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L.A. Housing Authority Execs Spent Hundreds of Thousands on Lavish Dinners, iPads, Travel: KCET Investigation

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Fri, Dec 2, 2011 at 12:00 PM
click to enlarge Housing CEO Ken Simmons denies all responsibility.
  • Housing CEO Ken Simmons denies all responsibility.

Update, December 5: "Rudy Montiel Was Paid $1.2 Million to Leave L.A. Housing Authority: Who Will Hold Board of Commissioners Accountable?"

The taxpayers breathed a sigh of relief last spring when Rudy Montiel, power-crazed head of the Housing Authority of the City of Los Angeles (HACLA), was fired from his post, along with two commissioners.

Montiel had been dropping HACLA dime on $400 lunches and lavish shopping sprees, as shamefully detailed in documents obtained by KCET investigator Laurel Erickson.

Good news on tonight's 8:30 p.m. episode of SoCal Connected: Erickson didn't stop her probe there, despite the hurdles erected by HACLA executives.

She's been heckling the city agency since over a year ago, via California Public Record Act requests, for the spending reports of 11 remaining executives -- the ones who weren't fired last March.

The station's fight to obtain public spending records is reason enough for outrage.

"We had a very difficult time getting records," says KCET's Karen Foshay. "It was a blood-sweat kind of year. For example, one day we were allowed to go in, then were told the official copy person was not there today. ... That's a story in itself. You have someone who only makes copies?"

Finally, with much reluctance, HACLA handed over most of its records. Erickson immediately set to skimming six years of expense reports. Turns out current HACLA execs shared many of the same habits as their former boss, under his exorbitant reign:

Up until Montiel was fired, his staffers reportedly spent thousands of dollars at Target, Bath & Body Works and Edible baskets. Monogrammed sweaters: $4,500. Deli trays: $12,000. Employee incentives, including iPods and iPads: $100,000. Steak dinners: $7,000. And countless more dinners and luncheons consistently ran up a $2,000-plus bill.

The list goes on. Way on.

Ken Simmons, who was Montiel's second in command during this golden age of unchecked taxpayer-leeching -- signing off on all the flagrant credit-card use -- took over in March.

KCET reports that spending has, for the most part, been curbed since then. But Simmons was a key accomplice in creating Montiel's culture of corruption. Can we expect an instantly changed man?

After months of denying the station an interview, Simmons finally sat down with Erickson on the day before Thanksgiving.

"Yes," he admitted, he did sign off on the employee incentives. "But it was under the direction of Mr. Montiel." Simmons' excuse for the spending? The agency was "flush with cash."

Wow. Upon taking over, Simmons adopted Montiel's title-change of "CEO" -- very much embodying HACLA's entrenched corporate approach to running a public-service agency.

Throughout the Great Recession, L.A.'s housing authority has retained a healthy bank account while the rest of the city runs dry. That's because its M.O. is profits over people -- a 1 percenter mindset in an office tasked with caring for L.A.'s struggling bottom half.

"Rudy had his own problems," L.A. City Councilman Dennis Zine says in tonight's upcoming KCET segment. "But the fact of the matter is, people that are adults have a responsible judgment and they get paid to do a job, and these people obviously ripped off the system."

It's sickening, really. At least in well-off West Hollywood, where we've seen the City Council adopt a similar shopping-spree mindset, residents are (mostly) able to fend for themselves. And WeHo has more gadflies than it knows what to do with.

HACLA is a different story. Its mission, as stated on its own website, is "providing quality housing options and supportive services to the citizens of Los Angeles."

And its fat cats are appointed, not elected. Only with investigations like KCET's -- and the one that City Controller Wendy Greuel has announced she'll be releasing soon -- do we have any idea what's going on inside that billion-dollar building.

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Really, what would L.A. do without Laurel Erickson? She's like a blonde Sherlock Holmes with a sharper tongue and cuter spectacles. Remember: 8:30 p.m. tonight on KCET.

[@simone_electra/swilson@laweekly.com]

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