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Housing employees facing inquiry

Five employees, including three top officers, were suspended from the Pinellas County Housing Authority as the agency investigates allegations of misuse of funds and the creation of a hostile work environment.

The authority's executive director, Helen Piloneo, resigned after her suspension and before the investigation began. She did not return a telephone call seeking comment Friday.

Also suspended were Angel Tua, the deputy executive director; Charles Gibson, human resources director; and two computer system specialists, Mike Tepfer and Jay Shields, said Rick Gilmore, a lawyer for the authority's board of commissioners.

The employees will continue to receive pay during their suspension, which may last several months, Gilmore said.

"These are still only allegations," he said.

The authority oversees public and Section 8 housing in Pinellas County.

The investigation was launched after several employees within the agency filed complaints with the authority's human resources department.

The authority's approximately 100 employees were notified of the suspensions in a memo distributed Wednesday. Robert C. Chauncey, the former housing management director, has been named interim executive director.

The employees' complaints include accusations of favoritism, improper hiring and job switching.

As for the possible misuse of funds, Gilmore said those complaints charged the authority with using money from the incorrect funding stream for different projects. No funds were reported missing.

Gilmore said the employees were suspended because the authority's board didn't want them to interfere with the investigation.

Asked whether criminal charges were possible, Gilmore said, "I think it's kind of early to speculate on that."

The board will hold a meeting Monday to decide how to proceed with the investigation.

Piloneo, who served as the housing authority's chief since February 1999, came under fire in April 2000 after the board voted to give her a 66 percent pay raise. Her salary was boosted from $73,839 to $122,634, making her one of the highest paid government officials in the state.

The Tampa bureau of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development issued a statement on the suspension Friday, saying it would not be involved with the investigation.

"Personnel matters are handled administratively at the housing authority level and HUD does not intervene in these matters unless they interfere with (the authority's) performance," the statement said. "Currently, the Pinellas County Housing Authority is a high performing agency and we are hopeful that this status will continue."

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