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Audit finds former St. Petersburg housing manager had potential conflicts of interest

ST. PETERSBURG — A former St. Petersburg housing manager had what appeared to be a conflict of interest when he hired city contractors to repair his rental properties, according to a city audit.

A St. Petersburg Times investigation reported last year that Thomas de Yampert used DRM Properties in 2004 to renovate two of his rental homes in St. Pete Beach. Since 2004, DRM received $859,000 worth of loans approved by the department managed by de Yampert, who was the city's housing rehabilitation and finance manager.

The Times reported in December that at least three other contractors worked on de Yampert's personal properties.

• Earl Pfeiffer, a general contractor who worked on one of de Yampert's St. Pete Beach rentals, won $575,484 in contracts.

• J. Cerda Roofing pulled permits on de Yampert's rentals between 2002 and 2004 and won more than $100,000 in contracts administered by de Yampert's department.

• Irok Construction in 2005 renovated a garage of a St. Pete Beach rental owned by de Yampert and won $649,061 in contracts awarded by the city between 2003 and 2008.

The Times' findings, which also showed that there were no formal bidding procedures in de Yampert's department and little oversight of his conduct, led Mayor Bill Foster to order an audit.

After months of research, city auditors confirmed the Times' account.

"We believe that there was a potential conflict of interest (or at least an appearance of such a conflict) based on the relationship between these contractors and (de Yampert)," the audit stated. "We also believe that (de Yampert) should have been aware that these relationships would create a potential conflict of interest related to his duties for the city."

De Yampert, 62, announced his resignation in November 2010, but he didn't leave the $85,000 job until Jan. 14. He had been in charge of the city's housing and community work for 14 years. A woman who answered his cell phone Friday said de Yampert wasn't available. A man's voice could be heard whispering in the background: "I'm not here."

In the Dec. 17 Times story, de Yampert said he erred in judgment, but said he had little oversight of the process that awarded the contractors city contracts. Homeowners selected the contractors, he didn't, he said then.

But the audit concluded the opposite, finding that de Yampert's department had few internal controls and bought property without City Council approval.

"Based on written documentation reviewed, it appears that (de Yampert) controlled the entire process for soliciting and bidding rehabilitation projects, including the final approval on the loan amount to pay the contractor and all change orders," the audit states. "We did not find evidence of department director review and/or approvals during this process."

De Yampert's boss, housing and community development director Joshua Johnson, wouldn't comment on the audit.

"(The audit) basically repeated (the Times') story," he said. "I have nothing else to say."

The audit recommended that in the future, Johnson provide more oversight and involvement.

Michael Van Sickler can be reached at (727) 893-8037 or mvansickler@sptimes.com.

Audit finds former St. Petersburg housing manager had potential conflicts of interest 10/07/11 [Last modified: Saturday, October 8, 2011 1:08am]
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