Miami-Dade inspector general to monitor Carlisle housing deal

10/01/2013 8:00 AM

10/01/2013 4:21 PM

The Miami-Dade inspector general’s office will monitor the county government’s transfer of four multi-million dollar affordable-housing projects from Carlisle Development Group, which is under federal criminal investigation.

Interim Inspector General Patra Liu notified County Mayor Carlos Gimenez’s administration last week of her office’s intentions to oversee the assignment of the four rental-apartment projects from Carlisle to another Miami-based builder, Atlantic|Pacific. Key Carlisle staffers were hired by Atlantic|Pacific to manage the developments, a move that drew scrutiny from Gimenez.

The projects have been partly financed with $48 million in taxpayer and other government funds. The Miami Herald first reported in May that Carlisle is suspected of defrauding the U.S. government over affordable-housing subsidies.

In a one-page memo to Greg Fortner, director of the public housing and community development department, Liu asked that the Office of the Inspector General be kept in the loop of any meetings, documents or decisions that result from the county’s “due diligence” review of the transfer.

In addition to passing muster with county staff, the transfer requires approval from the Federal Transit Administration and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

“By way of this memorandum, the OIG advises that we intend to formally monitor these pre-assignment activities,” Liu wrote on Sept. 23. “Therefore, we request that the OIG be kept routinely notified of any and all activities related to the potential assignment of the four aforementioned projects.”

The transfer drew attention when commissioners unanimously approved it last month without meaningful discussion. The measure they voted on did not spell out details of the financial agreement between Carlisle and Atlantic|Pacific, or the extent in which public funds have been set aside for the four projects: the Seventh Avenue Transit Village in Liberty City, the Northside Transit Village in North-Central Dade, Island Living in Overtown and Lincoln Gardens in Brownsville.

In light of the inspector general’s involvement, Chairwoman Rebeca Sosa added a last-minute item to Tuesday’s commission meeting to discuss the transfer one more time.

“What we want to make sure is that we follow all the terms that are requested” by the inspector general, she said.

But even Tuesday’s comments from the dais were sparse. Only the mayor and Commissioner Audrey Edmonson, who sponsored the resolution proposing the transfer, chimed in.

Edmonson, one of the top recipients of Carlisle political campaign donations, has stressed that assigning the developments to a new builder quickly is key for the projects to move forward without losing federal funding. On Tuesday, she said the inspector general did not request any background research or federal approval in addition to what commissioners had already required.

“What you’re asking for, we’re already doing,” she told Sosa.

Without naming names, Sosa made reference to a letter commissioners received last month from the Martin Luther King Economic Development Corporation questioning the board’s transfer decision.

The agency’s president and chief executive, Christine King, also sent a similar letter to the mayor, asking him to veto the action, and later to the FTA and HUD, asking them to reject the transfer or put it off until the criminal investigation into Carlisle is complete. King had written to the inspector general on Sept. 4, the day of the commission vote.

“It would be a miscarriage of justice if Carlisle is found to have misused public funds yet allowed to profit from the sale of these projects, as the allegations tear at the very fabric of public trust,” King wrote to HUD on Sept. 19.

Also without referring to anyone by name, Edmonson dismissed the letter Tuesday. She has long been critical of the MLK nonprofit.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office has been investigating Carlisle since late 2011, when two senior executives quit and alleged the company was defrauding the government by padding construction costs to generate higher federal tax credits. The company has characterized the former executives as “disgruntled” and said it is confident Carlisle “will be vindicated.”

Gimenez said he expects vetting the deal between Carlisle and Atlantic|Pacific to take some time, for both his administration and the federal agencies.

But he assured commissioners that he will let the know about any findings.

“We’re going to come back to you before anything happens on that,” he said.

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