Tampa, Florida -- There is a big development in an investigation we have been following for some time. A senior U.S. senator is looking for answers to some of the Tampa Housing Authority's spending for "questionable expenses".
This probe into HUD comes after a series of stories by the 10 News Investigators.
U.S. Senator Charles Grassley of Iowa wrote a scathing letter to the Secretary of HUD blasting the Tampa Housing Authority for numerous items we uncovered, including $860,000 spent on travel and training since 2009, which Grassley says appears to have surpassed other housing authorities.
Grassley adds it gives the impression of being an excuse to take an expensive vacation paid with taxpayer dollars and results in staff and board members spending more than 500 work days outside the office.
The Senator is blasting the $214,000 salary of CEO Jerome Ryans which exceeds the mandated salary cap by almost $60,000. Grassley questions the new $7 million administrative office and why the Agency has spent $800,000 on salary and benefits for a public relations department, but has to hire $170,000 PR consultant. He is also concerned about the $2.8 million in legal fees to an outside lawyers.
Grassley tells the 10 News Investigators, "There's people with high salaries, people living high on the hog, and people having a merry time when there are people who are homeless and could be living there."
The Senator adds, "When you have all this money that is spent on going to conferences, every dollar that goes to airfare, meals and conference fees is another dollar that can't be used to house homeless Tampa Bay residents."
The Tampa Housing Authority, which refused to go on camera, issued a statement saying, "it is well managed, it's travel is reasonable; the new $7 million building was a necessity; and CEO Jerome Ryans Salary is reasonable and board approved".
However, we found THA uses creative accounting to get around federal rules and Grassley agrees.
Senator Grassley did a wise thing -- he sent copies of his letter to a member of Congress who not only are on the subcommittees that over see HUD, but also that are on the appropriations committee which funds HUD.
In addition, two weeks ago the Secretary of HUD Shaun Donovan was here in Tampa and told us as a result of our stories the agency was opening an investigation.
HUD staff will be in Tampa the week of Dec. 9 to go over Tampa Housing Authority records.