A long-running dispute between Housing and Urban Development Secretary Andrew M. Cuomo and his department's internal watchdog has erupted into a sexual discrimination and harassment complaint against Cuomo and other officials at the agency.
HUD Inspector General Susan Gaffney filed the complaint last week with the agency's Office of Departmental Equal Employment Opportunity, alleging that Cuomo and other top officials harassed and discriminated against her in retaliation for her work to guard against fraud and abuse at the agency.
Gaffney, whose office operates independently of Cuomo, said she was verbally abused in weekend telephone calls from Cuomo. Gaffney said she also was subjected to "baseless" allegations made to investigators and leaks aimed at planting disparaging information about her with the news media.
In a memo to HUD Deputy Secretary Saul N. Ramirez Jr., which also served as her discrimination complaint, Gaffney demanded a written apology from him and Cuomo, along with written commitments that they will cease their "sexually discriminatory" harassment.
A spokeswoman for Cuomo dismissed the complaint as a retaliatory gambit by Gaffney, who she said was resisting efforts by Cuomo's staff to gather information about an ongoing investigation into the downloading of pornographic material by top deputies in Gaffney's office.
"The IG had previously threatened to retaliate if we investigated her staff's use of pornography," said Lisa MacSpadden, a HUD spokeswoman. "This is nothing more than a diversion from her misconduct regarding the downloading of pornography in her office and retaliation for our efforts to get to the bottom of it."
MacSpadden said Cuomo was directed to get information about the probe by Rep. Thomas Paul Lantos (D-Calif.), who has defended Cuomo's office against Gaffney's allegations.
Cuomo and Gaffney have clashed for years, on items ranging from his objections to her plan to launch investigations of housing authorities in three cities governed by black mayors, to his refusal to suspend funding to the housing program in Puerto Rico, which she says is beset by corruption.
In her complaint, Gaffney said that Cuomo would at times call her at home, usually on Saturday mornings, to relay his dissatisfaction with her performance. She also said she has gotten anonymous tips that Cuomo tried to compile damaging information about her.
The feuding has reached new heights with the continuing investigation into the use of government computers to download sexually explicit materials in the HUD inspector general's office. Several employees have been suspended in the probe, which Cuomo and his aides said caught them off guard because Gaffney's office failed to inform them of it. The President's Council on Integrity and Efficiency, which monitors the conduct of the government's inspectors general, is conducting the investigation.
The probe has led to several heated memos between Gaffney and Ramirez. In memos to Ramirez, Gaffney accused Cuomo's office of planting "grossly inaccurate" information in the media about the investigation. She also says that she has refused to provide information about the probe to Cuomo's office because it is "privileged information" so long as the investigation remains open.
But Ramirez has said that sharing information within the agency would not violate anyone's privacy and that the information should be given to Cuomo's office.