DC Housing Authority Headquarters
DC Housing Authority headquarters. Credit: Darrow Montgomery

The D.C. Housing Authority’s former internal auditor resigned after she says she faced retaliation and intimidation from agency heads over an audit that found $1.3 million in wasted funds.

In deposition testimony, the former director of DCHA’s internal audit office, Joanne Wallington, says DCHA Director Tyrone Garrett, chief operating officer and head of human resources Natasha Campbell, and the agency’s general counsel Greg Mays attempted to intimidate her. She says Mays worked to find the identity of the complainant who first expressed concern—a DCHA board commissioner who requested anonymity.

In addition to wasted funds, the audit found that DCHA intentionally tried to avoid the board of commissioners’ approval of some contracts. One contract, for example, was signed for $249,900—a price $100 below the minimum amount that triggers board approval. DCHA also failed to disclose the audit to the D.C. Council, despite a specific request to do so. The agency has called the audit a “political hit job” and “unsubstantiated and erroneous.”

DCHA board chairman Neil Albert did not respond to LL’s phone call about Wallington’s resignation and instead forwarded the request to the agency’s spokesperson, Tony Robinson. Robinson writes via email that the board directed Mays’ office, “in conjunction with an independent third party reviewer,” to reinvestigate the audit’s findings. The results will be ready in 30 days, he says.

In an email to LL, Wallington declined to elaborate on specific details of the treatment she received. She says she reported her concerns to the D.C. Office of the Inspector General, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s inspector general, and the D.C. Council. A HUD spokesperson would neither confirm nor deny investigative actions that might be underway. A spokesperson for D.C.’s OIG also declined to comment.

But emails Wallington sent to investigators from August through November 2020, along with her deposition, provide some details of her concerns. Her testimony was taken as part of a lawsuit filed by DCHA’s former general counsel Chelsea Andrews over her termination.

“I fear that based on very recent terminations of senior level professionals and several pending lawsuits that paint the agency in a negative light, I may be retaliated against for … simply doing what my office was charged to do,” Wallington wrote to investigators in August.

“Unfortunately, I feel I have no recourse [other] than to elevate these concerns and others (gross mismanagement, abuse of authority) to HUD as a grantor, and DC OIG as a grantor of District funds,” Wallington continued in the email. “At this point, I don’t have confidence that the Board of Commissioners or other senior executives will exercise integrity in the performance of their public duties.”

Wallington says in her deposition that Mays yelled at her after she refused his repeated requests to review the Office of Audit and Compliance’s complaint intake procedures. She had previously provided her office’s procedures and believed the timing of Mays’ request—before the board had decided what, if anything, to do about the audit—was inappropriate because the process wasn’t complete. Wallington believes Mays’ requests were part of an effort to undermine the audit’s findings by attacking the process, she says in her deposition.

In addition, Wallington writes in an email to investigators that she experienced several micro aggressions from Mays and Campbell, her direct supervisor. The emails do not give specific details, and Wallington declined to elaborate.

Wallington reported to investigators in November that Mays requested all the documents in possession of the external firm that completed the audit. (Wallington hired Citrin Cooperman, an international tax and advisory firm, to do the audit to avoid a potential conflict of interest. According to DCHA’s organizational chart, the Office of Audit and Compliance answers to both the executive director and the Board of Commissioners. That structure makes dealing with a complaint from a board commissioner against the executive director a bit tricky.)

Wallington believes Mays’ request for the external auditor’s materials was an attempt “to violate the spirit of fraud waste and abuse reporting guidelines,” she wrote in an email to investigators. The external auditor completed their work using mostly DCHA’s own materials, so Mays already had access to many of the documents, Wallington told investigators in an email. But Mays did not have the external auditor’s work papers, which would reveal the identity of the complainant. Wallington feared that outing the complainant would discourage others from coming forward.

“I am not overstating to describe these actions (along with others) as extremely concerning and retaliatory in nature,” Wallington writes in an email to investigators.

Wallington also reported to investigators, and says in her deposition, that some functions of her office where “whittled away” after the audit was completed. By December, Wallington submitted her notice of resignation as a direct result of the treatment she received.

“As I have shared repeatedly, I am unable to continue to be subjected to retaliatory actions resulting from an anonymous report of waste and the audit report that resulted from it,” she wrote in her resignation letter. “These actions have taken an inconceivable toll on my mental and physical health.”

The audit and compliance office’s deputy director, Lisa Wilson, also resigned last week, leaving the five remaining employees without leadership. Wilson declined to comment for this story.

Robinson, the DCHA spokesperson, says in an email that the deputy director position will be backfilled shortly, and the agency is in the final stages of recruitment to fill the director’s seat. Robinson expects DCHA will make a hiring announcement in the coming weeks.

He declined to comment on Wallington’s accusations, saying in an email DCHA “does not comment on personnel matters or claims made by former employees.”

Wallington’s virtual deposition, taken on January 19, was cut short after she expressed discomfort with Mays listening in. Carla Brown, Andrews’ attorney, said during the deposition that Mays’ presence amounted to witness intimidation and neither he, nor Garrett, nor Campbell should be present in the future. The deposition has not been rescheduled.

Her deposition transcript is the third such document to find its way into LL’s hands, and now DCHA appears to be trying to keep more from leaking.

Earlier this month, the agency’s attorney Yoora Pak asked a judge to issue a protective order to keep deposition transcripts and other materials in the litigation over Andrews’ termination away from the press. One of their primary arguments is that the release of those transcripts could intimidate other witnesses from coming forward.

In court documents, Pak cites LL’s previous coverage in accusing Andrews of engaging in “a media campaign against DCHA in an effort to annoy, embarrass, and oppress DCHA witnesses.” She argues that the release of deposition transcripts could prejudice future witnesses and taint the jury pool.

Brown filed a motion opposing the protective order and argued that, actually, it’s DCHA who is engaging in a media campaign. Brown points to the statement DCHA provided to LL after Andrews filed her lawsuit and the agency’s press release announcing its motion to dismiss her claims.

“In its Motion, the DCHA complains about deposition testimony being provided to the media,” Brown writes in opposition to the protective order. “It can complain all it wants. It started the media fight, not Ms. Andrews. In addition, no protective order was ever put in place in this case that stated a party could not share such discovery with the media.”

The other two deposition transcripts LL has received contain testimony from Garrett and from his vice president for property management, Larry Williams.

At the advice of his private attorney, Williams refused to answer any questions during his deposition under his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination. He is named in a federal subpoena served on the housing authority in Freeport, Illinois, where he was the executive director from 2009 to 2017. Williams’ role in the federal investigation is unclear, and he has not been charged with a crime.

Garrett, in his deposition, accused three former staff members, including Andrews, of plotting a coup. They denied that they engaged in any attempts to overthrow him. Garrett also said he intended to let Andrews’ contract expire, not terminate her, which would mean this whole thing is just one big misunderstanding.