California and the West : Corruption Scandal in S.F. Grows : Politics: Challengers in upcoming mayoral election cite housing agency bribery charges. But a spokeswoman for Willie Brown says they result from FBI investigation he requested.
Federal charges filed against 25 people for alleged involvement in a public housing bribery scandal became fodder Wednesday for Mayor Willie Brown’s election opponents, who have repeatedly accused the mayor of presiding over a corrupt administration.
A complaint unsealed Tuesday charged Patricia Williams, head of the city Housing Authority’s relocation office, and Yolanda Bradley, a former employee of the office, with accepting bribes in return for helping people obtain Section 8 housing subsidy vouchers. Twenty-three other people were charged with submitting false statements to the Housing Authority to obtain the subsidies, which are available to low-income people under a federal program.
The complaint alleges that Williams accepted $3,000 in bribes. Bradley allegedly accepted eight different payments and gave people false information for their housing application forms. Local newspapers identified Bradley as the daughter of Charles Walker, a prominent Brown supporter and onetime legal client of the mayor. Walker is under investigation by both the city attorney’s office and the FBI in another investigation involving the alleged use of minority contracting businesses as fronts by white-owned firms seeking to secure city contracts.
The federal housing scam charges were filed by the U.S. attorney’s office just days after a poll by the San Francisco Chronicle showed Brown’s support among voters sagging in his race against former Mayor Frank Jordan and former political consultant Clint Reilly. Only 31% of 600 likely voters said they would reelect Brown if the November election were held today.
The ongoing reports of corruption “could definitely put Brown in a runoff,” said Tom Ammiano, president of San Francisco’s Board of Supervisors and a political opponent of the mayor. “It smells really bad. People are feeling very mistrustful of city government.”
But Brown spokeswoman Kandace Bender said it was ludicrous for Brown’s opponents to say that the federal charges reflected badly on the mayor. In fact, she said, Brown invited the federal government to investigate the authority.
“This mayor has shown leadership from Day 1 in cleaning up the Housing Authority,” Bender said. “When Mayor Brown took office, the Housing Authority was on the federally troubled list--it was a mess and had a score of only 50 out of a possible rating of 100.”
Brown fired the director of the Housing Authority and brought in the Department of Housing and Urban Development to manage public housing, Bender said. Now, four years later, “the Housing Authority has moved from a rating of 50 to 87 and has been put on the high-performance list by the federal government.”
In a separate investigation, the FBI began looking into the city’s minority contracting practices last spring. In July, the bureau seized documents from the city’s Human Rights Commission, which administers the city’s program to help minority- and female-owned businesses secure city contracts.
Lambasted in debates and campaign ads by his political opponents for taking no action in the minority contracting scandal, Brown directed City Atty. Louise Renne to launch her own investigation.
On Tuesday, Renne filed a civil suit against the white-owned Scott Co., alleging that the San Leandro firm used a minority contractor to create a front company to secure at least $50 million worth of city construction contracts. She said she expects to file similar suits against several other firms soon.
Also named was Alvin Norman, the black owner of the plumbing firm, which the city alleges did little or no work on expansion projects at San Francisco International Airport as part of its venture with the Scott Co.
The federal criminal case involving the Housing Authority and the city’s civil suit against the minority contracting firm are apparently unrelated. But Renne’s spokesman, Marc Slavin, said the city attorney’s office is working with the FBI in investigating minority contracting practices.
The city defines a minority-owned firm as one in which minorities own 51% of the business. When the system is abused, Slavin said, “the ordinance is undermined. By suing these companies for conspiring to defraud the city, we hope we’re creating a program that will benefit those whom it is intended to benefit.”