Oakland Housing Authority Travel Records Show Double-Dipping

Travel documents examined by the Investigative Unit show some commissioners from a Bay Area housing authority double-dipping, misusing travel funds and some trips with no explanation.

By Jenna Susko, Julie Putnam, Jeremy Carroll and Felipe Escamilla
|  Monday, Feb 24, 2014  |  Updated 5:51 PM PDT
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The Oakland Housing Authority’s six-member board of Commissioners spent $148,559 traveling to conferences over the past three years, but some of that came from OHA handing out extra cash and allowing commissioners to double-dip. Jenna Susko report.

The Oakland Housing Authority’s six-member board of Commissioners spent $148,559 traveling to conferences over the past three years, but some of that came from OHA handing out extra cash and allowing commissioners to double-dip. Jenna Susko report.

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The Oakland Housing Authority’s six-member board of Commissioners spent $148,559 traveling to conferences over the past three years, but some of that came from OHA handing out extra cash and allowing commissioners to double-dip.

The Investigative Unit went through boxes of thousands of documents and created its own database of travel expenditures for three years to find commissioners receiving extra payments and having OHA foot the bill for undocumented trips.

OHA commissioners are appointed by the mayor and are tasked with overseeing the Authority that procures quality low-income public housing for about 10 percent of Oakland’s population, according to its website.

Commissioners change regularly, while others have served for several years. Some choose to travel to conferences, while others do not attend.

Commissioners do not receive a salary, but get paid fifty dollars for attending their monthly public meeting and get their travel to housing conferences across the country paid in full.

When commissioners travel, they receive a daily stipend or “per diem” to cover their meals based on the federal General Services Administration standard, which is calculated by city and month.

However, the Investigative Unit found commissioners taking that cash up front, while getting meals included in the cost of the conference. That amounts to two payments, or “double-dipping.” The team also uncovered commissioners receiving hotel stays and extra per diems for days following conferences when they were not working.

Commissioner Moses Mayne has served on the board for 14 years and spent the most on travel over the last three years: $63,021.

“Per diem usually isn’t that much, “ Mayne told NBC Bay Area. “Sometimes we have to supplement the per diem with our own money so that we can eat ‘correctly’,” he said. “More than McDonald's is correctly.”

However, records show per diem payments can get up to $71 a day in Washington DC and about $56 a day in cities like Nashville, and the Investigative Unit found often times, Mayne was receiving even more than that.

According to records, Mayne went to more than a dozen conferences that listed meals as being provided, but also got the per diem cash.

Other times, he got double per diem in a single day: When he took three trips in a row- from Washington DC to attend the Congressional Black Caucus in 2012 to Phoenix to attend the National Association of Housing and Redevelopment Officials conference to New Orleans, he got paid per diem twice for a single day when he was traveling between conferences.

Mayne denied that he received this double payment.

OHA documents also show Commissioner Mayne attended a conference in Washington DC and then a conference in Detroit that started four days later. The hotel stays and per diem in between the two conferences, he charged to the Housing Authority and he also got an extra day of stipend.

That trip cost OHA nearly $5000.

“It wouldn’t make sense to use all the money to fly home and then turn around the next day and fly back out to Detroit to another conference and waste the Housing Authority’s money on the flights,” Mayne said.

But the records show his trip still cost more than another commissioner attending those conferences who flew home inbetween events.

“This has been informative to me because I had no idea,” Executive Director, Eric Johnson, told NBC Bay Area. “We should have split the days of per diem that you are talking about,” Johnson said. “So if it was 70 dollar per diem it would be thirty five for one trip, thirty five for another.”

The Investigative Unit showed him the documents, which indicate that this was not happening in several cases.

“Then we made an error,” Johnson said. “We don’t want to make those kinds of mistakes, we just don’t and if we’re making them, we want to correct them.”

The Investigative Unit also found a series of flights Mayne charged after a 2011 NAHRO conference in St. Louis.

Mayne used the Housing Authority’s credit card for a flight to Nashville for a night, then a flight to Vegas, where he stayed six days.

Mayne denied charging this to the Housing Authority.

“I understand what was provided to you, I understand how you would extrapolate that from what you see but that's not the accurate picture,” Mayne said.

“I appreciate a third party looking at what I do and what our Housing Authority does,” Mayne said. “Because I think we need that. We’re not trying to hide anything, I’m not trying to hide anything.”

He insisted his own personal records would tell a different story and offered to show them to the Investigative Unit, but has not reached out since the interview.

When asked if the OHA records were wrong, Mayne replied, “I can’t say they are wrong.”

NBC Bay Area showed the documents to Ron Rotunda, a former Fair Political Practices Commission and author of several books on legal ethics.

“My jaw dropped,”he said. “I think they should be embarrassed and they should have internal procedures to make sure this doesn’t happen again,” he continued. “Other agencies know how to do it and it can be done the right way.”

Rotunda said this is not proper use of public money.

“Someone has to pay for that and that someone is the taxpayers of California,” he said.

Executive Director Johnson told NBC Bay Area he planned to address the charges: “We’ll go back and revisit that and see if we’re making an error because we could be,” Johnson said.“If we are, we have to correct it and the commissioners will be happy to reimburse us for whatever they owe.”

However, Johnson insisted that the amount of travel is necessary for the commissioners to best represent Oakland tenants, especially in Washington DC.

“If we don’t allow them to do that [attend conferences], I think we are all diminished,” Johnson said.

Do you have a tip for the Investigative Unit?

Email us: TheUnit@nbcbayarea.com

Tweet us: @TheUnitNBC @JennaSusko @putnamproducer

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