An investigation into alleged improper contracting practices by Leila Gonzalez-Correa, the executive director of the city Housing Authority, was ordered Tuesday by the Los Angeles City Council.
On a 12-0 vote, the council directed three city agencies to investigate whether Gonzalez-Correa violated federal regulations on at least five occasions by awarding more than $200,000 in contracts to her acquaintances and to political supporters of Mayor Tom Bradley without seeking other bids.
Gonzalez-Correa, in her first public statement since the contracting practices were disclosed by The Times last month, charged in a letter to council members Tuesday that the city attorney’s office had signed off on the contracts.
“There was explicit concurrence by the Board of (Housing) Commissioners and the city attorney in most of the instances of procurement cited in the press,” wrote Gonzalez-Correa.
Records show, however, that in most instances the city attorney’s office was unaware that Gonzalez-Correa had issued the contracts. The city’s investigation was assigned to Chief Legislative Analyst William McCarley, City Administrative Officer Keith Comrie and City Controller Rick Tuttle.
Findings of the inquiry, to be completed within 30 days, will be reported to the council’s Grants, Housing and Community Development Committee chaired by Councilman Robert Farrell.
The probe is expected to focus solely on five contracts that have been questioned, Comrie said.
Probe May Widen
While he left the door open for the panel to investigate “anything else that comes up,” Comrie said the city is relying on the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to conduct a thorough examination of the city housing agency’s spending practices and procedures. “They will look at the entire operation,” he said.
On a motion by Councilman Nate Holden, who is running for mayor, the council had initially considered ordering the city attorney to conduct the investigation.
But as the vote approached the floor Tuesday, council members agreed that the city attorney may have a conflict of interest, because the office serves as the Housing Authority’s legal counsel.
The three city agencies--which lack formal investigative powers and do not regularly monitor the housing agency’s practices--are expected to do “a quick look-see,” said one city official, who asked not to be identified.
“Essentially, it looks like it is going to be swept under the rug,” the city official said. “It’s what the mayor wants . . . . “
Still, John Emerson, executive assistant to the city attorney, agreed that his office should not be involved in the investigation. He said the three other agencies were better equipped to conduct “what is essentially an operational audit.” And, he added, because there are questions concerning advice given Gonzalez-Correa by the city attorney’s office, it is better to have a “more neutral” agency conduct the inquiry.
Gonzalez-Correa, whose $100,000-a-year contract expires in October, continues to receive the support of Bradley, despite recent criticism of her spending practices and a controversial plan to sell the dilapidated Jordan Downs public housing project.
In the memo sent to council members on Monday, Gonzalez-Correa said her procurement activities were approved by the Housing Authority Board of Commissioners and the city attorney’s office in four of five contracts exceeding $10,000.
However, Gonzalez-Correa failed to notify board members or the city attorney of contracts in two of the four cases, Housing Authority records show.
In one case, Gonzalez-Correa said she received board approval to pay $46,000 in consulting fees to an acquaintance from Texas, Joe Rocha. But she neglected to report that Rocha had received an additional $25,735 without competitive bids and without board approval, and he was paid $16,450 after the board had instructed Gonzalez-Correa to stop using Rocha’s services.
In calling for the inquiry, Holden said he wanted to “restore some integrity” to the Housing Authority. But, he added in an interview, “We don’t want to indict anyone before we get the facts.”