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Fairfax accuses housing nonprofit's leader of fraud

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Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Fairfax County officials allege that the executive director of one of the Washington region's leading affordable-housing nonprofit companies forged a zoning document to secure more than $700,000 in public loans, a case that has led the county to ban the group from obtaining county contracts and push for the dismissal of the executive director, according to documents and those briefed on the case.

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The forgery accusation against Robert Pierre Johnson Housing Development Corp. of the National Capital Area prompted what sources said was an unusual series of meetings among county officials over the past 18 months and spurred an investigation by Fairfax police, said police spokeswoman Mary Ann Jennings. The case was referred for prosecution to Alexandria last fall, and the county has banned RPJ Housing from procuring any government contracts unless its executive director, Herbert J. Cooper-Levy, is removed by early April.

The Washington Post obtained county documents showing the allegedly forged document and a formal debarment letter sent last week to RPJ Housing requesting Cooper-Levy's dismissal. If he is not fired, RPJ will be prohibited from securing county contracts for three years.

"If this is proven true, it is completely unacceptable, and we will deal with it appropriately," said Eric Bonetti, a member of the nonprofit agency's board.

Cooper-Levy, 60, did not respond to repeated requests for comment by phone and e-mail, and he declined to meet a reporter who visited his Alexandria office Monday.

Members of RPJ Housing's board of directors met Monday night to discuss the allegations and Cooper-Levy's status.

In November 2008, members of the county's zoning strike team investigated a complaint that people had illegally crowded into an RPJ-owned building in the 5800 block of Biscayne Drive in Alexandria, according to county documents. Officials said Cooper-Levy told senior county building inspector James Watson that at least one of the residences had been approved for multiple inhabitants, and he provided a zoning compliance document that appeared to have been signed by Elizabeth Stasiak Perry, then an assistant to the county's zoning administrator.

Watson took the document back to his office and found a copy of it that showed "precisely the opposite conclusion," according to the letter sent last week to RPJ Housing. The police were contacted by the county and Perry "unequivocally stated that the signature" on Cooper-Levy's copy of the document was not hers. She said she remembered the application clearly, because Cooper-Levy and RPJ had been "so insistent" on receiving a final ruling four years earlier.

Copies of the two documents, both signed Dec. 21, 2004, show two different versions of Perry's signature along with a copy of a letter sent by Perry to RPJ Housing explaining the reasons for the county's denial of a zoning permit. The signatures on the letter and the zoning document that Perry said are real appear to be matches.

Cooper-Levy told detectives that he and Perry had discussed the zoning issue after the document was signed and that it was later amended. Perry, who has since resigned as a county employee, "flatly denies" ever speaking to Cooper-Levy about the matter, according to county documents.

In December 2008, county officials issued a violation notice to RPJ Housing and, after a year, the property was deemed not in compliance with zoning laws.

Fairfax police also found that RPJ used the allegedly forged documents to borrow money from the Virginia Housing Development Authority and the Fairfax County Housing Redevelopment Authority, receiving about $511,000 from the state and $189,095 from the county. The properties on Biscayne were built in 1966 and remodeled in the late 1980s as a three-story apartment building. They were sold to RPJ in 2004 for $700,000, according to county records.

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