Allegations of illegal billing by Ike contractor

January 5, 2011 5:42:03 PM PST
More than two years after Hurricane Ike wreaked havoc on the Gulf Coast, hundreds of residents in Galveston County are still waiting for help. Millions of dollars have arrived to help fix up homes, but residents are wondering where is the money going? Galveston County's own Disaster Housing Assistance Director is now coming forward -- alleging a county contractor is breaking the law by taking the money, but not doing the work.

Former Galveston County Housing and Economic Development head James Wilson met Wednesday afternoon with federal HUD investigators in Houston. Wilson, and many homeowners, say taxpayers have been ripped off by the contractor who was supposed to be doing repairs across Galveston County.

"My slab is broken in my house. We have a broken sewer line," said homeowner Keith Wingate. "My whole family is sick."

Wingate tried to contain his emotions when lashing out before county commissioners.

"There is no excuse," he said. "Somebody needs to be held accountable. We don't need to suffer anymore."

Wingate lives in unincorporated Galveston County and says his home is one of hundreds which were damaged during Hurricane Ike that have been approved for repair or a rebuild -- which have never been completed.

Galveston County Judge Mark Henry said, "This is my highest priority, but I've only been here two days."

Galveston County commissioners discussed concerns during a workshop Wednesday morning following a letter written by former Disaster Housing Assistance Program Director James Wilson late last year to former District Attorney Kurt Sistrunk. It accuses ACS, the contractor used to repair and replace homes damaged in the storm, of "suspected criminal activity" and billing illegally for work that was "not performed."

Wilson also accused ACS and a subcontractor of knowingly approving construction work that was not up to code.

The District Attorney's Office tells Eyewitness News it launched an investigation but so far has been unable to substantiate any of Wilson's claims. Judge Henry says any allegations of criminal wrongdoing will be fully investigated.

"We take them seriously," he said. "I'll investigate every allegation, even if time after time after time they prove to be nothing."

A spokesperson for ACS says Wilson has not provided specific claims to back up his allegations, telling us in part, "Any allegations against the company are taken very seriously. We are committed to serving Galveston County and its residents, and will continue with our progress in building and restoring homes."