February in Florida Seemed to Be Tradition for McLaughlin: Hud Looks into Expenses Racked Up by McLaughlin, CHA Employees

Apparently, like duck hunting season or deer hunting season, the public housing conference season appears to always happen during Chelsea’s coldest months – and the location for those getaways is almost exclusively Florida.

That according to expense payments from the Chelsea Housing Authority (CHA) regarding several public housing programs that the federal Housing and Urban Development (HUD) administration is questioning right now.

HUD is questioning thousands of dollars in travel expenses reported by former Chelsea Housing Authority (CHA) director Michael McLaughlin and his oft-travel companion and alleged girlfriend Linda Thibodeau – the former CHA director of housing management. They are looking at the periods of 2005 to 2012.

In a letter to the CHA from HUD dated May 22nd – and first reported last week by the Boston Globe but also obtained by the Record – the federal agency scourges the CHA for past uses of monies specifically from the Housing Voucher Choice (HVC) program – citing $49,371 of outright ‘disallowable’ expenses and another $103,772 in questionable or unsupported expenses from that program.

The HVC program is often referred to as Section 8, and it allows rental assistance for low-income families renting dwellings on the private market.

However, that wasn’t the only inconsistency reported, as HUD cited some $711,392 used questionably from all CHA housing programs.

“Appropriated funds were spent for disallowable costs of $49,371 and for questionable and/or unsupported costs of $103,772 for the HCV program only,” read the findings in the letter. “The total amount of disallowable, unsupported, and additional potentially disallowable costs for all programs and projects operated by CHA for which Department funds are granted is $711,392.”

The letter also calls for the current CHA administration to pay back some $219,000 immediately, money for which the CHA does not currently have available. In an entirely separate issue, HUD is also going after some $7 million or more of funds that were supposed to be used from 2002 to 2009 for improving apartment conditions and were instead diverted elsewhere – including to salaries.

The HUD letter in particular cites the costs associated with travel and reimbursements.

In an exhibit with the letter, expenses are routinely questioned for McLaughlin and Thibodeau going back to 2005, but some travel expenses are also questions for current employees – such as Executive Director Al Ewing and Assistant Executive Director Diane Cohen.

Nevertheless, it is McLaughlin and Thibodeau that seem to be the focus.

A snippet of just a few years worth of travel includes:

•Jan. 2010 – unidentified travel

•April 2010 – Hyannis Resort and Conference Center

•October 2010 – Phoenix Sheraton

•Dec. 2010 – Downtown Miami Hilton and Sheraton Sand Key Resort

•Dec. 2010 – Sanibel Harbor Resort and Spa

•Feb. 2011 – Sheraton Sand Key Resort

•April 2011 – Hyannis Resort and Conference Center

•May 2011 – Royal Sonestra Hotel

•July 2011 – Hyatt Regency Capitol Hill (Washington, D.C.)

“Contrary to regulatory and statutory requirements, the CHA spent funds for many items that were not reasonable or necessary and that did not support the CHA mission,” read the letter. “Inappropriate items include expenditures for excessive travel, various entertainment expenses, excessive salaries and unsupported reimbursements to employees…These expenditures demonstrate the former executive director’s and board’s waste and abuse of funds and their apparent disregard for internal controls.”

Reports in the Boston Globe story on this same subject quoted an unidentified employee or former employee of the CHA who indicated there was never any new information brought back from the various conferences that McLaughlin and Thibodeau so frequently needed to attend.

That person also told the Globe that McLaughlin and Thibodeau once attended a computer software conference, but neither could proficiently use a computer.

Meanwhile, HUD ended its discourse – which included numerous other recommendations and findings beyond the travel concerns – by saying the expenses simply took away from the residents – residents who are the poorest and most economically vulnerable in society.

“Misuse of…funds prevents the public housing authority from assisting as many families as possible with the funds made available for this purpose,” read the letter. “These conditions occurred because the CHA management and Board failed to exercise fiduciary responsibility and did not act in the best interest of the public housing authority or those it served.”

A spokesperson for HUD refused to elaborate any further on the letter or the inquiry into expenses.

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