Federal prosecutors have launched an investigation into whether federal officials or others helped former Chelsea housing chief Michael McLaughlin defraud the government, repeatedly telling him in advance about “surprise” apartment inspections so that his agency could pass with flying colors even though the buildings were poorly maintained.
McLaughlin, who faces sentencing in June for deliberately concealing his bloated $360,000 salary from regulators for years, agreed to cooperate with prosecutors in exchange for the hope of less prison time. However, his lawyer declined to say whether McLaughlin is helping investigators, who say that millions in federal funds remain unaccounted for from McLaughlin’s decade in charge of Chelsea’s low-income housing projects.
A Globe investigation suggests that McLaughlin escaped scrutiny for years in part by rigging the federal inspections that determined how closely Chelsea’s operations would be scrutinized. Several agency employees said McLaughlin always received the list of 25 apartments to be inspected weeks in advance, allowing him to clean them up before the inspectors arrived.
“They had the list and Mike kept sending us back to the same apartments. For about two weeks before the inspection, you’d go to the apartment every day,” explained one authority employee who asked not to be identified out of fear of retaliation.
Chelsea Housing records from the three weeks before the 2011 federal inspection show that McLaughlin’s staff made sure exterminators visited all 25 apartments that were ultimately inspected, while 25 apartments immediately adjacent to the inspected ones received zero visits from the exterminator.
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