Former Medford housing chief is fined $5,000
Covelle also barred from public work
After a yearlong investigation, Robert Covelle, former chief of the Medford Housing Authority, has been fined $5,000 and barred from public employment for six years, but will face no criminal charges, Attorney General Martha Coakley said Monday.
Prosecutors found that Covelle violated public bidding laws and backdated documents to make it appear that he was following proper procedures. Prosecutors concluded, however, that Covelle did not personally profit from his illegal contracting practices.
“Procurement laws help maintain the integrity of public projects by requiring a strong, transparent bidding process,” Coakley said. “Mr. Covelle violated the trust placed in him to protect taxpayer dollars and ensure that all businesses were competing fairly for projects at the Medford Housing Authority.”
The three-page settlement agreement between Covelle and state prosecutors marks the end of a tumultuous year at the authority, which oversees about 1,600 units of housing for low-income residents. The agency was raided twice by the state, Coakley convened a grand jury to consider criminal charges, and federal housing inspectors issued a scathing report concluding that the agency routinely ignored federal contracting rules.
Covelle, 59, who was forced to resign from his $126,000-a-year job in May amid allegations of favoritism in hiring and contracting, hired contractors for two Medford housing developments without putting the jobs out to bid, Coakley said. In one instance, Covelle paid Capitol Contracting $84,000 to renovate the basement of LaPrise Village, the attorney general said. After hiring the company, Covelle fabricated and backdated a list of bidders, a contract, and an invoice. Capitol is owned by a friend of John Lonergan, Covelle’s director of operations.
Lonergan was placed on leave in the spring while police investigated whether he kept money from the sale of copper salvaged from a public housing project that was about to be demolished. He was later terminated, though no charges have been brought.
Covelle also hired a security company, Alliance Detective and Security Service, for the Walkling Court development without getting bids, prosecutors found.
The company billed the Medford housing agency about $150,000 between August 2009 and November 2011 for security at Walkling Court and other developments. But it was not until the state began investigating Covelle’s management and contracting practices in June 2011 that Alliance drafted an agreement that covered all the developments where Alliance was working. Covelle asked Alliance to backdate the agreement to 2009, when the company began working for the Medford Housing Authority.
Capitol Contracting was cited in a US Department of Housing and Urban Development audit released in March. That audit concluded that the authority paid $1.3 million to 21 contractors without following federal contracting rules. Alliance Detective was not among them.
According to a report on the state investigators’ findings, Covelle and others at Medford Housing Authority said they were unaware of the state’s contracting rules.
Coakley recommended that all housing authority executive directors statewide and other employees who oversee capital projects be required to attend training on proper contracting offered by the state inspector general.
Covelle’s lawyer, Thomas Drechsler, said Covelle is “proud of the service that he gave to the Medford Housing Authority and appreciates the support of the many tenants who have reached out to him. He’s satisfied with the agreement and wants to put the matter behind him.
“The most important thing to note is that after a lengthy and thorough investigation, there’s never been any evidence that Mr. Covelle was in any way personally enriched or gained personally in any way from his actions, “ he added.
Aaron Gornstein, Governor Deval Patrick’s housing and community development undersecretary, declined to comment on the agreement, but said the resolution will allow the agency to move forward.
“We can now put the misdeeds of the former executive director behind us to focus on the future of the Medford Housing Authority,” he said. “The Department of Housing and Community Development looks forward to continuing to work with the new leadership to provide support and services to residents and to do so with integrity and transparency.”
He said the state has requested that each local housing authority appoint a special procurement officer to “maintain consistent and responsible procurement practices. “
The state will work to make the training recommended by Coakley mandatory for all local housing authorities, Gornstein said.
“We’re past crisis mode now,” said Sean Caron, a board member recently appointed by Patrick. “But it’s an important reminder of how bad things were a short time ago.”
Councilor Robert Penta questioned whether the investigators went far enough. “It’s definitely disappointing,” he said. “We may never know the extent of the abuse and misuse.”
Since Covelle’s departure, the agency’s finance director, Michael Pacious, has served as acting executive director while the authority searches for a permanent successor.
Covelle was hired in 2009 with the strong political support of Mayor Michael J. McGlynn and Covelle’s brother-in-law, the late Middlesex Sheriff James DiPaola, a duo that Covelle referred to in internal e-mail as his “consultants.” Once in office, Covelle created a new position, director of operations, and hired Lonergan, a family friend of the mayor.
But when disclosures of alleged mismanagement dominated headlines last spring, McGlynn joined Patrick and the housing agency’s board in calling for Covelle’s resignation, which came May 17 in a deal that handed Covelle $31,500 in severance pay.
In a statement released Monday, McGlynn said “the work has already begun to change, reform, and reenergize the mission of public housing in Medford.”
The Collins Center at the University of Massachusetts has been reviewing the housing authority’s operations, he said, and a new executive director should be chosen by January.