LUMBERTON — The county’s investigation into the alleged failure of the Robeson County Housing Authority to follow federal procurement policies has unearthed instances of conflict of interest, according to Robeson County Attorney Patrick Pait, who is heading the local investigation into mismanagement of federal funds.
In an Aug. 7 letter to Michael A. Williams, director of the Office of Public Housing for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s field office in Greensboro, Pait identified four cases of conflict of interest since 2010.
“We have conducted an internal investigation into matters of conflict of interest as defined by our current policy,” Pait told the HUD official.
The four cases of conflict of interest identified by the attorney include two employees working for the authority who are related to county commissioners; an employee related to the authority’s recently suspended director; and an employee directly related to the authority’s maintenance director.
County Commissioner Raymond Cummings’ son, Robert Cummings, was employed by the authority from June 17, 2010, to April 14, 2011; Darrel Mitchell, Commissioner Roger Oxendine’s wife’s sister’s husband, was employed for lawn care service. Mitchell’s Lawn Care worked for the authority from May 5, 2010, until July 31, 2014.
Authority Director Ronald Oxendine’s niece, Shannon Oxendine, was employed by the authority from June 18, 2010, until Aug. 13, 2010; and Misty Hammonds, the daughter of the authority’s maintenance director, George Locklear, was employed to service vehicles for the authority from Sept. 6, 2010, until April 4, 2014. Hammonds is the owner of Hammonds Auto Service.
Pait’s letter to Williams said that as a result of the investigation, the Robeson County Housing Authority Steering Committee has been disbanded. The committee was made up of four county commissioners — Raymond Cummings, Roger Oxendine, Hubert Sealey and Lance Herndon — whose districts house the four public housing complexes managed by the authority. The committee operated until Aug. 4.
“The committee reviewed monthly activity and endorsed or otherwise recommended actions to the full board,” Pait told the HUD official. “Going forward all matters will be reviewed by the full board.”
The Robesonian tried unsuccessfully to speak by telephone with Commissioners Raymond Cummings and Roger Oxendine.
The county housing authority’s full board is made up of all eight county commissioners.
Problems at the housing authority surfaced when HUD initiated a review of the housing authority’s files in January after it received a hotline complaint. An on-site visit was conducted in June.
Ron Oxendine, the housing authority’s director, was suspended by the Board of Commissioners with pay on July 21.
Allegations against Oxendine include that he used federal money to pay for work on his home; had two contractors work on his home while they were under contract to the housing authority; and tried to get free landscape work done at his home by a company that was under contract to the housing authority.
HUD listed three findings in its report. It found that the housing authority could not provide sufficient documentation on several contracts, it violated procurement policy, and it failed to obtain independent cost estimates before going out and getting bids for projects. The housing authority was also told by HUD to change its procurement policy and make sure that cost estimates are performed for all procurements.
Commissioner Hubert Sealey was chairman of the Robeson County Housing Authority’s board before Raymond Cummings and was its chairman when Ron Oxendine was hired as director. He said he fought against the hiring of Oxendine, saying he was not the most qualified applicant.
“I told them many times, ‘Boys you can’t do that’,” Sealey said. “But they wouldn’t listen.”
The county housing authority could have to pay HUD back more than $1 million in questionable contract expenses if documentation can’t be provided showing that the contracts were properly granted.