Segment | Economy

Government Gone Wild: Update

TRANSCRIPT: Val Zavala: One billion dollars a year. That's the budget for the Los Angeles Housing Authority — money to provide clean, safe housing for the city's less fortunate. But for almost a year, SoCal Connected has been investigating how your tax money is being spent. [See the first parts here and here.]

Our reporting has exposed lavish spending, disregard for government rules, and little or no oversight. Now people are angry, and L.A. city officials are finally promising action. Correspondent Laurel Erickson continues our exclusive story.

Dennis Zine: It just, it gets the blood boiling to say, “How did someone get away with this?”

Tony Cardenas: They cannot walk away and say "I don’t know."

Wendy Greuel: It seem like there was no one in charge.

Laurel Erickson: That's the firestorm Ken Simmons was facing when he suddenly called it quits as HACLA’s interim CEO on Thursday.

Simmons’ problems really heated up after our story last week on the Housing Authority of the City of Los Angeles, or HACLA.

We confronted executives who spent the public's money on everything from pink elephants to prime rib.

Erickson [to Ken Simmons, who is walking away]: Has anything changed?

Eric Brown [to Erickson]: You’ll have to wait till afterwards.

Ken Simmons [to Erickson]: We’re not going to be doing the interview.

Patrice McConnell [to Erickson]: No comment.

Erickson: Interim CEO Ken Simmons defended the spending and made it clear it doesn't happen now that he's in charge.

Erickson [interviewing Simmons]: As the boss right now, how do you explain that kind of expenditure to taxpayers?

Simmons: My explanation is, as the head of the agency, that we don’t do any of those things by my direction.

Erickson: Simmons took over as executive director of HACLA in March after the former CEO Rudolf Montiel was fired.

Earlier this week the Los Angeles times reported that former CEO Rudolf Montiel received a $1.2 million buyout. The paper also said Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa did not know about details when the deal was done. But SoCal Connected has learned that the mayor was told about the details. The mayor’s office says that Antonio Villaraigosa was told it would be costly either now or in the future and he told them to take whatever steps necessary to get this controversy behind them.

And it is Montiel that Simmons now blames for the hundreds of thousands of dollars spent on meals and perks.

Erickson [to Simmons]: You spent $100,000 on employee incentives under Mr. Montiel. Didn't you sign off on that?

Simmons: Yes I did. But it was under the direction of Mr. Montiel.

Zine: It's always Rudy made me, Rudy made me, Rudy made me, and Rudy makes off with a million plus dollars. They were working together and that's the problem.

Erickson: Montiel hired Simmons to be second in command. He was handsomely rewarded.

Tax records show Simmons earned $300,000 in salary and benefits in 2009 — more than the Mayor of Los Angeles and more than the Governor of California.

Earlier this week Los Angeles City Councilmember Dennis Zine introduced a motion demanding that Ken Simmons appear before the L.A. City Council next Tuesday. He wants him to answer questions about lavish spending.

Zine: They are going to come before my committee, our controller Wendy Greuel is going to do the expanded audit and we're totally supportive of that. When Mr. Simmons comes before my committee, he's not going to be very pleased.

Erickson: Zine may want to ask Simmons about hundreds of out of town trips we reviewed. We found examples of employees spending much more than allowed under HACLA’s travel allowances.

Earlier this year, Eric Brown attended an auto show in Detroit on the public's dime. He was given a limit of $140 for meals. He charged 170 bucks in dinners and lunches.

Zine: Why would you go to Detroit Auto Show when you are dealing with poor people and housing? It has no connection whatsoever. That's again another outrageous expenditure of public funds and no one was watching.

Erickson: In 2010, Policy Director John King went to Washington D.C. He was allotted $460 to cover meals for the trip. But we found he charged $1,117.58 on of food, 600 bucks more than allowed!

Cardenas: That gap is money that belongs to the people. And if that gap is unaccounted for, then the D.A. should definitely be involved in the investigation because that is taking public funds.

Erickson: On that same trip, King charged an $80 seat upgrade so he could have more leg room on the flight to D.C.

There was no evidence Brown or King reimbursed HACLA for the extra costs.

Sources close to HACLA have told SoCal Connected that in 2008 a lot of money — by one account up to $100,000 — went unaccounted for, much of it sources say, involving reimbursements and advance payments for expenses. These same sources say it was hard to track the money because of missing receipts and paperwork. How the accounting was resolved is unclear. We called Ken Simmons to find out. His spokesperson said, “We need more documentation. We’re looking into it.”

Zine: The government itself, the city of Los Angeles, should be instrumental in making sure these things don’t happen.

Erickson: And that's what former L.A. Controller Laura Chick suggested this week. In this open letter to the residents of Los Angeles. She asked where were the city leaders were when Montiel got his million-dollar-plus deal. Where were the city leaders when HACLA executives were buying sweaters at Land's End?

Bob Stern/President, Center for Government Studies: The problem of course is that nobody is really watching this agency. If nobody is watching the agency, the employees and the board think they can get away with anything, and then sometimes they do.

Erickson: Current and former workers tell us they knew of some problems but were too afraid to speak up. This insider says she complained to a manager about excessive catering bills.

Insider: I said why are so many sandwiches being ordered? And he said they're for the meetings. Don't worry about it. It's not coming out of your pocket.

Erickson: She says Ken Simmons approved the $28,000 spent on flower baskets, pastrami sandwiches, and See's candy.

Insider: He saw this happening. He should have stopped it. You know, it was under his nose. It was all happening under him.

Erickson: Simmons personally approved thousands of dollars spent on employee perks, like this purchase at Ralphs. Human Resources Director Patrice McConnell bought $4,600 worth of gift cards in 2010. Records don't show who received those cards.

Cardenas: You don't know where they went. They have a responsibility of answering our questions and telling us where that went. They cannot walk away and say, “I don’t know.”

Erickson: As the chair of L.A. City Council's Housing Committee, Cardenas told us he has questions about possible double-dips and excessive spending by HACLA staff.

Cardenas: What’s the responsibility and the punishment of the department to its workers who actually engage in those kinds of things? What are they going to do about it?

Zine: The District Attorney's Office Public Integrity unit is already investigating this and we’re also turning this over to the federal authorities because there is that question of who's in charge.

Erickson: Determining who’s the watchdog who's watching over HACLA is difficult. It's a semi-autonomous agency. HACLA gets most of its funding from the federal government. But it also gets a chunk of change from the city of Los Angeles. No one is really in charge, or has power over how HACLA spends its money, how much it spends, or who spends it.

So, when L.A. City Council members demand action, they have very little power.

Earlier this week the mayor's office called our reports on HACLA's excessive spending "old news."

Greuel: Not old news. You know, when anyone is looking at the fact that there was a $1.2 million send off for the Director Rudy Montiel; when there are thousands of dollars that are being spent inappropriately; we need to get to the bottom of it.

Meanwhile, HACLA is going to have to pay another million dollars to yet another former worker. Just two weeks ago, a California court ordered the agency to pay a former whistleblower $1.1 million. She claims she was fired after discovering employees were committing fraud. A judge agreed and ordered HACLA to pay up.

And guess who may be signing that check? You got it. Ken Simmons.

He's going back to his old job as second in command at HACLA. The same job he had when he approved all that spending.

But maybe not for long…

Mitchell Kamin: We’re going to bring in an interim CEO who is a change agent. Someone who can effectuate the policy changes we’re talking about and if necessary make personnel changes.

LEAVE A COMMENT Leave Comment  

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keep investigating and find out what happens to the money that HACLA gives to TELACU, because they most certainly are not spending it on housing. They have connived us into giving up our Sec. 8 Vouchers for something called a Section 8 'unit based' voucher, whereas the unit has Section, I lost MY voucher and my freedom to move around, and as former Asset Mgr at HACLA is now saying, there are no more vouchers to be given out and waiting lists for seniors of low income for affordable housing are so long that there doesn't seem to be a solution. Bothersome to say the least as we, in this building, watch mega money for that very purpose being spend by TELACU on something other than the tenants and their apartments.

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PLEASE interview me and do an investigation!

"TELACU PROPERTY MANAGEMENT" worse than HACLA and LOMOD!
Although all 3 are now getting tangled up into a single unit so THEY think you don't know who to point your finger at.
I MADE TELACU spend money on this bldg after posting just a few pictures of this rotting structure, so they are not renewing their contract to be in this building, Independent Square, because they can't steal anymore from here.
And WORSE! Walter Maynard who was Asset Manager at HACLA, hopped over to be Asst. Chief of Operation at TELACU (who now also has non-profit status). Tina Booth, who took Walter Maynard's position at HACLA, jumped on over to LOMOD Property Investments (oh yeah, some paperwork let them call themselves city housing... NON-PROFIT of course) and is President (I think that's what she said... not sure). All 3 are one and the same, they work together.
Sandra Enriquez, a snotty young unqualified receptionist took over my building as manager, an employee of TELACU.
I'll skip the 3 years of harassment from a moron who doesn't know a single thing about codes, laws, even The Constitution of The United States! YEP!

Let me say for starters, that I forced them to spend on this building under Rudy Montiel, and again with TELACU. I don't know if you allow links or I'd put it for the photos, and then they finally did a few things. Search TELACU - SLUMLORDS on Photobucket to take a peek if you want to.

A tenant here who is a MAJOR substance abuser kept saying she was going to 'kick my ass' as she kept walking closer and closer to me, a security guard came out and was standing next to my by my care and he did nothing to stop her from coming at me, so I had to open the car door to put up a shield, and then she said she would be at my apartment that night to kill me. The idiot guard just stood there, I got in my car and left. She has been in MANY fights here and they let her stay.
Next morning that same guard told me that MY incident report was in my file in the office. MINE? So I went in to see it and was told that only Sandra Enriquez could show it to me, so when I saw her enter the office I followed her in and asked to please see it (even though I never talk to her and she has not been allowed in my apartment for at least a year and is not allowed to talk to me, but if I wanted to see that report, I had to ask her. She said "you can't see that! It's a CLASSIFIED DOCUMENT"... pathetic, I was trying to let her know that we have a big law that says I can see it, change it.. she kept yelling over me. Then she ORDERED me into HER office (everything here is hers, even the building) and said... we could talk about it. It has been her objective for the entire oppressive years she has been here to get me on the subservient side of HER DESK. So I started to say that this is what she always does, blah blah, and she wouldn't let me say it because she knew what I was saying and kept screaming for me to shut up and get out, so it kept getting louder until there was a crowd in the office and a crowd in the hall. She towers over me, a big girl, I am a senior handicapped, 5' tall. In a threatening stance she was forcing me to walk backward toward the door and was 'in my body space'... too close for comfort. While IN the doorway, I made a gesture with my hand and said "I see you grew a pair" JUST to change the subject and leave, when she screamed that I 'touched her', then turned around to face the people in the office and started screaming it hysterically, that I touched her. IF SHE HAD A PAIR, I would have been touching her, my hand was where 'they' WOULD be, and I never touched her.

I went to my apartment and a few minutes later two police came, cuffed me and took me away. I guess Miranda is no longer the law, nor is stating WHY you are being arrested. I was really scared and didn't have a clue. I spent 3 days and 2 nights in solitary shut down. I was horrified, didn't even know why I was there. My pink paper said 'battery' on it but I never touched or hit anybody!
Taken to arraignment court and they sent me home with my belongings.
Soon as I get home, still in trauma and shock I get served with a temporary restraining order. WHAT??? She said I "grabbed her v@g@na"! I couldn't believe what I was reading. She was 'afraid for her life' that I would hurt her for having me arrested??? She was afraid I would 'sexually assault her again'??? on and on, with her extreme emotional pain and suffering. A big set up to sue her TELACU and the others for personal injury by committing big crimes and perjury and intentionally hurting a senior handicapped person.
Walter Maynard sent me a check for the amount of my rent saying that he was returning it due to the circumstances and events of Oct. 31, 2012. NOW I was facing eviction?
That judge sees liars all day long. In my response I made a short note where to look in her complaint where she described me as 5'2", 210 pounds LOL and WHITE hair. My hair has ALWAYS been blond. I saw the judge look to see it and it was obvious that she was a liar, from that alone. He did nothing but lecture her, catch her in lies, contradicting herself and then trying to make a big deal out of the language I used and that I was screaming. He explained to here that in The United States, we have freedom of expression, and that anger is a normal human emotion where people tend to yell (except for violent people). So the case was closed on that eviction based on LIES!

Here come the part I cannot believe. They didn't fire her??? She was on sick leave and had a miraculous recovery when she lost and is working right here in my face with people thinking I really did that and worse! 198 units and the gossip gets thick. I am so uncomfortable having to live here.

They took away our Sec. 8 vouchers so we don't have the freedom to move. If you don't investigate this triangle of thieving corporations and slime bags, you are missing out on one great investigation. THIS IS NEWS!

I want them exposed so they don't move on to the next buildings and steal all of those tax dollars too. BILLIONS! This is extreme corruption against some of the neediest people in this city. TELACU has TONS more money than LOMOD or HACLA and they all share.

I'm looking for a top notch atty who will help me out and be aware of this corruption and what they have done to me.

Oh yeah, btw, I had the only eye witness, a tenant was standing right next to me in the doorway. She told me the following day they asked her for a statement and she told them I never touched her, and they have it written down and refuse to let me see it. She came to court with me but wasn't called, it was obvious that Sandra was lying, but it's ON THE RECORD that nothing happened and they are not firing her. UNBELIEVABLE!!!

I NEED YOUR HELP TO SHUT THEM DOWN AND GET JUSTICE!

Channel 2 also did an investigation on HACLA/LOMOD. Who wants the story more?

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Everything said in the investigation and the tape has NOT been finished. SOMEBODY gave these outside companies, LOMOD and TELACU non-profit status... WE WANT TO KNOW WHO AND WHY. TELACU has been here for 3 years, WE WANT AN INVESTIGATION. As a trio of mega-corps, they have stolen an unimaginable amount of money. I imagine Sandra Enriquez keeps her job because 'she knows too much'. DO SOMETHING!!! Americans work hard and pay those taxes! I worked all my life too. IT IS OUR MONEY!!!

HELP US GET IT BACK! It is NOT old news, there is new uglier news since Montiel's TELACU started to fester 3 years ago. How often do I need to write here before someone wants a good story that is true?

FEAR? YOU BEEN PAID HUSH MONEY? Has to be a reason why you stopped this investigation and let's not forget that Montiel and Villaraigosa were 'pals' about town.

198 units and the main large elevator will have been out of order for 11 days come this Monday, 11/26/2012. They finally put in second set of washer and dryer, and the new washer has been 'out of order' for 2 weeks. My sink just flooded the kitchen and ruined all my things under the sink. I called them to fix it less than 6 months ago, they act like they are fixing it, but they don't spend money on an actual plumber. May not seem like much to those billionaires, but my new SOS and pledge duster refills are ruined. I bought clear plastic so the wood could never get ruined, and put expensive rubber covering over the plastic. ALL RUINED and now I have a fan on to dry the wood. These people are scum, make them pay and make them go away!