Auditors find political favors, suspicious transactions at La Joya Housing Authority
The La Joya Housing Authority allowed people with political connections to skip the waiting list last year, according to a damning audit report approved by the board Wednesday.
Auditors also flagged inappropriate expenses, poor recordkeeping and suspicious transactions between housing authority bank accounts.
“When the auditor was here and did our audit for 2018, he basically — and you’ll see it in all the bank statements if you guys take the time to review them — you will see transfers that were made from the low rent and the Section 8 account into the nonprofit,” said Executive Director Cristi LaJeunesse, who took the job in October.
“He made the suggestion that charges be brought against the previous director for laundering money. And he said that the money in the nonprofit should be paid back to the accounts that it was owed to, the low rent and the Section 8 account.”
The housing authority board fired her predecessor, Interim Executive Director Frances A. Salinas, in November after a nasty legal battle.
Asked about the audit report, Frances Salinas responded with a text message.
“Cristi LaJeunesse has habitually lied under oath in Court and on Housing Authority Meeting Records, Manipulated Documents, the System and insulted our La Joya Community by stating our City and tenants are beneath her,” Frances Salinas said in the text message. “She and David Pohler are Racists of the highest caliber! They are hell bent on another smear campaign and you’re their little lap dog, just looking for scraps.”
David Pohler is the director of the Office of Public Housing, which is part of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development San Antonio Field Office.
Smith Marion & Co. of Brentwood, Tennessee, audited the housing authority and prepared the 51-page report.
Auditors flagged a wide variety of problems, which ranged from poor recordkeeping to political favors that violated housing authority policy.
“During the course of the audit, we were informed of fraudulent activity that involved several Public Housing Tenants who were selected from the wait list out of order as ‘political favors,’” according to the audit, which doesn’t name the tenants.
LaJeunesse said she believed several people who skipped the waiting list were related to Frances Salinas and her parents, Mayor Jose A. “Fito” Salinas and City Commissioner Mary Salinas.
Other findings included housing authority spending on meals and alcohol for board members.
“Specific items that we deemed unallowable were alcohol beverages reimbursed by federal program to employee/board members,” according to the audit. “Specific items that we deemed unreasonable, and areas of waste and/or abuse, occurred when several meals were on a receipt that was reimbursed to a single board member with no documentation on who the other meals were for, it was unclear if it was another board member or family members or spouses. In addition, these individuals received per diem amounts for attending conference with no documented plan.”
LaJeunesse said the findings represented a systemic problem with the housing authority board.
“It’s sad,” LaJeunesse said. “Until they have an ethical person in there with an ethical board it’s going to be a continuing issue.”
Along with specific incidents that violated housing authority policy, the audit revealed big-picture problems.
The housing authority recorded a $150,000 operating deficit, according to the audit. It actually represented a significant improvement from 2017, when the housing authority recorded a $244,000 operating deficit.
Both operating deficits included estimated depreciation costs.
Board Chairwoman Sylvia Garces Valdez said she’s optimistic the housing authority will perform better in 2019.
“We pray that we continue to see progress,” Garces Valdez said. “And we’ll work hard for our tenants and our community.”
This article has been updated to correctly state David Pohler’s title. He is the director of the Office of Public Housing, which is part of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development San Antonio Field Office.