County Commissioner Dorrin Rolle, center, pushed to paint and landscape homes in Liberty City as part of the Housing Agency's HOPE VI project. (Chuck Fadely/Miami Herald)
Part 3 photos

BLACK BUSINESS ASSOCIATION

Repeated double-billing on HOPE VI project escaped notice
Questionable payments have clouded the only major improvement made in Liberty City during the chronically mismanaged Hope VI project.

A well-connected consultant hired to help rehabilitate homes in Liberty City repeatedly double-billed the Miami-Dade Housing Agency.

And no one noticed.

The payouts cast a shadow on the only significant improvement the Housing Agency delivered to Liberty City in the chronically mismanaged HOPE VI project, now years behind schedule.

In 2002, as delays vexed the Housing Agency's plans to build 411 houses, the agency launched a side project: sprucing up existing homes in the neighborhood with fresh paint and landscaping.

More than $2.5 million was devoted to Liberty City in a plan that would give owners of existing homes as much as $4,000 to hire landscapers and painters.

Overseeing the work was H.J. Russell, an Atlanta-based company hired by the Housing Agency to manage HOPE VI. When the side project started, H.J. Russell looped in Miami-Dade's nonprofit Black Business Association.

The job: identify fledgling,minority-owned contractors capable of doing the painting and landscaping. The BBA would receive a $4,000 monthly stipend, plus a $1,250 bonus for every contractor successfully guided through the county's small-business certification program. Between 2002 and 2005, the group received $208,000.

SUCCESS TOUTED

For months, the Housing Agency and H.J. Russell have touted the BBA's success, citing dozens of newly certified minority contractors doing the work in Liberty City. The County Commission in 2003 even awarded certificates of achievement to H.J. Russell and Commissioner Dorrin Rolle, who pushed for the program.

But the BBA double-billed at least six times and was paid for another company that already had been certified two years earlier . before the Liberty City project even started, The Miami Herald found.

"I don't know why they are making that claim," said IGWT Construction owner Robert Tyler, who earned his certification in 2001. The BBA received a bonus payment of $1,250 by submitting IGWT Construction in 2003.

In another five cases, the BBA pocketed bonus payments even without citing the names of any contractors.

The group received other questionable payments. In 2003, the BBA was paid $25,000 in one lump sum without submitting any invoices, receipts or documentation that justified the payment. Another $1,750 was paid in the same fashion in July 2005. Again, no documentation of any work.

H.J. Russell was in charge of paying the BBA and monitoring its invoices on behalf of the Housing Agency. When contacted by The Miami Herald, H.J. Russell Miami program executive Paul Perdue said he was unaware of the inconsistencies.

Perdue immediately went through the invoices himself and confirmed the discrepancies noted by The Miami Herald.

"There are double billings here that our project manager missed,'' he said.

He then tried calling the BBA for an explanation, but discovered the phone had been disconnected.

"I can't find anybody," Perdue said. "I'm surprised to find out how small they are.''

The BBA's president is lobbyist and developer Alben Duffie, who also heads the troubled MDHA Development Corp., a nonprofit that was paid almost $10,million by the Housing Agency for projects that have never been built. The BBA's executive director is John Dixon.

Neither Dixon nor Duffie would not comment.

While the BBA was submitting its invoices, H.J. Russell was embroiled in problems of its own.

For months, the company's project manager in Miami had double-billed the Housing Agency for some of the painting and landscaping, Perdue said.

PROBLEM SPOTTED

Perdue spotted the problems in 2004 and said it took three months to clean the books.

Perdue fired the project manager.

"Let us be the first to admit that we had a problem and we spent a significant amount of money internally to work it out. We should have had better control as project managers," Perdue told the Herald.

In all, $557,000 went to consultants in the Liberty City project . about one in every five dollars spent by the Housing Agency.

"Gosh, that's a lot of money,'' said Jimmie Garrett, a truck driver whose home was painted peach recently through the beautification project. "What did they do to earn all that money?'"