Turner orders his appointed city attorney to investigate former director's housing claims

Thursday, September 23, 2021
Housing investigation starts as mayor names new director
Former housing director Tom McCasland told a Houston City Council Committee Mayor Turner's "'do it because I say so' culture creates the breeding grounds where fraud goes undetected."

HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- In a new statement released Thursday morning, Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner tasks his City Attorney Arturo Michel with conducting "a full review" of the claims made earlier this week by now-former Housing Director Tom McCasland.

On Tuesday, McCasland told a city council committee the mayor was "bankrolling" a developer in a "charade of a competitive process" to award Harvey recovery-related subsidies to build apartments. Hours after McCasland spoke up, Turner fired him.

On Wednesday, the Texas General Land Office told 13 Investigates auditors from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and the GLO had already begun looking at Houston deals. The GLO called McCasland's comments, "allegations of fraud or corruption."

Mayor Turner has denied any wrongdoing in the selection of the winning complex, despite it scoring lower than seven other proposals. Turner also denied any impropriety after being told his former law partner Barry Barnes is a co-general partner and co-developer on the deal.

Neither Barnes nor the developer, MGroup, has returned calls or emails from 13 Investigates.

The choice of Michel is already being met with opposition.

"The mayor has his fingers on the scale again," Councilman Mike Kubosh told 13 Investigates. "Council needs to call for a full investigation as this is a case where a director is saying the mayor has done something improper. This isn't some citizen. This is someone on the inside who documented his claims with emails."

Michel is appointed to the job by Turner and serves at the mayor's pleasure. Additionally Michel has already weighed in on the deal at issue.

At a Tuesday afternoon news conference standing next to Mayor Turner, Michel said he'd already looked at the allegations.

"We were asked to follow up on what was in the email and the allegations, what the director said to me, both speaking and in writing, lawyer to lawyer, is that he did not see any legal issues in this matter at all, that what he saw here was an issue of business judgment. That policy decision falls at the feet, not of the lawyers, not of the directors of any departments, you're not going to have a bureaucrat making these decisions. It's going to be our elected officials as it is with all local state and federal government that we have," Michel said.

The mayor released a statement Thursday morning saying, "I have instructed the City of Houston Legal Department to do a full review of former HCDD Director Tom McCasland's claims relating to the affordable housing matter. City Attorney Arturo Michel is instructed to review the allegations from top to bottom to determine whether there were any illegalities, fraud, conflicts of interests, violations of procedures, practices, and policies. City Legal is also instructed to do this review as quickly as possible and make its findings public.

"My administration works extremely hard to avoid potential conflicts of interest, and I have not conducted business differently than any former mayor in the city of Houston. Mr. Michel has full authority and discretion to conduct the investigation and will have no interference from my administration or me."

WATCH THE ORIGINAL REPORT: Housing director fired after alleging mayor is 'bankrolling' developer

Mayor Turner called the comments "puzzling, inflated and wrong." The problem started when taxpayer funding was given for a housing project in Clear Lake.

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