Former housing director convicted
By JEFF TESTERMAN
© St. Petersburg Times, published March 1, 2001
TAMPA -- Audley S. Evans, once a rising star among America's public housing executives, was convicted Thursday of 15 felonies in a bribery and kickback scandal involving the Tampa Housing Authority.
Evans, 48, executive director of the housing authority from 1988 to 1996, was convicted of conspiracy, bribery, accepting illegal gratuities and making false statements to a federal agency.
He faces a maximum of 77 years in prison.
The jury convicted Evans of taking $5,244 in carpeting and roofing, a $25,000 certificate of deposit offered as collateral for a bank loan and $125,000 used to pay off three of his mortgages in return for steering contracts to favored contractors.
Evans was also found guilty of lying to the Department of Housing and Urban Development.
Jurors decided Evans authorized three payments to contractors totaling $166,170 when work was not done, and falsely certified to HUD that all housing under the Tampa Housing Authority met federal safety and health standards.
After learning of the convictions Wednesday afternoon, Tampa Housing Authority Commissioner Fran Davin said she would support a move to remove Evans' name from a College Hill youth center named for him in 1994.
"I certainly don't think that we want to honor someone who has been found guilty of the kinds of things Mr. Evans has been found guilty of," she said.
"When you get through with all the fancy words for all of the counts, the sad, sad thing is money intended to help poor people went into other people's pockets."
Jurors also found Tampa developer C. Hayward Chapman, 64, guilty on four counts of paying illegal gratuities to Evans.
Those charges involved the $25,000 CD pledged as collateral for a loan and three checks totaling $125,000 sent by Chapman to people holding mortgages on property in the name of Evans' business, Caribbean Properties.
U.S. District Judge James S. Moody set sentencing for May 21, and allowed both men to remain free on bail.
Chapman faces as much as eight years behind bars, and perhaps more. He is being tried today on a charge of income tax evasion stemming from his alleged failure to file a timely return on $2.1-million in income earned through Bradley and Bradley, a company that won contracts worth millions from the Tampa Housing Authority.
Bradley and Bradley built the Audley Evans Multi-Purpose Youth Center.
The jury of seven men and four women that began hearing testimony three weeks ago took about 10 hours Tuesday and Wednesday to convict Evans and Chapman. The jurors, all of whom expected to be discharged after returning verdicts Wednesday, were then seated again to hear opening statements in the tax evasion case.
Arnold Levine, Evans' attorney, and Dewey Frank Winkles, Chapman's attorney, said they would file motions to set aside the guilty verdicts within the next 10 days.
"I'm disappointed because the verdicts just don't make sense," said Levine. "It's absurd."
Levine said the jury "obviously rejected" key government witness Bill Williams Jr. as being credible, because acquittals were returned on 17 counts of bribery and gratuities involving Williams.
Williams, an Orlando contractor with three federal convictions for defrauding an Orange County bank, Bethune-Cookman College and a group of Ohio investors, pleaded guilty to bribing Evans and agreed to cooperate with prosecutors. He testified to delivering 14 cash bribes to Evans totaling $79,000 and receiving $1.67-million in housing authority contracts.
But no one witnessed the payoffs, and jurors convicted Evans for bribery on only the two counts where paperwork showed Williams providing carpet and roofing for a duplex Evans owned.
Jurors also rejected Assistant U.S. Attorney Robert E. O'Neill's notion that bribery was involved in the payments totaling $125,000 from Concorde Inc., a construction company Chapman controlled, to Evans' Caribbean Properties.
The payments were made after Evans was running a non-profit housing agency called Meridian River Development Corp., and while Concorde was winning about $700,000 in contracts from Meridian River.
Chapman said the money was an investment in Evans' private company. Jurors said the payments, if not bribes, did amount to illegal gratuities to a public official. That designation was derived from testimony that Meridian River received large sums of HUD money.
Wednesday's convictions leave in shambles Evans' legacy as an innovator in public housing.
A favorite of former HUD Secretary Jack Kemp, the Jamaican-born Evans was appointed to consult at the troubled New Orleans Housing Authority while still working in Tampa, handpicked to go to Los Angeles to offer rebuilding advice after riots, dispatched to major U.S. cities to explain jobs programs for public housing residents.
One of Evans' favorite programs, the Resident Employment Assistance Program united housing residents with experienced companies in ventures to complete construction jobs with HUD dollars. But at the Tampa Housing Authority, the programs bred waste and corruption.
An audit by HUD's inspector general shortly after Evans resigned his $150,612-a-year job in 1996 was a blistering denunciation of Evans' tenure.
The audit found the authority's housing stock in deplorable condition, shoddy training programs, a litany of HUD rules violations and widespread bidding abuses.
The inspector general also found that Evans violated HUD conflict-of-interest rules by taking a contract -- $75,000 a year for 20-hour work weeks -- to run the non-profit Meridian River Development Corp. after quitting his housing authority job.
A federal grand jury picked up where the inspector general left off.
Davin, a commissioner since 1999, said the guilty verdict did not surprise her.
"When I first went on the Authority, I read the inspector general's report and I was appalled," she said.
Former Mayor Sandy Freedman, a vocal critic of Evans while in office, said she, too, was not surprised by Wednesday's verdicts.
"I was troubled then because I couldn't see the improvements or the housing services (Evans) was always touting," said Freedman. "The residents weren't getting from the executive director what he was being paid for.
"Apparently, this jury agreed."
- Times staff writer Kathryn Wexler contributed to this report.
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