Scratch the surface of the record of the Housing Authority of the City of Los Angeles (HACLA) as long as three decades ago and you will find the same kind of financial shenanigans, mismanage abuses and violations of federal rules that resulted in subjecting the city’s poor to substandard housing conditions as you do today.
It has been and remains a scandal-plagued agency where friends and family of staff get contracts to supply toilets for disabled tenants at a cost of $2,500 each, where audit after audit finds millions of dollars in misspending, where federal Housing and Urban Development agency laws are ignored, where the agency head is able to scam the system for a half-million dollars in salary and where the commissioners providing oversight like the employees indulge themselves at taxpayer expense.
All of this and more was known, or should have been known, to Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa even as he protected the man in charge, Rudy Montiel, and denounced federal efforts at reform as “capricious,” even suing and using his political leverage in Washington to preserve the corrupt system.
Thanks to investigating reporting by KCET’s SoCal Connected and David Zahniser of the LA Times, the HACLA scandal has finally broken wideopen.
With a billion dollars a year at HACLA’s disposal — shockingly, some of it to make sure other housing agencies comply with federal laws — the public is entitled to a full accounting who is responsible, starting with what the mayor knew, when he knew it and what he did about it.
At the least, Villaraigosa is guilty of misfeasance, which ought to be sufficient to remove him from office.
At the worst, he is guilty of malfeasance for actively participating in schemes that ripped off taxpayer money and channeled it special interests without regard to the public interest or the needs of the poorest of the poor who rely on federally-subsidized housing for shelter.
Supposedly, District Attorney Steve Cooley’s Public Integrity Unit has belatedly begin to make inquiries but we know from experience that he is incapable of conducting a robust investigation unless the crimes are already public knowledge thanks to the news media.
Only an FBI investigation and federal grand jury would be capable of getting to the bottom of all the crooked schemes and dirty deals that HACLA staff and other city officials have been involved in.
The focus of the current scandal is the nearly half a million dollars fired CEO Rudy Montiel was paid annually, his and his staff’s extravagant spending expensive meals, gifts, limousines and finally the $1.2 million paid to Montiel to keep his mouth shut about all that he knows of the involvement of city officials in various illegal and unethical activities.
Hush money is a crime, part of a cover up of other crimes and when it involves the misuse of public money it is even more serious.
For that alone, a federal investigation is justified and the action of the mayor and his staff fuel belief there was an attempt to cover up the payoff to Montiel except that the new HACLA Commission head, Mitch Kamin, blew the whistle.
On Dec. 2, Villaragosa insisted he “was not consulted … was unaware of the settlement and severance package,” accordiing to his staff.
Five days later, his spokesman was still saying the mayor and “his staff were not consulted nor
informed about the settlement prior to the board vote,” and disclosure of the spectacularly self-indulgent expend spending by staff was “old news.”
Then, Kamin went public, saying “the mayor’s staff was advised of the proposed terms,” which should have come as no surprise since one of the mayor’s more than 200 deputies and assistants was assigned to HACLA.
Deputy Mayor Matt Szabo then admitted: “The
mayor was absolutely aware and authorized the settlement in this matter .. Although
he may not have been briefed on every detail of the settlement, he certainly
authorized and encouraged the chairman of the board to move forward with the
settlement so that the agency could end an unfortunate chapter and move
The HACLA scandal isn’t going away anytime soon — there are too many dirty deals still to be revealed, including contracts to tear down the Jordan Downs housing project and rebuild it as a mixed used development.
Too much money is involved, too many bodies are buried in the HACLA scandal, too many people know the truth and would take to a federal grand jury and produce documentation.
If the mayor knew nothing was amiss, he is incompetent. If he did know, he deserves whatever he has coming to him.