Broward News

HUD Sucker Proxy: Deerfield Officials Reveal Past Violations in Housing Program

Looks like Deerfield Beach forgot to tell its taxpaying citizens that in early 2009, it paid nearly $100,000 to the feds to make up for its misuse of public housing dollars. In fact, those city officials nearly forgot to mention this to the forensic auditing firm specifically investigating how Deerfield Beach allocated state and federal tax dollars.

That forensic auditor, Michael Kessler, had nearly wrapped up his investigation when on Friday afternoon he received a fax that showed that Deerfield Beach had been awarding grant money to clients who were not eligible to receive it and that the city paid $95,000 out of its general fund to reimburse the Department of Housing and Urban Development.

In an email to the Deerfield Beach city manager and city attorney, Kessler sounds incredulous about getting such important information so late in the game:

I am shocked that no one in [the city's Community Development Department] made it available to me before [Friday]," he rages.
As Kessler points out, this seems like a case of selective memory rather than simple forgetfulness.

"Were they waiting until it was too late to look into some of the items, since the audit is just about to be wrapped up?"
Juice has gotten access to the same material that Kessler got, which shows correspondence between HUD officials and the City of Deerfield Beach. The feds found that city officials failed to check whether the recipients of the grant money were qualified to get it. They found that those officials did not keep complete records. And in at least one case, HUD discovered that Deerfield Beach had awarded funds to an organization run by a public official's family in violation of rules forbidding conflicts of interest.

Those are the sorts of "mistakes" that can serve a corrupt purpose. Incredibly, HUD accepted the city's explanation at face value, that Deerfield officials were simply naive about how to administer these public programs. That's why it could be swept under the rug thanks to a promise to pay back HUD and to be more careful in the following year.

But that still doesn't explain why this subject never came up at a public meeting. Nor does it explain why the officials who mismanaged the city's housing dollars -- at considerable expense to taxpayers -- were allowed to stay in their positions.

Then again, remember who was running Deerfield Beach at that time. In January 2009, which is when the city cut its $95,000 reimbursement check to HUD, the city manager was Mike Mahaney (who would be fired exactly a year later). And at that time, Mayor Al Capellini was suspended (for unrelated corruption charges), meaning that the acting mayor was Sylvia Poitier.

Of course, Poitier has been pulled into the investigation based on her own family ties to organizations that have received money through the city's housing programs. So we can understand why she may not have been eager to blow a whistle.

Stay tuned. On April 20, Kessler's due to pay a visit to the Deerfield Beach Commission, where he'll distribute his report. Should be a doozy.