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Feds will investigate Hillsborough Affordable Housing Office

TAMPA — The U.S. Attorney's Office will investigate the county's Affordable Housing Office, which has weathered criticism from reports that it squandered $2-million in federal grant money.

County Administrator Pat Bean said Tuesday she had met with Robert O'Neill, acting U.S. attorney for the Middle District of Florida, to share findings from an investigation by her own staff into the county office.

She said O'Neill agreed at their Monday meeting to open an inquiry involving the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Office of the Inspector General for the Department of Housing and Urban Development. The federal agencies have jurisdiction because much of the money the county office spends comes from the federal government.

But it's unclear what exactly the investigation is targeting. Bean told reporters she couldn't answer questions "because of the nature of this announcement."

O'Neill said he met with Bean but declined comment on whether his office has launched an investigation. A spokeswoman for the Office of Inspector General for HUD couldn't be reached for comment.

The Affordable Housing Office and its director, Howie Carroll, came under scrutiny in February when commissioners learned that it forfeited $2-million in grant money last year because the money wasn't spent on time. Aside from an internal audit into the office's finances, the county's Office of Consumer Protection and Professional Responsibility has spent more than a year investigating possible criminal misconduct.

The head of that investigation, Jim Sudberry, said the county will continue to stay involved in the case. He said the feds were asked to help because they could subpoena more records.

"In the end, this won't be limited to Hillsborough staff," Sudberry said. "There's a much bigger story here to be told."

So far, commissioners have directed most of their displeasure at Carroll. Hired in November 2006, Carroll continues to get public support from Bean. Disputing some media reports on Tuesday that Carroll had been demoted from his $88,150 job, Bean said that Carroll had been "realigned" and was keeping his title if not some of his day-to-day activities. Asked how his duties were specifically changing, Bean declined to comment.

Commissioner Kevin White, who has been critical of Carroll, said he was frustrated that he was remaining, but was pleased to hear about an independent investigation.

"I'm still concerned (Carroll) is in the department, but not as concerned because there's now a federal investigation going on," White said. "I think this will bring a lot of things to light."

But Commissioner Rose Ferlita said she was miffed Bean didn't brief her about the federal probe before it was announced. She said too much time has been wasted on office intrigue and that she was hoping the federal investigation will end the drama.

"This is a broken record," she said. "It needs to be resolved."

Staff writer Kevin Graham contributed to this story. Michael Van Sickler can be reached at (813) 226-3402 or mvansickler@sptimes.com.

Feds will investigate Hillsborough Affordable Housing Office 05/20/08 [Last modified: Thursday, May 22, 2008 5:09pm]
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