Alameda County prosecutors are expected to issue an arrest warrant this week for a former Oakland Housing Authority clerk who allegedly ran a bribes-for-housing scam. The ex-clerk, Carolyn Wilson, fled the state after being confronted by her bosses last December about procedural irregularities. Wilson's arrest, however, won't resolve all the problems she allegedly caused: Most of the 34 tenants she placed at the Lockwood Gardens project in East Oakland last year are fighting the housing authority's efforts to evict them.
At first blush, it would seem like an open-and-shut case for housing authority lawyers, who allege that the tenants each paid Wilson up to $1,000 cash to skip the years-long waiting list and get into public housing without any background checks. But here's the rub: These "illegitimate" tenants received real leases signed by housing authority managers i.e. Wilson's higher-ups and paid rent to the housing authority.
So, how is it that public-housing managers signed off on leases for tenants the authority's lawyers say weren't on the waiting list and hadn't been screened? Marc Janowitz, an East Bay Community Law Center attorney who represents twelve of the tenants facing eviction, blames bureaucratic incompetence which he says his clients shouldn't be held responsible for.
The lawyer says he's deposed three housing managers so far. They all complained of having overwhelming workloads that didn't allow them to personally double-check everything, and said they had to rely on clerical staff like Wilson. "For them to just say 'I was duped' is to completely abdicate their responsibility as supervisors and managers in the organization," Janowitz says.
If managers had been "doing their job," as Janowitz put it, one wonders if they'd have caught Wilson sooner. Robert Salinas, an Oakland lawyer representing nine of the tenants, wonders whether the alleged corruption went no further than Wilson. "We are focusing on whether there was an accomplice at a higher level," he says. As it turned out, her bosses got wise to her purely by accident.
Wilson, it appears, began placing tenants as far back as late August, but didn't start in earnest until last October. According to a search warrant affidavit filed in court in May by housing authority investigator Jerrold Coats, tenant hopefuls would give Wilson cash, and either she or a friend her clients knew only as Ms. Wood would give them the keys to their new apartment.
Attorneys for the tenants insist their clients believed they were paying Wilson legit security deposits, but the warrant suggests a few of the renters knew, or should have known, that the deal was fishy. One homeless woman told investigators she heard by "word of mouth" that people could get into public housing by paying someone "under the table." An employee at an East Oakland homeless shelter later helped that woman arrange to pay Wilson, the warrant alleges. In other instances, prospective tenants allegedly met with Wilson or Ms. Wood at BART, a church, or at Taco Bell not at the housing authority, in other words to hand over the cash or money orders.
On December 5, a legitimate public-housing applicant named Labrinina McDougle inadvertently blew the lid off Wilson's alleged operation. McDougle showed up at the agency's downtown office asking about the status of her application. When a housing clerk entered her client number, someone else's name came up. The clerk reported the oddity to her boss, sparking an internal investigation, which revealed that Wilson, whose duties included data entry, had overwritten McDougle's name with that of someone who allegedly had paid her off. Further audits of the system showed that Wilson had altered tenant data in 34 instances.
David Lipsetz, an OHA spokesman, says the agency is checking to make sure everyone followed proper procedures. He's quick to add that nothing like this has ever happened in the housing authority's history: "I would note that from the first indication of fraud, OHA has made an effort to document the clerk's activities and build a strong case, so that the DA will have all the information necessary to pursue charges."
Dellums' Power Bid
There was very little news at Ron Dellums' "news" conference last week, except for this juicy bit, which was largely ignored by the media: The mayor-elect revealed that he wants veto power. The subtext was clear: Dellums wants a bigger club to wield over a city council he doesn't control yet. Five of the eight current councilmembers endorsed his rival, council generalissimo Ignacio De La Fuente.
Later the same day, De La Fuente told reporters he wouldn't support veto power for the mayor. The subtext of his opposition was clear: He wants to make sure Dellums will have to go through him if he wants to get anything done with the council.
In an interview last week, De La Fuente told Feeder he wants to remain council president when his term expires come January. In order to retain the post, he'll need the support of four other councilmembers.
Job number one for Nacho will be getting ally Pat Kernighan reelected against challenger Aimee Allison, who's expected to get help from Dellums. But there are other variables. Insiders have speculated that one of De La Fuente's allies will go Iago on him and challenge him for the presidency. Henry Chang does as he's told, but what about Jean Quan, Larry Reid, and Jane Brunner?
Quan tells Feeder she doesn't think the title is on the cards for her. She also said De La Fuente's nuts-and-bolts style would complement Dellums' big-vision approach. Reid, meanwhile, says he'll back De La Fuente if he wants the job again.
That leaves Brunner. In contrast to Quan and Reid, she didn't immediately defer to el presidente: "I haven't thought about it. ... We'll see where we are in five months."
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