By Clay Thorp and Jennifer Johnson
Joe Guillory says he’s in a battle to save the less fortunate in Port Arthur from a housing authority that’s immovably corrupt.
A few months after cooperating with a federal audit that showed the Port Arthur Housing Authority (PAHA) mismanaged, lost or misused more than $5.9 million in federal money, the 10-year director of property services says he was harassed and finally terminated from the job he loved.
“When you see the living conditions of people who have nowhere else to turn, and then you see (management) living high on the money that was intended for these people,” Guillory said, “it’s just wrong.”
The audit is scathing.
Among the main charges in the audit conducted by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Office of the Inspector General was a complete lack of responsible bookkeeping to track the millions of dollars allotted for the poor of Port Arthur.
An excerpt from the audit gives more detail:
“The Authority also improperly administered its public housing Capital Fund program and drew down $469,359 in unused funds that it had not expended. These conditions occurred because management had no clear plan for how it would spend its capital funds. In addition, management and the Authority’s attorneys imposed a scope limitation on the audit, which limited our ability to completely assess the Authority’s operations.
“As a result of these conditions, the Authority incurred questioned costs of more than $5.9 million and was in violation of its annual contributions contract. Also, the Authority’s lack of controls put it at substantial risk for fraud, errors and financial misstatements.”
As a result of his ouster, Guillory and PAHA have lawyered up for what could be a contentious court battle.
After Guillory addressed the commissioners at their weekly meeting Monday, Sept. 24, under the advice of attorney C. Lynn Daughrity, the board quickly moved to executive session out of earshot of reporters and away from the public eye.
“This stinks of a cover up,” said Cade Bernsen, Guillory’s attorney. “It’s absolutely ridiculous.”
The newest PAHA board commissioner, Farhana Swati, said she first heard of Guillory’s claims during a June board meeting when Guillory alleged he was wrongfully terminated for “whistle-blowing.”
Before he was fired in April, Guillory says he was accused of not completing a report.
“I asked him (PAHA executive director Seledonio Quesada) to give me documentation of reports that I did not do, according to him,” Guillory said. “He would not give me an answer; would not give me a report. His word is ‘My decision is final.’ To this day I have not been given an answer by anyone.”
Quesada did not immediately return calls from The Examiner seeking comment.
Swati said she was intrigued by the claim in light of the housing authority’s most recent audit and was interested to learn more about Guillory’s allegations. At the June meeting, the board appointed commissioners Clonie Ambrose and Bart Bragg to form a “fact finding” committee tasked with reviewing Guillory’s file and, if need be, talking with the ex-employee.
Swati said it wasn’t until a September letter from Guillory’s attorney that she heard of the committee again.
“Never was there a report. All they said was no action needed to be taken,” Swati told The Examiner in the days after Monday’s meeting. “Obviously, they didn’t think the other board members were intelligent enough to ask questions.”
After three months of waiting, Swati said she wants to see a report.
“They said they never gave a written report,” she said. “There’s no point of reviewing someone’s file and never reporting your findings.”
Swati questioned Ambrose and Bragg as to their review multiple times during Monday’s meeting, only to be answered by blank stares.
“Finally, (Daughrity) said we need to talk about it in closed session,” she said. “I don’t know why, if that’s the case, they didn’t just say that in the beginning.”Swati said Ambrose alleges he gave a verbal report to the board chairman and Quesada.
“I don’t understand why they said that,” Swati said, adding that she felt “left out” when it came to the review. “I felt disrespected.”
Swati plans on requesting an executive session to discuss the issue at the next regularly scheduled meeting, “if not earlier,” she said.
Bernsen said his client isn’t giving up on being reinstated at PAHA and said the lack of communication between Swati and the other board members is proof there is a cover-up.
“You can see Commissioner Swati is upset about it because she understands what’s going on,” he said.
Guillory, who has done volunteer work for his church since his dismissal, said he’s ready for a court battle if PAHA does not reinstate him, adding that only in a court of law will the truth behind PAHA’s dealings come out.
“This is just the tip of the iceberg. There’s many more, millions more dollars that haven’t been uncovered yet they have wasted,” he said, “because the audit report only covered one year.”
Guillory said, “If they dig deeper than one year, they’re gonna find millions more.”