areas and therefore they actually reduce the cost of recovery to the federal government. . . . The Community Development Block Grant is a very flexible program. This is clearly within the legal boundaries of what Congress has determined the program can be used for and it was demonstrated to us that this could be an effective tool and actually lower the cost to the federal government.” (Senate Homeland Security & Government Affairs Subcommittee Hearing on Hurricane Sandy, 11/6/13)

New Jersey Voters And Business Leaders Also Praised The Ad Campaign

63 Percent Of New Jerseyans Believe It Is Appropriate For The Governor To Appear In The Stronger Than The Storm Ads. (Monmouth University Poll, 8/21/13)

Robert Hilton, Executive Director Of The Jersey Shore Convention & Visitors Bureau: “It’s good that we have the campaign. We have a message and it’s strong, and people will see that we’re open for business after Sandy despite what they’ve believed,” said Hilton, who added that featuring Christie will help draw tourists because “his popularity is going to help us.” (Bob Jordan, “N.J. governor gets star billing in state’s tourism ads,” Asbury Park Press, 5/20/13)

The Associated Press: “Tourism promoters say the state’s advertising campaign to let people know the Jersey shore was open for business this year was good. . . . Numerous tourism officials all said they liked New Jersey’s ‘Stronger Than The Storm’ ads, featuring Gov. Chris Christie. . . . The tourism promoters did not blame the state for starting the ads too late. But they did say a new campaign needs to be rolled out as soon as possible.” (Wayne Parry, “Marketers: NJ post-Sandy ads good but too late,” Associated Press, 12/12/13)

Finally, Jim Geraghty over at NRO notes the interesting timing of this whole incident:

Could somebody please mention this to that ninny who spent last week insisting I was on a crusade to destroy Christie on behalf of Ted Cruz?

UPDATE: Representative Frank Pallone responds:

Pallone dismissed the assertions of a Christie spokesman that the announcement about the inquiry was “conveniently-timed,” an apparent reference to the revelations that one of the governor’s top aides was involved in a conspiracy to close lanes leading to the George Washington Bridge for what appears to have been political purposes. The congressman said he was informed of the audit in recent days and said there was “no correlation” between the two subjects.

To clarify, the HUD inspector general is asked to investigate back in August . . . four months pass . . . the HUD IG informs Pallone that the investigation will go forward “in recent days” as the bridge controversy dominates national news, and Pallone concludes that means there’s “no correlation”?

Tags: Chris Christie , HUD , Obama Administration

A Conveniently Timed Announcement from HUD About Christie



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The inspector general of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development leaks word of investigations with amazingly convenient timing.

May 2013: “New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and his family are starring in television commercials that are part of a publicly funded $25 million tourism campaign to encourage people to visit the Jersey Shore after Superstorm Sandy, but Democrats say they are simply taxpayer-funded campaign ads.”

You can see one of the ads featuring Christie here:

August 2013: Rep. Frank Pallone, a Democrat who ran for Senate last year, calls for “an investigation into the contract and bidding process used by Governor Chris Christie for the marketing campaign to promote the Jersey Shore and encourage tourism.”

The public hears little about any investigation for a long while. In November, Senator Rand Paul (R., Ky.) took a jab at the ads in a Senate hearing, declaring, “when people who are trying to do good and trying to use taxpayer dollars wisely they are offended to see our money spent on political ads. You know that’s just offensive.”

Last week: Christie gets embroiled in the controversy over the closing of access lanes to the bridge.

Yesterday: “Pallone told CNN that the inspector general conducted a preliminary review of the spending and concluded that there was enough evidence to launch a full-scale investigation into the state’s use of federal funds. The audit will take several months, and the findings will be issued in an official report, he said. Pallone, a 27-year veteran of the House and vocal Christie critic, said this is not about politics.”

Amazing that the inspector general’s investigation leaks now, generating the headline “Feds investigating Christie’s use of Sandy relief funds” when the governor is at his lowest point, no?

UPDATE: Louise Mensch reminds us of the “California: Find Yourself Here” ads, featuring then-governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, and the tourism-promotion video produced by the U.S. State Department in May 2012 that featured portions of a speech by President Obama:

ANOTHER UPDATE: Louise Mensch finds another classic of the genre, from one of Christie’s predecessors:

One can argue that a governor or other elected official appearing in tourism ads represents a form of backdoor political advertising for incumbents, and ought to be discouraged as an unfair or unwise use of taxpayer dollars. But you can’t argue that Christie’s use is uniquely scandalous, and it seems a little convenient for an administration’s inspector general to suddenly treat it as potentially criminal now.

Tags: Chris Christie , HUD

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