`A new tone' for housing agency

The inspector general's zeal in investigating crime, fraud earns praise

April 21, 2002|By M. Dion Thompson | M. Dion Thompson,SUN STAFF

Hilton L. Green Jr., inspector general for the Housing Authority of Baltimore City, is looking for crime, for fraud and corruption, malfeasance and theft - and it doesn't matter how large or small.

He's as zealous about recovering a videocassette recorder stolen from a Housing Authority office in Westport as he is about catching counterfeiters who cash phony authority payroll checks or finding the source of forged signatures on city warehouse request orders.

Since taking over last summer for John Goebler, the city's first inspector general, Green, 55, has been praised for the aggressive approach he has taken as he looks into the workings of the nation's fourth largest public housing authority.

"My goal when I got here was to find what areas are weak and to improve those areas," said Green, whose inspector's badge almost glows from careful polishing.

City Housing Commissioner Paul T. Graziano said he worked with an inspector general during his years with the New York City Housing Authority and sees the position as a benefit.

"I think it's an opportunity for us to have an office that focuses on integrity issues and makes it clear to folks that we take that issue very seriously," said Graziano, adding that city officials were impressed with Green's credentials. "He was far and away the most experienced, the most impressive candidate that we talked to."

Green's 28-year career has included stops in the HUD inspector general's office and a similar office with the Chicago Housing Authority. As inspector general in Baltimore, he has access throughout the authority and does not report to Graziano. Instead, he takes his orders from a board of commissioners that oversees the authority. This independence enables him to investigate without worrying about political interference, he said.

With help from the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development's Office of Investigation, Green is turning his attention to the city's $86.5 million Section 8 program. Last year, federal auditors said the program, which provides rent subsidies for 9,000 city residents, was "barely functional."

An earlier report by the Greater Baltimore Committee noted that while other cities run their Section 8 programs at a profit, Baltimore's was in such disarray that millions of dollars available went unspent. Those findings came as no surprise to Graziano, who applauds what Green has done since arriving on the job.

"He has set a new tone here," said Graziano. "I think people realize that problems of integrity hurt us all. If we don't have the confidence of the public, it's going to be very difficult to do our job."

Investigators looking into the Section 8 program have started reviewing more than 400,000 canceled payment checks dating to 1997, said Green. The checks, contained in 88 boxes and organized by month and year, are being matched against questionable transactions. Investigators have uncovered thousands of dollars that have not been spent as intended.

Awarded Bronze Star

That Green takes a forthright, uncompromising approach is no surprise, given his resume. He is an Eagle Scout and is in charge of Scout recruitment in the eastern Baltimore region. After graduating from high school in Washington, he joined the elite 82nd Airborne and became a platoon sergeant. He won a Bronze Star in Vietnam, where he served two tours of duty between 1967 and 1969.

He began his law enforcement career in HUD's inspector general office in Washington. In the late 1980s and early 1990s, he helped uncover a huge property flipping scheme in the Federal Housing Administration office in Washington. The work resulted in 54 convictions and the recovery of $10.2 million.

The case catapulted Green from a low-level position in the Office of the Inspector General to posts in which he became an expert in fraud investigations and later deputy inspector general in Chicago's housing authority.

Payroll check scheme

Last fall, Green's office investigated a case involving five people charged with theft in floating phony Baltimore Housing Authority payroll checks made with a scanner. Such crimes are becoming more common because of the increasing sophistication of computer equipment, say prosecutors.

Two defendants in that case have pleaded guilty. One received three years' probation and was ordered to pay $1,166 in restitution to Bank of America and $482 to a local check-cashing company; the second is scheduled for sentencing June 5. The remaining three defendants are scheduled for trial June 18.

While examining a backlog of travel expenses, Green's auditors identified 73 employees whose travel advances had not been settled. Some accounts were at least two years old. The effort has brought in $27,000 in outstanding payments, said Green.

Dismissal `not enough'

Another case involves a city employee who forged a signature to get hundreds of dollars' worth of city supplies that were then given to an acquaintance. The employee resigned after the loss was discovered.

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