Watching the Inspectors
Hilton Green Is Highly Qualified To Investigate Baltimore's Department Of Housing--So Why Isn't He?
City Councilman James Kraft (D-1st) glanced down at his notes before hurling another question at Hilton Green. It was the afternoon of Monday, May 14; the city's new inspector general (I.G.) sat at a wide table before the council's "Committee of the Whole" for a budget hearing in City Hall. No one else on the panel was asking questions like this.
"Do you realize that you can't hold this position under the City Charter?" Kraft asked Green, who had just told the committee he lives two counties away, in Bowie, not Baltimore. The councilman tersely recited the charter provision requiring that "all heads of departments and bureaus" be "residents and registered voters of Baltimore City."
Another council member interjected that Green's predecessor, Andrew Clemmons, did not live in the city either, but Kraft replied that the inspector general post had been elevated to cabinet level and given a fat raise under Mayor Sheila Dixon. "I would think that in the interest of accountability and integrity you would do one of two things," Kraft told Green, "move to Baltimore City or step down."
The tense scene was fallout from an investigation into Baltimore Housing, the umbrella agency that oversees the Housing Authority and the Department of Housing and Community Development, which Kraft had requested nine months before in the wake of a City Paper series about collapsing buildings ("Collapse," Feature, July 26 and Aug. 2, 2006). Agents working for Clemmons had complained soon after they began poking around that Housing officials were stonewalling them. Then, after taking over the mayor's office in January, Dixon fired Clemmons and replaced him with Green, paying Green $130,000 a year to take a job Clemmons had done for $90,000 under former mayor Martin O'Malley. Green got his promotion to citywide inspector general after spending six years as inspector general for Baltimore Housing, where his job had been to root out waste, fraud, and abuse in an agency that, judging by a recent audit and a report last month by the Abell Foundation, is still rife with it.
At the May hearing, Kraft fixated on a single, cryptic question.
"If you had a preliminary investigation," Kraft asked, "and it came to light that an investigator had run interference [on behalf of the subject of the investigation], would you feel compelled to get an independent investigator?"
Green said he did not understand the question.
Kraft asked him twice more, rewording to sharpen the meaning. Green twice more claimed not to know what Kraft was getting at. "I'd first have to determine if the information is factual," he responded.
Kraft would not answer questions about the face-off at the time, and he still won't discuss details, but for months leading up to that hearing, Clemmons' agents had complained privately that Green was "running interference" for the agency he was supposed to be watch-dogging.
On Jan. 31 one of the city I.G. agents, Alan Stubbs, had handed Kraft a 10-page document detailing his findings. He later provided a copy to City Paper ("Not Up to Code," Mobtown Beat, Feb. 21) and then resigned, saying he could not work for Green.
Stubbs' draft report cited multiple violations of the city's ethics ordinance by a sloppy, clubby, and uncertified corps of building inspectors in the Department of Housing whose managers were content to make excuses. The report did not say that Green, then Housing inspector general, was part of the problem.
At the May 14 hearing, as if to pre-empt more questions, Green made a startling announcement.
"I have organized a federal task force" to investigate Baltimore Housing, Green proudly told the council committee. "I want to look at the whole," he added during a brief interview after the hearing, "not just a little piece of it."
But Green now says he never intended to concentrate resources on the Housing investigation because even Stubbs admitted that the findings in his report were, in Green's words, "all administrative"--nothing that would lead to criminal charges--and so, in effect, not worth the effort.
"It must be about fraud, waste, and abuse," Green says now. "To turn around and tell me that, no, we have no criminal violations, no gross abuse, then what are you doing other than spinning your wheels?"
"No criminal violations? He can't say that," former I.G. Clemmons says in a phone interview. "What Stubbs sent in was an update. We never completed the investigation."
Both Clemmons and Stubbs say that Baltimore Housing refused to provide information, and that Green was, at best, indifferent to the agency's stonewalling. Citizens, too, have continued to complain to Green about the things that prompted the investigation--homes collapsed or hastily dismantled without demolition permits, sometimes doing thousands of dollars worth of damage to neighboring structures; contractors rebuilding in apparent violation of zoning regulations, all with the acquiescence of city building inspectors and their supervisors. Green has, in effect, brushed them off.
He says Baltimore Housing officials are working hard to reform any problems brought to light by the previous investigation, and that those officials have "repeatedly addressed" all the citizens' complaints. Green says his "task force" is focusing on larger investigations, including fraud by recipients of federal Section 8 housing subsidies. And Green has the authority to make that decision.
Inspectors general have broad power. They can investigate anyone under their jurisdiction--in Green's case that means any city employee or city contractor. They can call for backup from local police or federal agencies and go after criminal matters, and they can audit departments, after which they're supposed to write reports and recommend fixes. But I.G.s are also limited. Green's agents don't have arrest powers, for instance, and he cannot issue subpoenas on his own. And the I.G. has only a few agents, with two vacancies only recently filled.
Inspectors general also adopt different styles. Some are hard-nosed and prosecutorial, while most others are more interested in helping the agency they oversee overcome problems.
Clemmons and his team were newcomers to Baltimore. Most are retired federal agents who came to the city I.G. office from a culture built on strict rules and crisp forms. Like many newcomers, they were astounded by the city's more relaxed governmental traditions and its tolerance of conflicts of interest. By contrast, after seven years in city government, Green has come to trust Baltimore Housing's management. He sees himself, in fact, as a kind of management consultant--albeit one who could wind up having people arrested.
This story examines the hidden tug-of-war behind the Baltimore Housing investigation, a battle within City Hall that included what some say was an improper targeting, and firing, of a low-level city employee who tried to aid the Housing investigation, and the recent closing of a completed investigation into a Housing official.
Hilton Green gets up from the conference table in his sixth-floor City Hall office and retrieves a VHS tape from his desk. Green says he uses the three-minute video to help train managers and supervisors in city government--a part of his job he says is actually more important than the investigations of wrongdoing for which inspectors general are better known. "I use the tape to try to advise them not to overlook certain small things," he says. "If they're suspicious about any problems that take place, they need to let us know right away."
He pops the tape into a combination TV-VCR perched on a rolling rack and fusses with the controls to cue it up.
A soundtrack of stentorian horns and machine-gun drums blares under the logo for a show called Waste Watch Journal before former U.S. ambassador and perennial presidential candidate Alan Keyes materializes on screen. "Corruption and mismanagement in federal programs is more than just a waste of money," Keyes announces. "It's a human tragedy as well. Nowhere is this more apparent than at the Department of Housing and Urban Development, where each dollar wasted is a dream deferred. Here's the story of just one neighborhood destroyed by fraud in the housing agency."
The camera pans over an inner-city neighborhood while ominous music plays. In a voice-over Joe Strowder crystallizes the feeling he and his neighbors had as their Trinidad neighborhood in Northeast Washington deteriorated: "We know that there's something wrong, we can see it, we can hear of it--we hear rumors. We can't put our finger on it."
Starting from a vague feeling that "something's wrong," the story flows like a thriller movie, complete with a dauntless female sidekick who sounds the alarm despite her boss ordering her to lay off. The story features villains ripping off kindly old folks, indifferent authorities, and a brilliant hero--Hilton Green.
According to the video--and a three-part series The Washington Post published in September 1990--the Trinidad neighborhood fell victim to a huge equity-stripping scam. Speculators bought apartment buildings and immediately flipped them to "investors" (read: straw buyers) for double what they paid. The investors used bogus appraisals to get Federal Housing Authority-backed loans to buy the overpriced buildings and then, trying for higher rents, threw out the older, stable tenants while letting the buildings go to seed. Soon, everything was in foreclosure and the neighborhood was devastated, while the scammers walked off with millions.
In 1984, Sarah Lyon, a HUD temp worker processing loan documents, noticed fishy patterns--the same names (borrowers and lenders); instant, huge increases in sales prices; related-party transactions and foreclosures. Although her boss told her to just process the paperwork, Lyon worked nights and weekends to flesh out the case for months before she brought the documents to Green, who was then the resident agent in the HUD inspector general's D.C. field office.
Green did more legwork, sometimes arriving at buildings just as tenants were locked out. "There were people who were evicted from their homes," a 16-years-younger Green says on screen. "It wasn't a pleasant feeling."
It took years, but thanks to Lyon and Green, "investigations by a multiagency task force have led to 62 convictions and the recovery of $6.5 million in restitution," Keyes concludes. (You can watch the video yourself at youtube.com.)
"Actually, we did more," Green says, turning off the TV. "We got back $10.2 million," he says, then adds, "I was detailed to the FBI for a number of years."
The walls of Green's office attest to the accolades he and Lyon collected. A D.C. activist and recipient of a MacArthur "genius" grant gave Green a $1,000 award, which he donated to charity. "I got HUD agent of the year," he says.
Hilton Green could not have better credentials to conduct fraud investigations in public-housing bureaucracies. After graduating from Washington's Calvin Coolidge High School with honors in 1965, he served two tours in Vietnam (Army Airborne, he says, Bronze Star), worked security at Howard University, and then spent a career in the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development's Office of Inspector General, where he worked his way up to director of the Special Investigations Division. Green retired from federal service in 1997 and took a job with the Chicago Housing Authority's office of inspector general. He left in 2001, tired, he says, of commuting from Chicago to his family in Bowie. He came to the city as inspector general for Baltimore Housing, where he oversaw a group of auditors and compliant officers, plus a five-member squad of agency police detailed to his investigations.
Green is an actual Boy Scout. He is a local commissioner of a program called Scoutreach, and as such he has introduced scouting to kids in the city's public-housing projects since shortly after his 2001 arrival in Baltimore. His generous spirit is nothing new, says Leonard Odom, the assistant inspector general for investigations in Washington's Office of Inspector General and Green's boss when they were at the Chicago Housing Authority. "Every year we'd adopt a family for Christmas," Odom says. "We'd send Hilton [with the gifts]." Green also ran a summer youth tutoring program in the Chicago projects, Odom recalls: "If math was an issue, we had people who maybe had a degree in math. He also found ways to give candy to kids for Halloween."
In two long interviews, Green is gracious and open. "I was warned not to talk to you," he confides. Indeed, Baltimore Housing officials declined to discuss Green and the reforms the department has implemented in the wake of the Housing investigation. "We think you should really just be focused on Hilton Green, and you can leave us out of it, 'cause he's done enough extraordinary things on his own," Housing spokesman Cheron L. Porter says in an Oct. 3 voice-mail.
Green himself is forthcoming, describing several of the cases he did as I.G. for Baltimore Housing, as well as ongoing matters he and his agents have been looking into since he took over as city I.G. in February. He promises a thorough report on alleged test-cheating in the Baltimore Fire Department and says he is still looking into allegations of improprieties at the I Can homeless shelter ("Helter Shelter," Mobtown Beat, Jan. 10), among other things. "I have narcotics cases that I'm working with Baltimore City police on that are known to no one but me," he says.
While this story was being reported, Green made news twice--once for referring an allegedly shoddy home renovation and flip case to the HUD's Office of Inspector General, and again on Oct. 29 when he announced that his office would be investigating a phenomenon, uncovered by The Examiner, in which people have received bogus parking tickets.
But while investigations sometimes grab headlines, Green emphasizes that his main function is akin to a management consultant, training midlevel supervisors, making sure department heads do not overlook what may appear to be small problems.
His own office has a few.
Green cannot say how many complaints his office receives in a given month ("You don't want to write up a lot of paper on everything," he says), and he seems unaware of his responsibility--encoded in the executive order that created his job--to publish an annual report by Sept. 1. "I haven't been here a year," Green notes, promising a report in the spring. "One of the big things for us is to put in a new number system" to track by case numbers. (He does not respond to subsequent requests for copies of annual reports or other public documents he produced in his years as inspector general for Baltimore Housing.)
"My understanding is that he was struggling with it to get [a report] out," Green's predecessor, Andrew Clemmons, says. "But I don't know the reasons why he was struggling. In our complaint-tracking system everything was broken down by complaint category."
Stubbs, who spent years as an investigator for the Social Security Administration before taking the Baltimore job, contends that creating and then fulfilling such "performance measures" is an I.G.'s job one. The lack of a policy and procedures manual for Housing inspectors irked him as well, Stubbs says, because without clear rules of conduct, disciplining employees is almost impossible unless they're convicted of a crime. "That's the whole city of Baltimore," Stubbs says. "Nobody's held accountable because there are no standards."
In doing his job, Green explains, knowing what's a crime and what isn't is key. "Do you just react when an inspector is not following the rules?" he asks hypothetically. "Or do you react when an inspector takes bribes?"
He goes on to describe one "very isolated case" while he was Baltimore Housing I.G. in which an inspector took cash in exchange for uncondemning a house damaged by a storm.
"An inspector told a homeowner, `I want you to know that if I put a condemnation notice on the property, you can't live here, but for $2,000 I can make this go away,'" Green says. The homeowner gave Green permission to record a telephone call with the dirty inspector as part of a sting, but the sting ran into a glitch. The Baltimore Police Department "didn't have the $2,000--I had to get the $2,000," Green says with a laugh. He photocopied the bills and gave them to the homeowner, then put a video camera in a closet aimed at the kitchen table.
"The inspector was explaining how he'd abate [the condemnation]," Green says, and the camera rolled as he took the wad of money. Police arrested him outside the house. "I'll never forget," Green says. "He put the money in his breast pocket, and when [the police] took it out he said, `How'd that get there?'"
It was a good bust, but Green took no joy in it. "He was a lay minister in his church," says Green, without naming the inspector. "He lost his job, maybe lost his wife."
The inspector, Phillip Freeland, pleaded guilty on Oct. 23, 2003. He received a 10-year suspended prison sentence and five years' probation, according to court records. City Paper was unable to locate him for comment. The amount of the bribe was actually $2,500.
"When you have a case like that it ripples through the community," Green says. "A lot of people think they have reason to believe [inspectors are] all like that." But, he says with confidence, they're not.
Yet just a few months after Freeland was sentenced, Green and his office investigated another building inspector allegedly trying to shake down a homeowner. But this inspector was more subtle, and the investigation was very different.
Earl Keister said that he liked Baltimore Housing inspector Tony Santana until he got the idea Santana wanted to force him out of his house. "Me and him was pretty good friends up until this period here," Keister testified before a hearing examiner for the Baltimore Civil Service Commission on Sept. 28, 2004.
In the fall of 2003, Santana condemned a building Keister had bought as an investment in Upper Fells Point without even going inside for a look, Keister testified. Then Santana loaded up Keister with work, ordering him to gut the house, replace the floor joists with 2-by-10s instead of the code-required 2-by-8s, and put in all new plumbing, wiring, and a new roof. "I said, `I don't think I've got all the money it would take to do this,'" Keister testified. "He said, `No problem--I've got people who will buy the building.'"
At the time, vacant houses in the neighborhood routinely changed hands for $100,000 or more. When Keister refused to sell to Santana's friend (the name is not in the record) for $40,000, Santana declined to reinspect the building, Keister testified. "He's the man down there," Keister told the hearing examiner. "If you don't get signed off, you're sitting on a building that you can't do nothing with."
Keister reported Santana to Baltimore Housing's director of permits and code Enforcement, Dorreya Elmenshawy, who passed the case on to Green, who put at least four investigators on the case. But Green never looked into Keister's claim that Santana tried to extort a whole house from him. And he never investigated Keister's claim--also made by others--that Santana collected bribes on the job.
In July 2004, Santana was fired for spending work hours at home and at a bar he owned, and allegedly falsely claiming on city documents that he inspected buildings he did not inspect. But he would not stay fired.
Despite a ruling by the Maryland Court of Special Appeals that his firing was justified, the city rehired him, and today Santana appears to be employed as a demolition inspector at Baltimore Housing.
"Those decisions that were made after our investigation were not my decisions," Green says. "All we can do is the investigation."
In a short phone interview Santana, who is currently being sued for allegedly abandoning a home renovation job he took while off the city payroll, says he would talk to a reporter in the presence of his lawyer, Frank D. Boston III, but Boston did not return phone calls. "Green's a pompous ass," Santana says before hanging up. "He was very downgrading to me."
Keister says he stands by his testimony but otherwise has no comment.
Green's investigation of Santana, made part of his lawsuit seeking reinstatement, offers a rare glimpse into the workings of the usually secret inspector general process. Starting with a truncated written version of Keister's complaint--which doesn't mention Santana's alleged attempt to force Keister to sell his house cheap--the investigators set out to prove only that Santana took his city vehicle home without authorization and spent time at home and at his bar while on the clock.
Baltimore Housing police staked out Santana's Grundy Street home and Sharky's, the bar he owns facing Patterson Park on Eastern Avenue. The investigators saw Santana leave for work--often late--in a city car that should have been parked in a lot downtown. But they couldn't manage to tail him, reporting over and over that they "lost sight of him" each time he put the car in drive.
On April 5, 2004, the investigators got their break, spying Santana in his bar and residence for more than four and a half hours on that workday. Building inspectors are supposed to inspect about a dozen construction sites each day, and Santana's run sheet for the day had 13 addresses checked off. Green, as Housing I.G., concluded that Santana falsified his inspections, and the city fired him for "conduct which causes an irreparable breach of trust."
But Green's investigators did not contact anyone at the buildings Santana was supposed to have inspected--at least not until months later, after Santana hired Boston to fight his dismissal.
At the hearing, Boston contended that every time the investigators lost sight of Santana, he did an inspection. The Civil Service Board didn't buy that, but in 2006 a Circuit Court judge ordered Santana's reinstatement with back pay. Although the Court of Special Appeals reversed that decision in March 2007, the city appears to have hired Santana back anyway.
Santana was, according to testimony, the second-highest ranking building inspector in the city. He trained the new building inspectors. He had also been the sole building inspector in charge of Canton and Fells Point, two areas of the city that saw ferocious redevelopment--and lots of oversized additions and shoddy workmanship passing inspection--during and since Santana's tenure there. His supervisor, Elmenshawy, testified that there were numerous complaints against him beyond the bribery and extortion claims made by Keister, but the department's policy was to not follow up complaints not put in writing.
Santana, meanwhile, had complained that Elmenshawy had routinely waived inspections for buildings that were not up to code, and he was disciplined for making a notation to that effect in the city's computer system. Green did not examine that issue either, according to the report; he now says that the information was not presented to his agents.
"I think we highlighted all that needed to be highlighted," Green says.
Soon after Green took over as city inspector general, he conducted an investigation that ruffled feathers in City Hall and raised eyebrows outside of it. It revolved around a missing $48.96 expense reimbursement check.
The check, made out to a City Hall employee, was deposited by another City Hall employee into his own account. The latter employee, who spoke to City Paper only on condition of anonymity, was grilled in Green's office on March 1 by two investigators, city I.G. agent Donald Stoop and Deputy Sheriff Phyllistine Epes.
After admitting it was his signature endorsing the check, the employee was summarily fired and escorted from the building, according to sources familiar with the incident. According to a memo of the events produced by the employee and obtained by City Paper, the employee was warned that if any other checks turned up in his account there would be a criminal investigation. The memo says the mayor's office required his boss to terminate the employee "unconditionally or else a press release would be issued touting the work of the Inspector General and the Mayor's intolerance towards theft at City Hall."
The employee says he mistakenly deposited the check because it was stapled to the back of another expense check in a sealed city envelope. Thinking it was another expense reimbursement he had been expecting, he simply flipped over both checks, wrote his name on the back of each, and deposited them in an ATM. His memo says that these kinds of mistakes are common in City Hall.
Though his supervisor hired him back a week later, the employee left city employment later that spring. The supervisor refuses to discuss the matter with a reporter and urged the paper to respect the former employee's privacy. But the employee had told and e-mailed several people in City Hall about the incident, and let it be known that he thought he was singled out by Green because he had supported Stoop and Stubbs in their investigation of Baltimore Housing.
Whatever was behind it, the case of the missing $48.96 check seems peculiar to three longtime investigators City Paper spoke to, all of whom questioned Green's judgment but did not wish to be quoted doing so.
"That came across my desk when I worked there, and I wouldn't work it," former city I.G. Andrew Clemmons says, for his part. "$48 is not enough for me to assign a $60,000-a-year investigator."
Green insists the man was guilty and depicts the employee's offer to make amends as a cover-up. "After he acknowledged that he had deposited the check in the account, he attempted to pay off the lady," Green says.
Green appears surprised and offended by the idea that he went after the $48.96 man in part to chill the Housing investigation. "No! Oh no! I would never do anything like that!" he exclaims. "We didn't know who he was!"
"I cannot stand for anybody in any way putting information that isn't correct" into public circulation, Green says. "I think it's very important that people recognize there's a level of integrity that comes with the job."
But the $48.96 check case was not the first time Green was accused of trying to chill the Housing investigation. Stubbs made the same complaint months earlier in a memo obtained by City Paper.
The memo describes an interview Stoop and Stubbs conducted with David Tillman, a former Baltimore Housing spokesman, who was supposedly going to tell the agents what was wrong with City Paper's "Collapse" series. Green sat in on the interview, which was conducted in Green's office. According to Stubbs' memo, "In response to my question `What was factually inaccurate in the news articles?' Mr. Tillman responded `I don't know.'" The memo also criticizes Green's presence in the interview.
"I considered Mr. Green's presence and the use of his office to be highly inappropriate and meant to exert a `chilling effect' on the conduct of the interview," the memo, dated Oct. 11, 2006, says.
"I requested to speak with Mr. Green subsequent to this meeting," Stubbs' memo continues. "After Mr. Tillman left I questioned Mr. Green as to his role in this matter since based on my 28 years of Federal I.G. work I had never had an I.G. sit in on an interview with a member of a component under investigation. Mr. Green stated that his role was to `control and coordinate agencies requests for information.' . . . I asked him if he had ever been part of an interview such as the one that just took place. He responded `no.' I asked why he felt it was appropriate to do so in this case? He responded that he was requested to be in attendance by Mr. Tillman."
Green says Stubbs' memo contained multiple misunderstandings: "At no time did I ever tell [Clemmons' agents] that I had to be involved. However, I did mention to them, as a courtesy, that they coordinate their efforts with my office" in order to make available the people and documents requested. "I don't want to make it sound like I'm running interference on anybody, because I wasn't," he says.
"This man didn't know me. He didn't know my history," Green says of Stubbs, his voice rising. "He met me for 10 minutes. He made the assumption that because I was in Housing, I had to cover up. I don't have to cover up anything."
Shortly after taking over the mayor's office from Martin O'Malley, Sheila Dixon fired then-city I.G. Andrew Clemmons. "I wanted my person," she said during a late August interview. "I wanted a good person." Dixon declined to elaborate, calling it "a personnel matter," but concluded by saying Clemmons "was selected by a prior administration. Hilton Green is doing an extraordinary job."
Clemmons says he doesn't know why he was dismissed, but says it happened after he showed Dixon the results of an investigation into an up-and-coming young Baltimore Housing official named Eric Booker. "I gave her a copy of the report on Booker--I was gone within two weeks," Clemmons says.
Booker has served as the director for code enforcement at Baltimore Housing, since 2004. The Sun quoted him extensively in its June 2006 feature on the neighborhood surrounding the old American Brewery building in East Baltimore, and he has been a central player in revitalization efforts there. After turning around his 40-member Housing inspector staff under O'Malley, he became one of Dixon's go-to guys, handling enforcement of the expanded "clean and green" program, for example.
"He's really incredible," one mayoral staffer, who did not want to be quoted by name, says of Booker. "His attitude is, `We work for the mission and not the clock.' You don't hear stuff like that from many city employees."
Clemmons agrees: "He's a sharp guy, don't get me wrong. What he did in Housing is he tried to get rid of the people that weren't working, the bad apples. He cleaned that up--I give him credit for that."
Booker's most telling character reference might be Green himself, who sings his praises without any prompting from a reporter. "Eric Booker is an individual I have dealt with for a number of years--he took over an abysmal shop," Green says. "He's done a lot to turn things around. Nothing is done in a day."
Green gives a similarly ringing (and unprompted) endorsement to Deputy Commissioner for Code Enforcement Michael Braverman, who oversees both Booker and Dorreya Elmenshawy, Booker's counterpart in building code enforcement.
Asked during a subsequent interview why he trusts Braverman, Green explains, "I have worked with Mr. Braverman for the last two years. I have found him to be a very capable administrator." Has he ever investigated Braverman? "No," Green replies immediately.
Asked if he has ever investigated Booker, Green looks suddenly down at his hands. "No comment," he says quietly.
Asked if he had ever received any allegations of wrongdoing by Booker, Green replies by parsing the meaning of "wrongdoing," saying a reporter's opinion of wrongdoing may be incorrect.
Asked if he had ever been shown a completed investigation of Booker, Green fidgets in his chair. "Oh. Not me. We were not involved in that," he answers. "I think what you will find out is the previous administration did a review on that."
Clemmons says his investigation concluded in early 2006, about a year before he was fired. Working from a tip, Clemmons says he found evidence that Booker, who owned nine buildings near his home on the 1700 block of North Washington Street, had used his position to flood the zone with Housing inspectors. Clemmons regarded this a potential conflict of interest, since fewer inspectors were then available for the rest of the city.
"I said, `Mr. Booker, I have no problems with you trying to correct deficiencies in your neighborhood,'" Clemmons says he told Booker during a tape-recorded interview near the end of his investigation. "But you should be interested in every neighborhood. His answer was, `But I live here. If I was living in those other neighborhoods, I'd pay attention there.'"
Clemmons says Booker neglected to include all of his properties--three of which are rented by tenants paying through federal Section 8 vouchers--on his financial disclosure forms and "was heavily involved in running his own company on the clock--that was in the report."
According to a confidential source familiar with Clemmons' report, it also included allegations that Booker tried to give a city job to a personal relation and maintained an offshore business through which he collected rent payments, allegedly in order to avoid U.S. income taxes.
Clemmons brought a draft of his report to the city's Ethics Board for review, "and they felt there was enough" to proceed with the case, he says. "They asked me to bring a draft to [Housing Commissioner Paul] Graziano, hoping he would do something with it."
Clemmons says he turned over a copy of the completed report, and the tape recordings of his interview with Booker, to then-City Solicitor Ralph Tyler. (Tyler, who is now Maryland insurance commissioner, did not return phone calls for comment.) Two sources with knowledge of the case confirmed that the Ethics Board referred the case for processing by the city Law Department, which chose both a hearing examiner and a prosecutor.
Tyler "assigned one of his attorneys to prosecute," Clemmons says. "Booker got an attorney. Then they sat on it for a while. Then they closed it out. They said some of the stuff I came up with was petty." Clemmons disagrees: "It wasn't just one thing--you might call one thing petty."
The recent upswing in Booker's neighborhood appears to be paying dividends. A large redevelopment deal for the old American Brewery is underway and, closer to home, Booker sold one of his properties, 1904 N. Washington St., for $65,000 in July of 2006, according to state tax records. He had purchased the rowhouse in late 2001 from HUD for $6,000.
Booker neglected to list his ownership of 1904 N. Washington (or its sale) on his 2006 financial disclosure statement--the first one in which a company called Sunshine Inc., chartered in Antigua, appears. Booker's statement discloses that he is "general partner" with 33 percent ownership of that company, which is not otherwise detailed.
Booker declined to comment for this story. Phone calls and e-mails to Baltimore Housing, asking for comment from Booker, Braverman, and Graziano drew this e-mailed response from spokesman Cheron L. Porter: "The investigation initiated by former Inspector General Clemmons against Director and Division Chief of Housing Code Enforcement Eric Booker was found to be baseless. Commissioner Graziano and the Baltimore City Ethics Board reviewed this report and decided not to proceed and dismissed the case. Chief Booker has done an outstanding job in raising the standards for Code Enforcement and has the respect of his colleagues, superiors and communities of this city."
Dixon's spokesman, Anthony McCarthy, applauds Porter's response in a second e-mail. "Eric Booker should not be forced to comment on issues that have already been resolved," he writes to City Paper. "The statement from housing is clear. To allow Mr. Booker to rehash these matters would only continue to give life to a story that would be better off being untold. I question the timing and motives behind the former Inspector General's continued interest in Mr. Booker. We will not be commenting any further on this matter."
Avery Aisenstark, who directs the Ethics Board, says that "the matter was closed without resolution." He distinguishes this from a finding that Booker was innocent, or that the charges were baseless.
For his part, Green says he's never felt political pressure in his job. "At no time has anyone ever said, `Hilton, don't do that investigation,'" he says.
Not every lead can be investigated, and not every investigation turns up wrongdoing, but Green's ginger treatment of the Baltimore Housing investigation contrasts with his long-ago heroics in uncovering the massive fraud in Washington's Trinidad neighborhood. And Green has avoided taking action in the Housing case even though one resident has repeatedly come to him with a box of evidence--much the way Sarah Lyon did in Washington, D.C., back in 1984.
A slight woman with straight brown hair and a relentless personality, Fells Point resident Deborah Tempera has collected information and documents on building additions, modifications, demolitions, and zoning changes for nearly a decade, often working on behalf of neighborhood residents who ask her to help them. She also noticed patterns--the same names of developers, owners, lenders, and contractors pop up in many construction projects that damage adjoining properties, collapse, or were torn down and rebuilt far out of proportion to zoning code. Tempera's persistent complaints to Baltimore Housing officials eventually earned her a reputation as a crank.
When Clemmons' agents finally launched a broad investigation of Baltimore Housing, Tempera explained her theories and provided documents. The agents were certain they were onto something, but when Green took over the city I.G. office the investigation was shut down, though he denies that it has been officially closed.
Tempera tried to jump-start it. She requested Stubbs' "draft report" under the Maryland Public Information Act, and when Green did not reply to her first letter, she wrote a second letter, dated Sept. 18.
Green replied to Tempera by letter, dated Sept. 27, chiding her for sending her request to the wrong address--Room 505 of City Hall instead of his office at 640. Then he brushed her off.
"When I became the Baltimore City Inspector General in February of 2007, I met with former Agent Alan Stubbs who had released information from this office without my authority and not in the form of an official investigation," Green's letter says. "Mr. Stubbs never had an official report nor was a report ever issued or signed by me or former Inspector General Andrew Clemmons regarding this matter. Upon becoming Inspector General and being apprised of your concerns, I immediately asked Mr. Stubbs if he had information directly or indirectly that could result in a criminal investigation in this matter, and he advised me that he `did not.'"
"His statement is an absolute lie," Stubbs contends. "That never took place. He never asked me anything about that investigation. Never."
Green's letter to Tempera continues: "Mr. Stubbs had no authority to release any findings to the City Paper or to Councilman Kraft. I have met with Michael Braverman . . . and he has advised that your allegations have been repeatedly addressed.
"My office continues to monitor and investigate new allegations of irregularities. If you have allegations, we will address them; although many allegations that you continue to raise exceed the Statute of Limitation. Nevertheless, we will continue to investigate allegations that deal with the Fells Point and Canton communities."
Green's response reminds Tempera of what she says she's heard all along from Baltimore Housing officials who control inspections. "I know he's not doing what an inspector general's supposed to do," she says, "because he's not looking into anything."
Over dinner in Federal Hill, Stubbs says Green's trust of authority is not unusual among I.G.s. "Hilton is the standard," Stubbs concludes. "Andrew [Clemmons] and myself are the odd men out."
For his part, Green's had quite enough of Stubbs and his opinions, and he says he has set about the task of building up the Office of Inspector General, finally having received the budget bump he needs to hire two new investigators. Green also is working on getting people detailed to his office from other city departments, he says, starting with a list of every city job with "investigator" in its title, so that "when we use him, if he's detailed to our office, we can use him as a person who has experience in that [department] for many many years."
They will be the kind of people who know how Baltimore government works and will not be unduly influenced by outside ideas. They will be the sort who can tell a real whistle-blower from a crank. They will be the kind that recognize that dozens of building collapses are no cause for alarm or for harsh scrutiny of a department's upper echelons.
"Really, what you need," Green explains, "are people who know the city."
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