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Fraud, CCDC, SEDC, and the not-so-controlling parent CSDRA (AKA San Diego City Council)
In most towns and cities, there is but one redevelopment agency, if there is one at all. Here in San Diego, we have three, and none of them is without controversy.
Papa bear is the City of San Diego Redevelopment Agency (CSDRA for short, at least for this blog), which is actually the San Diego City Council. This means that each council member wears two hats when it comes to redevelopment, as the City Council that controls the Redevelopment Agency and as the Redevelopment Agency that is supposedly controlled by the City Council.
Conveniently, whenever a council member is asked a question about any redevelopment problem, one may hear something like "That's a problem for the Redevelopment Agency" as if the question is supposed to land on somebody else's desk.
If this is not enough of a subterfuge, then have a look at the twin baby bears of the same political parent: Centre City Development Corporation (CCDC) and Southeastern Economic Development Corporation (SEDC).
Now, ordinary reasonable people may assume that the CSDRA AKA City Council has more than enough clout to manhandle any obstacle blocking redevelopment to the ground. After all, they do seem rather well connected, wined and dined, as the evidence in the earlier federal "No Touch" bribery trial showed.
At the same time, it would be politically unwise to have developers show up in front of CSDRA AKA City Council without having some sort of official-looking, prior neighborhood approval of their plans, just in case some collection of neighborhood nay-sayers happened to get wind of a proposed project before the developers' proposal had its opportunity to receive that nearly-irrevocable stamp of city-wide approval.
A scan of recent print and online headlines reveals a lot about the baby bears (without including previous blogs by this writer, and certainly not at all exhaustive of other sources):
"Where SEDC's Bonuses Came From" at voiceofsandiego.org dated Sept. 12.
"Charges filed against past CCDC leader" and "Did SEDC bonuses amount to fraud?" from our distinguished daily paper, also dated Sept. 12.
"Audit Finds 'Fraud,' Details SEDC Problems Beyond Bonuses" at voiceofsandiego.org dated Sept. 10.
"FBI Questioned SEDC Board Members" at voiceofsandiego.org dated Sept. 3.
"Grand jury says CCDC should be absorbed: Report in response to citizen complaints", a San Diego Union-Tribune article from June 3.
This is merely a small selection of the many, many items found in a 2-minute Internet search.
The article above referring to FBI questioning of SEDC board members is informative, regarding whether the outgoing SEDC president's bonuses were in any way clandestine (the following from http://www.voiceofsandiego.org/articles/2008/09/03/this_just_in/708fbi090308.txt):
[SEDC board member] Gonzalez said he told the agents he had not been asked to approve Smith's bonuses.
"Heck, I didn't even know how much she got paid until I read it in your stories," he told me [Will Carless of VOSD].
While the City Council may have had a duty to ask questions about SEDC's annual proposed budget when it was presented, it appears from the above previously published quote that even SEDC's board was just as slack in its duty to ask while SEDC's proposed budget was being prepared... or even while it was actually implemented.
Again from voiceofsandiego.org (http://www.voiceofsandiego.org/articles/2008/09/11/government/465sedcaudit091108.txt): "Outdated city and agency policies leave much of SEDC's power in the hands of one person, President Carolyn Y. Smith, who unilaterally ran nearly all aspects of the agency, including coordinating projects; negotiating with developers; managing all communications with the public, the board and city officials; and hiring consultants, according to the audit."
Compare this with the 2006 outside performance audit of SEDC where Ms. Smith recommended that SEDC no longer monitor or enforce regulations over its own affordable housing contracts (found on "page 35" at http://www.sedcinc.com/reports/SEDC_Red_Perf_Review.pdf). Ms. Smith's recommended solution? Pass the buck and the oversight blame on those SEDC-compliance duties to the San Diego Housing Commission, an agency already backlogged with Section 8 applications, monitoring and enforcement, besides the Housing Commission's other duties.
Draw your own conclusions about any slackness at CCDC, or the propriety of re-seating the board members whose previous terms had already expired... and don't forget that official homeland security/FEMA priority of "continuity of governance" regardless of the magnitude of disaster.
The United States Attorney's Manual tells any interested US citizen what it takes to get a conviction on fraud involving programs where any federal funds are involved, including programs for affordable housing and redevelopment (found at http://www.usdoj.gov/usao/eousa/foia_reading_room/usam/title9/crm01004.htm):
In all prosecutions under 18 U.S.C. § 666(a)(1)(A) the United States must prove the following general elements:
that the defendant is an agent of an organization or of a state, local or Indian Tribal government;
that the organization, government or agency receives benefits in excess of $10,000 in a one-year period pursuant to a Federal program involving a grant, a contract, a subsidy, a loan, a guarantee, insurance, or another form of Federal assistance;
that the defendant embezzled, stole, obtained by fraud, or otherwise without authority knowingly converted to the use of any person other than the rightful owner, or intentionally misapplied, property;
which had a value of $5,000 or more; and
was owned by or under the care, custody, or control of such organization, government, or agency.
In addition to these general elements the United States must also prove the elements of the specific prohibited act charged, i.e., embezzlement, larceny or criminal conversion.
An ordinary reasonable person might expect that some of the money passing between CSDRA AKA City Council and the fraternal twins CCDC and SEDC just might have originated from federal sources in excess of $10,000 in any given year.
Was there a total annual presidential bonus paid at SEDC in the last decade and a half that was less than $5000?
One only has to examine the stories listed above to see how easy it would be for any redevelopment agency in San Diego to "lay everything out in the open", knowing that the facts would be hidden away in the jumble of business passing between the three redevelopment agencies... a jumble of business that has proven too dense for penetration by ordinary annual auditors and that this year's County Grand Jury has already called duplicative, out of control, and simply too expensive for the City of San Diego.
This hiding-in-plain-sight among reams of paperwork is kind of like calling an alleged bribe a "campaign contribution", a statement heard over and over again during the 2005 federal "No Touch" trial... and a jury of ordinary reasonable people saw through that one, too.
Does anybody know how the US Department of Justice handles all of us in the city limits of San Diego as potential federal crime victims?
"Some days you get the bear; some days the bear gets you."
More like this:
- San Diego City Council Revisits $288 Million Loan Forgiveness to Redevelopment Agency — July 12, 2010
- Redevelopment Agency Block Grant Scandal: the Carolyn Smith Legacy — Jan. 11, 2009
- Recent SEDC Audit to City Raises More Questions than Answers — Sept. 18, 2008
- County Grand Jury recommends consolidation of CCDC, SEDC into single redevelopment agency — Sept. 10, 2008
- Lack of budget standardization at redevelopment agencies an on-going city concern — Aug. 28, 2008