The organizations were supposed to create or rehabilitate moderate-income housing through HUD’s HOME Investment Partnerships program. But no new housing was built, the report said, and homes that were supposed to be rehabilitated were not repaired and appear to have been abandoned.
The report — released in August by HUD’s regional inspector general, John P. Buck — urged HUD to recover its funds from the county.
The HUD inquiry is the latest fallout from a federal corruption probe in Prince George’s County. Johnson (D) is serving seven years in prison for his role in a wide-ranging conspiracy that included bribe payments of at least $1 million. In many instances, he used the county’s housing department to advance his schemes, federal prosecutors said.
Allegations of pay-to-play politics in Prince George’s circulated for years. The FBI began an investigation in January 2006, authorities say, after agents learned that “real estate developers . . . were regularly providing things of value to public officials in exchange for official acts that were favorable to these individuals and their companies.”
The HOME program was a key element of the corruption scheme, federal officials have said. Some of the $28 million in HOME funds the county received were used to make deals in which Johnson and then-housing chief James Johnson, now serving 37 months in prison, took bribes. In exchange, they approved development projects, including some that, according to the HUD inspector general, failed to meet basic federal standards for self-
governance and oversight.
In one project cited by the HUD inspector general for lax county oversight, Johnson authorized payment of $1.2 million in HOME funds to Mirza H. Baig. The Laurel doctor was convicted of bribery after paying Jack Johnson and James Johnson between $400,000 and $1 million in bribes, according to federal prosecutors. Baig is serving an 18-month sentence; he was fined $50,000 and ordered to forfeit $250,000.
Baig’s HOME project, Romwood Square, a collaboration with Roots of Mankind, a Prince George’s nonprofit group, was supposed to rehabilitate 11 houses but did not. The HUD investigators found that “no renovations had been completed and the properties were vacant. There were several signs of neglect or abandonment.”
Baig became a witness against Johnson and was videotaped by FBI agents handing Jack Johnson $15,000 in cash on the day of Johnson’s arrest in 2010.
The county government, now headed by County Executive Rushern L. Baker III (D), is negotiating with Roots of Mankind to try to get the money back, said the current county housing director, Eric C. Brown. County officials have proposed taking title to the group’s 13.4 acres and the unrenovated houses. The county would then try to sell the property and use the proceeds to repay the federal government, Brown said. Brown said the county plans to sever ties with Roots of Mankind.