By Amy Silverman
By Olivia LaVecchia
By Monica Alonzo and Stephen Lemons
By Chris Parker
By Michael Lacey
By Weston Phippen
"Whoever is interested, as long as they have a business license, they'll be included on every solicitation for bids," Chao says. Already, a half-dozen new firms have applied.
At their meeting last week, housing authority commissioners were clearly blindsided by the scope of problems identified by HUD.
Rick Cole has been chair of the housing authority ever since it was spun off from county government in 2004. He's recently come under scrutiny for his ties to the developers and contractors chosen for stimulus work during Lingner's tenure, and he announced to the board Tuesday that he won't be reapplying for his seat when his term expires in June.
He seemed shaken by the blistering report from HUD.
"We've been having all these audits," he pleaded to the commissioners. "They're telling us we're compliant." In a brief break during the four-hour meeting, he approached HUD's Gallegos to reiterate that point. (The housing authority's last audit from HUD's Office of Inspector General was in 2005, records show.)
But it surely wasn't just the report from HUD, or the cancellation of the stimulus contracts, that had the board in a sour mood last week.
In March, the housing authority hired Kate Baker, an attorney with Green & Baker, to look into the allegations in my story. Baker issued her report to the board on April 8.
Baker writes that she made a conscious decision to limit the scope of her review to allegations regarding nepotism.
That proved to be bad enough. Baker's report, which confirms the allegations in my February story, is devastating.
In her report, Baker identified four instances in Lingner's brief tenure where he was directly involved with the hiring of his relatives:
• Lingner hired his son, Brandon, and nephew Joshua Long to clear the agency's parking lot after a storm. At least one employee believed that Lingner didn't bother to get any other bids until after the work had already been done.
• Lingner hired his brother, Dwayne, to repair a carport at the agency's main offices on North Seventh Street.
• Dwayne Lingner was also hired to work on some awnings, even though he didn't have the necessary contractor's license.
• Lingner's son, Brandon, then 17, was hired as an unpaid intern last summer at Lingner's direction. Later, he was put on the payroll as a temporary employee at Lingner's behest.
Baker found Brandon Lingner's hire as a temp particularly problematic. To keep Brandon's employment off the books, Baker found, Lingner's staff schemed to have him hired through a temp agency, even though it cost the housing authority more money.
Indeed, in November 2009, Lingner informed his human resources director, Laura Schreiber, that Brandon should be hired. But Schreiber was concerned that, because he was Lingner's son, the agency's nepotism policy forbade the housing authority from hiring him as a "regular" employee.
Instead of shutting down the idea, however, Schreiber found a way to make it work. The agency sometimes hires temporary workers through Goodwill — why not have them hire Brandon, then assign him to the housing authority? Schreiber e-mailed Goodwill with the plan.
But that proved expensive. Brandon was paid $10 an hour, but Goodwill gets a markup for any employees it supplies, which apparently raised Brandon's cost to $14 an hour. On top of that, Brandon apparently earned overtime, even though that's unusual for agency employees. In some cases, raised his fee, with Goodwill's surcharge, to $21 an hour.
In his last week alone, Brandon Lingner reported working a staggering 36 hours of overtime, on top of his 40-hour workweek, Baker found. Brandon Lingner apparently logged the time while helping move furniture into his father's new office.
Ben Chao, the neighborhood stabilization director, refused to sign off on those hours, since he knew the work wasn't for his program. At that point, Baker writes, Doug Lingner signed for it personally.
The lack of adherence to proper procedure on Lingner's part is staggering — as were his excuses when Baker confronted him.
As Baker writes, Lingner repeatedly tried to blame his subordinates. He claimed that it was Chao who urged him to hire his son. ("This needs to happen," Lingner claims that Chao told him.) Lingner accused the agency's grant writer, Janet Belfield, of suggesting Lingner hire his brother "as a way to set Lingner up." Finally, Lingner claimed he signed his own son's time sheet inadvertently, "in a stack of other documents."
But his excuses make no sense, as Baker writes. Again and again, everyone else in the agency contradicted him, and she found the others more credible.
In his interview with Baker, Chao said he was uncomfortable with Brandon Lingner's volunteer job because so many people were asking questions about it. Chao was even more concerned by the paid position, to the point that he intervened with the county and ultimately got it stopped in January.
Meanwhile, the housing authority's human resources director, Schreiber, said that she took Brandon's time sheet directly, and pointedly, to Lingner. She knew it was unusual because Chao had refused to sign off on it.
Finally, the other person Lingner tried to blame, Belfield, was also uncomfortable with his nepotism, as several employees would attest. In fact, when Schreiber got an anonymous packet containing the agency's conflict-of-interest policy last September, she showed it to Lingner and warned him that it was probably from Belfield.
I completely agree that Doug Linger should never have gotten severance and should have instead been brought up on criminal charges. He pillfered the housing agency and walked around like a king in his little kingdom while he was doing it. People don't understand exactly how miserable he made everyone when he was director. He didn't just take money from the housing agency, he also took the self-respect from those employees who did stand up to him. They were put on admin leave, ridiculed, threatened, and their reputations were shredded all in the name of Lingner's greed. The cocky little bany rooster may appear to be gone, but the rumor is that he visits regularly. I guess it's true that criminals always return to the scene of their crimes. Here's hoping for justice...or at the very least, an end to the mayham.
Three months severence??? He should be charged with stealing, fraud,etc. And he could not have done all he did without the board being aware. How did he really get hired? Much more investigation is needed to get to the roots of obvious curruption in this agency
What is disturbing is the seemingly lack of interest in the part of the Board and of the interim Director, Karen Mofford, to Laura Schreiber's role in Brandon Lingner's hiring through Goodwill. If staff is disciplined without any basis, then how can Schreiber be allowed to continue to work as HR Director when her credibility and trustworthiness are non existent? Her actions were damaging to the Agency and, ultimately, contributed to Doug Lingner's downfall. A message to Mofford - for once, do the right thing and fire Schreiber.
Wizard, I am expecting that if HUD conducts a complete and comprehensive examination of the Phoenix shop they will find fault with Lingner, as well as others still employed there, or as members of the board.
Lingner could not have been getting away with abuses without the collusion of others, voluntarily or not. I'm sure there is plenty of singing happening now, and it ain't from the choir pit.
Sarah, another very accurate and comprehensive piece. Great tenacity. Too bad this story has been overshadowed by SB1070 and the county attorney changes. Yes, the are important, but from what I can tell in your reporting, Lingner is nothing more than a junior member of MCSO command. He learned well from the Flaccid Fool and appears to have used many of the same 'processes' to his advantage. Fortunately, he didn't have the layers of protection that MCSO affords the Flaccid Fool.
Again, nicely done.