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Ex-Tampa housing chief indicted

Audley Evans faces 975 years in prison and millions in fines if he is convicted on fraud and other charges.

By JEFF TESTERMAN and LARRY DOUGHERTY

© St. Petersburg Times, published April 13, 2000


TAMPA -- Audley Evans, who won national awards while executive director of the Tampa Housing Authority, was indicted Wednesday on 92 counts of bribery, conspiracy, wire fraud and money laundering and is accused of misappropriating $4.5-million in housing authority funds.

Evans, 47, whose attorney said he was out of the country when the indictments were unsealed, faces maximum penalties of 975 years in prison and fines of $27.5-million if convicted on the federal charges.

"This has been brewing in the wind for a long time, but I'm still shocked at the charges," said Connie Burton, a housing authority activist who has long been critical of Evans. "I do feel the resident population was not reaping the best possible result from all the money coming down while he was at the housing authority."

Evans' attorney, Arnold Levine, said his client had not committed a crime and insisted that federal prosecutors had misinterpreted the documents.

Also indicted were Patrick Watson, 43, a physician active in an Urban League program to provide role models for minority children, and C. Hayward Chapman, 63, a developer with a reputation for building affordable housing in the Tampa Bay area. Both pleaded not guilty Wednesday and were ordered released after posting $100,000 bonds.

Prosecutors say that for four years beginning in 1993, Evans, Watson and Chapman schemed to defraud the Department of Housing and Urban Development by "subverting the bidding process" at the Tampa Housing Authority. Watson and Chapman used corporate disguises to gain business from the authority, then paid kickbacks to Evans in return for the contracts, the indictments say.

The U.S. Attorney's Office says bribes paid to Evans, the executive director at the housing authority from 1988 to 1996, ranged from a $120 dinner at the Blue Heron Restaurant in Pinellas County paid for by Chapman to a check for $83,950 delivered to a third party for Evans by a Chapman company named Concorde Inc.

In all, Evans is accused of taking more than $299,000 in bribes.

The three defendants also are accused of laundering more than $1.5-million by funneling illegal funds through various personal and corporate accounts.

FBI agents began investigating Evans after a devastating audit of the Tampa Housing Authority by HUD's inspector general in April 1996. Auditors criticized numerous bidding abuses, the deplorable condition of Tampa's public housing and the establishment of a string of private, non-profit companies used by Evans to siphon off $1.8-million in housing authority funds.

"We had reviewed contracts let by the Tampa Housing Authority and we saw the services being rendered did not warrant the price being paid," said Nancy Cooper, district inspector general for HUD in Atlanta. "There did appear to be kickbacks.

"The U.S. Attorney's Office and the FBI took the audit report and ran with it."

In the 24 months before the audit, Evans had gotten two national awards from HUD, had received recognition for a progressive program to help jumpstart entrepreneurial programs for public housing residents, had even been nominated to help turn around a troubled housing authority in New Orleans.

"(Former HUD Secretary) Jack Kemp used to carry on about Audley like he was the best thing since sliced bread," said Sandy Freedman, a vocal critic of Evans while she was Tampa mayor. "He would bamboozle you with all the crap about the awards and rally all the residents who were getting the contracts around him and cry racism."

Freedman disclosed Wednesday that local police opened three different criminal investigations into Evans during her administration, though never gathered enough evidence to file charges.

Court papers say one facade Evans hid behind was a falsification of forms for HUD's Public Housing Assessment Program, a system to measure deficiencies in local housing authorities. One indictment charges him with sup-plying phony information on the assessment certification papers in 1996.

Evans is charged with making several other false statements to federal regulators, including:

A statement that Thomas Mitchell was a housing authority resident and thus qualified for a $140,000 resident-owned business contract for sod and seed at the North Boulevard Homes. In fact, Mitchell was not a housing authority resident but lived in a home owned by Evans.

A change-order authorizing additional costs of $79,050 for sod and seed in a public housing complex when no additional costs had been incurred.

Levine, Evans' attorney, declined to say where Evans was, but said he would return to the United States and turn himself in this week.

"The government has taken a couple of situations that they believe violate the law, multiplied by 30 and come up with 90 charges," Levine said. "One has to do with a loan, some with some dinners -- charged and charged again."

Levine said that Evans never acted independently while at the helm of the housing authority.

Evans always took direction from the appointed housing board, Levine said, and was "always guided by housing authority attorney (Ricardo) Gilmore."

Gilmore has said that he has no responsibility for problems at the Tampa Housing Authority or other authorities where he served as general counsel.

But HUD officials have said that work by Evans and Gilmore at the authority and the non-profit companies set up by Evans constituted a conflict of interest. And they have said that another conflict arose from Gilmore representing Evans on personal matters before, during and after the period in which Evans was executive director of the housing authority.

Gilmore did not return a call Wednesday.

The non-profits, where Evans arranged to earn $150,000 a year while still making $156,000 at the housing authority, figured into Wednesday's indictments.

According to the court papers, Chapman enabled Evans to get a $50,000 loan after Evans signed off on more than $353,000 in roofing and cabinetry contracts Chapman's Concorde company did for a non-profit company Evans ran called Meridian River Development Corp.

- Times researcher Kitty Bennett contributed to this story.

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