When New Times put in a public-records request three weeks ago, the agency's deputy director immediately called a staff meeting and warned that no one was to talk to this newspaper. "We're talking about federal money here," the deputy director said, according to someone in attendance. "This is prison time!" (The deputy director also stressed to employees that the agency had done nothing wrong.)

The atmosphere became even more tense when a veteran employee was placed on paid leave last month and told he was "under investigation," without any reason given. Weeks later, within a few hours of New Times' public-records request, Janet Belfield, the agency's grant writer, was also placed on paid leave pending an "investigation."

Belfield is believed to have attempted to contact the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development with concerns about Lingner's spending. She did not respond to requests for comment.

Jereon Brown, a HUD spokesman, says that the issues raised by New Times should trigger scrutiny.

Because housing authorities get so much federal money, HUD is quick to order investigations when it receives credible information about misspending or policy violations, the spokesman says.

"Generally based on what you're telling me, it looks like a practice," he says. "Sometimes, the perception could be a reality.

"We go in when a concern like this is raised."


Like most housing authorities, the HAMC is something of a hybrid. It's not technically a government agency — but, because most of its funding comes from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, it might as well be.

Indeed, the HAMC used to be part of county government. At that point, it wasn't a stand-alone agency. It was simply the department that got Maricopa County's HUD funds and managed the county's Section 8 program and other low-income housing projects.

In 2004, however, the county spun off the department. Each county supervisor appoints a commissioner to oversee its operations, and a deputy county attorney signs off on procedures. But it's technically an independent agency, outside the control of County Manager David Smith.

New Times attempted to contact each of the agency's commissioners. Not one could be reached for comment.

It was the commissioners who chose Lingner. Two years ago, the agency's director of five years left the HAMC for a similar job in Alabama. The open position quickly drew 54 applicants.

And that's why it was so strange when the commissioners ultimately chose a candidate who didn't even meet their agency's minimum qualifications.

As New Times reported at the time, the HAMC said it wanted a candidate with seven years of administrative experience, a bachelor's degree, financial acumen, and an "apolitical" nature.

Somehow, it ended up choosing a high school graduate whose only administrative experience was supervising a staff of four while a city councilman. And it wasn't just that Doug Lingner had no college education, little experience "administrating," or even that his personal finances were perpetually a mess. It was that he seemed about as political as it gets.

The main argument for his hiring seemed to be that Lingner needed a job — and that the developers who run this town were pulling for him.

On the city council, Lingner had been the developer's go-to guy. But he didn't start that way. When he first ran, he was a nobody: a "citizen activist" ranting about illegal immigration at City Hall and unknown to the developers who finance most council races. He won his first race — taking on the Hispanic incumbent — with a budget of just $9,000.

Twelve years after he was first elected, that race would take on near-mythic proportions. The councilman would tell the Arizona Republic that he took a job delivering lost luggage at night to make time for campaigning. "He would campaign all day, take a nap, then wake up and deliver people their bags from 10 p.m. to 4 a.m.," the Republic dutifully noted.

Documents from the time, however, tell a different story. According to the financial-disclosure forms that Lingner filed with the city clerk during his first campaign, in 1994, his only source of income was his wife's pharmacy job — and his own long-term disability pay. On the form, he reported his occupation as "domestic engineer."

The Lingners' finances at the time were tenuous, at best. They'd already filed for bankruptcy, twice, according to court records. Just two years earlier, they'd lost their home to foreclosure, putting the family of four into a Laveen apartment.

Once elected, Lingner proved to be nothing if not a canny politician. The former tile setter insisted on wearing Hawaiian shirts to city meetings, even as the other guys showed up in business attire. The message was clear: He was the populist in a sea of suits.

And Lingner pulled off his populist pose even as he was increasingly becoming one of the suits.

Almost from the moment of his first electoral victory, he began pulling in big campaign contributions from developers. "When I ran for the city council in 1994, nobody returned Doug Lingner's phone call," Lingner himself told New Times. "Once I got elected, suddenly I had 5,000 friends."

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13 comments
Marcy
Marcy

""We need to find a way to make housing more affordable to more people.""

Utter nonsense. Housing is already dirt cheap.

What we need to do is find a way to make PEOPLE more responsible.

The reason most people spend decades in public housing is because they've been spending their entire life making poor choices, all at public expense. Stop enabling people.

JJ
JJ

Ellman is up to his neck in the Sheriff's Command Association. I wonder if there is a connection Fenske missed between HAMC and Arpaio's crappy real estate empire? Keep digging, Sarah.

As far as Lingner goes, he will be having some quality times with a HUD OIG agent very soon. Look for charges including Theft of Honest Services and Obstruction.

Bye, Doug.

rick lingner
rick lingner

what goes around comes around , i hope that your brother sees this as well. you never got anything for your dads well so you have to go after the taxes payers money.

Carlos
Carlos

With all of the corruption going on in state, local and federal government this is the best you could come up with? The money he doled to his son and relatives is unethical but it really is just chump change. Why is the government even involved with housing in the first place? The last time I read the constitution there was no amendment guaranteeing the right to free or subsidized housing. I've read several of your articles before Ms. Fenske and this one is not your best work. That's allright we all have bad days. Why not take a look at the billions of dollars the governmnent is funneling nationally and the millions of dollars locally that is being funneled to developers, bankers, the community groups, and many other sundry agencies, quasi-agencies, private public partnerships. etc. That's how you'll win your Pulitzer.

Stacy
Stacy

Many of those guys are contributors to Arapio's campaigns .. check it out.

James Bailey
James Bailey

Sarah, you should follow up on Casa de Paz I & II (formerly the Roeser apartments at 18th St. & Roeser). They've been HORRIBLY mismanaged for over a year now and I'm guessing some shenanigans have been pulled regarding that project. 100s of people have lost their homes, the mgmnt is not fixing or repairing existing resident's apartments (my friend lives with a huge hole in the roof and ceiling due to a malfunctioning Swamp Cooler!) and the whole apartment complex is slated to be demolished with the existing tenants (all Section 8) being evicted with no place to go!!!

This place has in the past been used by religious types to ShowBoat their concern for the poor so I'm guessing there's some one that's also going to profit handsomely by demoslishing them and buildling some new project with stimulus money.

A lot of my band members (including Michael Jackson's uncle) and other musicians are living under Section 8 housing and I'm concerned about their welfare.

Thank you for your reportage!

BTW - I helped start New Times by passing out copies of the first issue(s) during the Vietnam Era.

Me
Me

How can anyone defend what this economic terrorist is doing. Then again this is Maricopa County. These defenders of Lingner are probably the same ones that defend Sheriff You-Know-Who. The guy is a crook. You don't need a personal vendetta to see that!!

TommyC
TommyC

It sure seems odd that some of you readers are trying to make this a 'personal' thing with Ms. Fenske. She wrote a story about something that seems to be a problem by a quasi-governmental agency, funded by taxpayer monies.

From her report it seems to me there needs to be a thorough investigation and resulting action taken.

I don't know the guy in this story. So, it's not personal for me. But it appears he is breaking laws and should be charged for those violations, and removed from office.

Now, how do you make my feelings seem personal?

Roger
Roger

I'm all about saving my taxes but how much money was this about? A really hard read given Fenske goes back and forth over 15 years and talks about everything from his neighborhood activism to he wears Hawaiian shirts instead of suits and she really seems to hate the guy. This is personal with her!

BTW: Don't businesses have to submit bids to do work for government $s? Fenske even says that Lingner wanted to give the brother time to finish his bid.

Fire the kid, hire the Mom (if she's qualified) and get back to work Doug!

Mike
Mike

Who do you have to know to get a job at HAMC? Apparently Doug Lingner! Doug, I think I may be your 4th cousin on your moms side, any chance of you hooking me up with a job? Or perhaps I could do some "volunteer" work.

Bob
Bob

Hey Fenske

It sounds like any employee who photo copies documents right before they get fired, might have know they were deserving of it. I wouldn't trust that kind of employee either. And what did Lingner do to you, it sounds like a personal hatred to bring his personal finances from 20 years ago into it. Some people have hard times...

Hope you always stay flush or some reporter might beat you down...

TommyC
TommyC

"The matter is under investigation, he says."

Sarah, does this sound familiar?

Just like the MCSO shurf, if anyone crosses the guy, they become a target of an investigation.

Just like the MCSO shurf, if he is asked a hard question and any documents are requested, "the matter is under investigation".

Where do you suppose Lingner learned this little trick? I wonder what his relationship with the MCSO shurf has been?

SO MANY parallels can be drawn from your report to those known to have occurred with MCSO.

Spank this bitch, Sarah. He apparently deserves it.

 
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