Chris Williams knows how to pilfer from the public coffers, this time with a back-pay lawsuit filed three years ago against the Lafayette Housing Authority, which netted the former city-parish councilman a cool five figures.
|Former City-Parish Councilman Chris Williams|
According to a settlement agreement received Friday through a public records request, Williams was paid $30,000 to drop his lawsuit against LHA.
The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, which governs LHA, had long vowed to fight Williams’ lawsuit to the end, but after a three-year battle, the federal agency backed down in February, agreeing to a settlement in which both sides agreed to cover their respective attorneys’ costs.
LHA gave its reasoning for the settlement in this statement issued to The IND Friday:
The Housing Authority of the City of Lafayette has determined it to be in the best interests of the agency, and more importantly, its residents, to put an end to the continuing costs of litigation and come to a resolution of the litigation with Chris Williams.
As a result, HACL and Mr. Williams have reached a settlement and a joint dismissal of the case, signed by the Judge on March 31, 2014, and received by HACL on April 8, 2014.
While HACL felt it had defensible positions and ultimately would have prevailed in the matter, the continuing costs of litigation would have reduced the funding available to provide affordable housing for the deserving people of this community. The HACL weighed all options, and chose this one as being the best.
With this resolution, the HACL can bring closure to the problems resulting from the prior administration of the housing authority. In addition, this action allows management and staff to focus on its most important task: serving our customers.
Williams filed his lawsuit in 2010 after he and several other contracted case workers for the federal Disaster Housing Assistance Program were terminated. The program, which was administered locally by LHA, was designed to help the victims of hurricanes Katrina and Rita find suitable housing. Those terminations came after an independent audit showed Williams and his fellow case workers had not been filing time or mileage sheets to properly document their $600 monthly car allowance and $2,960 paychecks (based on a full-time pay rate of $37/hour for 40 hours/week).
More questions on Williams’ ability to perform the DHAP work were raised with the discovery that he also held down a second full-time job with UL Lafayette. But Williams defended his position, saying the DHAP work was being handled by two female workers, Paula Scott and Michelle Mouton, from his nonprofit, the Lafayette Training and Career Development Center.
Despite a lack of evidence that any of the DHAP work was even performed, Williams’ case proved even more fragile because his federal contract was based on a loose verbal agreement with LHA’s former second-in-command Jonathan Carmouche, who went off the radar after the feds starting looking into corruption at LHA. The investigation thus far has yielded guilty pleas from LHA's former director, Walter Guillory, and a former employee of the Opelousas Housing Authority, Garnette Thomas. More recently, a contractor who did work for both housing authorities, Kendall Anderson, was charged in a bid-fixing scheme involving Thomas. Read more here.
Williams now joins the company of three other former DHAP workers who received settlements from LHA. That list includes Linda Jefferson, Myra Parker and most recently Beatrice Wilson (aka Porsha Evans), who received $10,000, $30,000 and $10,000, respectively.
No doubt driving LHA's decision to settle was the mounting legal fees from the Williams suit. The public body, between September and March, had racked up a total of $66,400 in legal fees with the Juneau David law firm, according to records obtained by The IND.
For Williams, it's likely much of the $30,000 settlement was eaten up in attorney’s fees, though it's unclear what type of arrangment he had with his attorney, Harold Register.
The IND reached out to Register Friday, but did not receive a call back before this story was posted.