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By JEFF TESTERMAN
© St. Petersburg Times, published February 22, 2001
TAMPA -- In unflinching testimony lasting more than six hours Wednesday, former Tampa Housing Authority chief Audley Evans insisted that he is innocent of the 125 charges returned against him a year ago by a federal grand jury.
Asked by defense attorney Arnold Levine whether he had ever taken a bribe from Orlando contractor Bill Williams Jr., Evans answered curtly, "Never, sir."
Asked by Levine whether he had ever taken anything of value from Williams, an ex-con who won $1.6-million in contracts from the housing authority, Evans replied, "Absolutely not one penny."
In an agreement with government prosecutors, Williams has pleaded guilty to bribery and has testified that he paid 14 cash bribes to Evans totaling $79,000.
No one witnessed any payoffs, though, and on Wednesday, Evans displayed records showing that he was not present at housing authority offices on two occasions during which Williams claims to have visited to pay kickbacks.
Evans also cast doubt on testimony by a former housing authority employee who said he witnessed Evans and Williams exchanging a mysterious envelope in 1996. On that date, Evans pointed out, Williams was actually in prison serving time on a bank fraud conviction.
An award-winning executive director of the Tampa Housing Authority from 1988 to 1996, Evans, 48, is accused of steering contracts to Williams, Dr. Patrick Watson, a Tampa physician, and local developer C. Hayward Chapman in exchange for nearly $300,000 in kickbacks.
Prosecutors say Watson and Chapman funneled cash to Evans while profiting from the contracts. Watson and Evans, who attended the same Jamaican high school, became friends after Evans sought the doctor's help for a back ailment. Evans said the two men began to discuss investing together, and the doctor ultimately made eight loans totaling $104,500 to Evans. The transactions, in 1995 and 1996, were not documented.
he thought all the loans had been repaid until he reviewed records after the indictments and found he still owed his friend $5,000.
Evans testified Wednesday that he had been unaware that Watson had an interest in any housing authority contracts "until this case came up."