Beatrice Wilson is now the fourth terminated Disaster Housing Assistance Program case manager to sue the Lafayette Housing Authority for failing to give her a 30-day notice when she was terminated in August 2010. In her lawsuit, filed last month in state district court, she is asking for 90 days of back pay, what would amount to about $27,000.
Wilson, better known as Porsha Evans, and former City-Parish Councilman Chris Williams both have ongoing suits against the local housing authority. Williams, who sued in August, is seeking $19,560.
Earlier lawsuits filed by two DHAP workers also fired with Evans and Williams, Linda Jefferson and Myra Parker, were settled by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and the Lafayette Housing Authority for $10,000 and $30,000, respectively. The fifth worker, Charlie Esie, has not taken legal action.
“While the Housing Authority is confident it would have prevailed in court, the HA chose to settle, on the advice of its legal counsel, because the cost of continued litigation would have exceeded the amount of the settlements,” HUD Regional Public Affairs Officer Patricia A. Campbell wrote in an email response to The Independent in August. “HACL’s focus is on moving forward, and providing the best possible services to residents and the community.”
HUD spokesman Scott Hudman, who was filling in for Campbell last week, would only confirm that Wilson’s and Williams’ suits are ongoing. “It would not be appropriate to comment until those processes are resolved,” he wrote in an email response.
In an interview earlier this year, longtime LHA attorney Daniel Stanford called HUD’s decision to settle the lawsuits “ridiculous.” Stanford has maintained that the contracts were expired and never formally renewed. After March 31 of 2010, the DHAP workers were operating as independent contractors without a contract and subject to termination at any time, with or without cause, he says. “Basically, the contracts lapsed. They were kind of on an as-needed basis.” Stanford, who has represented the LHA for 12 years, is not the “legal counsel” who advised settling the cases.
Jefferson, Parker, Wilson, Williams and Esie were hired in late 2007 to work on the disaster housing program, which was initially created to help people displaced by hurricanes Katrina and Rita and then extended for Ike and Gustav. The workers were terminated by the LHA board of commissioners in August 2010, on the recommendation of Stanford and then-Executive Director Walter Guillory, after an audit pointed out numerous deficiencies in how the program was conducted and managed. For example, when the LHA’s 2009 books were audited, the independent accounting firm found that the case managers were paid a hefty $37/hour for 40 hours each week (along with a monthly $600 car allowance) but were not turning in time sheets or any other supporting documentation of their work or travels.
Some of the contractors had other jobs, and in the case of former City-Parish Councilman Williams, multiple jobs including a full-time position at UL Lafayette. In large part due to the troubled DHAP, the LHA got the attention of the state legislative auditor, inspector general for HUD, which funds the DHAP, and the FBI. The housing agency has been embroiled in controversies of alleged corruption and mismanagement for the past year, with HUD now running its day-to-day operations.
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It was soon revealed after her termination that Evans should never have been allowed to work at the housing authority because of her multiple felony convictions, among which were possession of cocaine, distribution of controlled dangerous substances and theft by forgery. On her job application, she failed to answer a question about whether she had ever been convicted of a felony.
Evans, who maintains she has turned her life around, says she was the only DHAP worker who did her job. “To tell you the truth, I was the only person that went to work,” Evans told The Independent in an October 2010 interview. “If you check HUD records, if you check those documents, those systems that we used every day, Porsha did all the work. My clients can testify to that. My clients, the landlords, and everybody else can tell you, when they needed to find somebody for DHAP, Porsha was there, every day. Didn’t miss a day of work, didn’t take a day of vacation.”
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Evans, who could not be reached for comment this morning, also is running for the at-large seat on the Lafayette Parish Democratic Executive Committee in the March 24 election.