Harris Co. DA asks for documents on City Hall spending, payments to Mayor's former law partner

The city stated it received no notice of investigation, but acknowledged the DA's informal request for all policies and procedures

Wednesday, October 6, 2021
Harris County DA opens probe into city of Houston's procurement policies
City Hall is gripped by allegations from the now former housing director. Now, the district attorney is quesning the way it does business.

HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- Weeks after the city's longtime housing director, Tom McCasland, raised concerns over how a multi-million dollar housing subsidy was awarded, the Harris County District Attorney's office is looking into the city's procurement policies - rules that govern the way the city spends your money.

Harris Co. District Attorney Kim Ogg has opened a probe into the city of Houston's procurement policies after a house director raised concerns.

The news comes two weeks after McCasland, then-Houston Housing and Community Development Department director, shocked city council members saying Mayor Sylvester Turner had steered a multi-million dollar contract for housing incentives to a Clear Lake senior living apartment complex.

"This administration is bankrolling a certain developer to the detriment of working families who need affordable homes," McCasland told a Houston City Council committee on Sept. 21.

SEE MORE: City of Houston housing director fired after alleging mayor is 'bankrolling' developer

The mayor's former law partner, Barry Barnes, is listed in state documents as co-developer and co-manager of the project. The development scored eighth out of 12 applications but was chosen by Turner anyway. It is Turner's right to do so. Turner denies any wrongdoing and claims not to have known his longtime former business partner was part of the winning team.

According to a letter from the District Attorney's Office to the City of Houston, District Attorney Kim Ogg requested "all City of Houston ordinances, codes, or rules that pertain or in any way impact the procurement or letting of contracts by the City."

The letter does not mention McCasland or the city housing department.

Mayor Turner's office said in a statement, "The City has received no notice of an investigation. The DA asked through an informal request for all city policies and procedures related to procurement and the letting on contracts. We provided that information to the office. It is important to note the Huntington recommendation process is not a procurement nor have contracts been let. ... The City welcomes all reviews. There is nothing illegal about this project, as even the former Housing Director said he was not alleging illegalities."

13 Investigates has also learned the District Attorney is asking for more - and this time far more detailed information - about contracts, agreements, invoices and all available payment information related to payments to Barry Barnes and Associates in 2018 and 2019.

Around that time, Barnes was doing some work for ICF - a company hired to do outreach, intake and case management for Harvey victims.

13 Investigates reported that link years ago.

Some Louisiana politicians have a warning about the company that wants to manage Harvey victim outreach and application intake here in Houston.

According to documents 13 Investigates reviewed, the DA is also asking for payment information to ICF.

Neither Barnes nor ICF returned our requests for comment today.

In documents submitted to the city council weeks ago, McCasland wrote, "I cannot support Huntington at Bay Area without participating in a charade of a competitive process when the outcome of that process was predetermined before the funding opportunity was even issued."

Huntington at Bay Area is a housing project that will provide 148 apartment complexes for seniors in Clear Lake. The city plans to award $15 million in taxpayer funding to help build the complex.

McCasland said he is concerned that only 88 of those units will be available to low and moderate-income Houstonians when four times as many affordable units could've been built for the same amount of money if Turner accepted his recommendations for projects.

The district attorney is not the only one looking into the matter. The Texas General Land Office is conducting a review and has notified the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. The GLO has called McCasland's comments "serious allegations of fraud or corruption."

The appointed City Attorney Arturo Michel is also investigating.

On Thursday afternoon, staffers from the Houston Housing Department are set to brief council members on information Mayor Turner says will shed light on how McCasland ran the department. In announcing the briefing, Turner called McCasland's outcry a "smokescreen."

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