The Great Minnow Hunt

Why did the U.S. Attorney's Office angle for fingerlings -- and apparently ignore trophy catches -- during its corruption investigation at the San Francisco Housing Authority?

Jones recognized the commodity value of the certificates and set out to capitalize them.

"I sold Section 8," Jones testified. "I went out and recruited people and sold Section 8. That's what I did in public housing. I would get up, see who wanted to buy it, bring it to Pat, and we would do it."

"Pat" was Patricia Williams, the manager in charge of the relocation push. Williams, 57, started at the authority in 1976, working as a secretary to various executive directors and eventually landing the position of property manager at the Potrero Hill projects -- a job she loved and did well for many years. She was kicked upstairs to the relocation department because she kept failing the multiple-choice test all property managers must pass in order to keep their jobs. ("She was nice, but not a bright candle," remembers one of her supervisors.)

The Housing Authority was in such a hurry to vacate the projects that executives decided to give Section 8 certificates to anyone who said they had lived with a relocating tenant, even if only for a few weeks. This policy was a blueprint for fraud. Jones testified that she provided her paying customers with the names and addresses of relocating tenants for use on false statements of cohabitation. Williams supposedly "verified" the false statements and issued the certificates. The prosecution, however, did not elaborate on one uncomfortable fact: Williams' bosses, including Janice Owens -- a member of a HUD-sponsored "recovery team" sent during 1996 to clean up the authority -- and Eligibility Manager Carmen Rosales, also reviewed the fraudulent statements and approved them.

The trial had its moments of absurdity.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Hemann took pains to paint Jones as a concerned mother of six who did not turn state's evidence until Williams betrayed her. Jones said she decided to testify against her partner in crime because she believed that Williams, who happens to be married to a Baptist minister, was prepared to testify against her, despite their previous agreement to "do wrong and be wrong together."

"I realized that the woman that I knew all these years to be a good church woman, go to church every Sunday, was really a liar," Jones said.

But it was Williams who had refused to testify against Jones.

Williams' defense attorneys argued, outside the presence of the jury, that Jones and her bribery conspiracy were protected at the Housing Authority by the political power of her father, Charlie Walker, the longtime mayoral associate. Hemann argued fiercely that Jones' relationships with Walker and Mayor Brown, whom Jones says is her godfather, had nothing to do with her confessed crimes, insisting that Williams was the leader of the bribery ring and that Walker's role, whatever it might have been, was irrelevant.

U.S. District Judge Charles A. Legge forbade the defense to mention Walker or Brown in cross-examining Jones, ruling that her relationships with her father and the mayor were irrelevant to the case.

Nonetheless, the jury found Williams guilty of only seven out of 26 bribery counts. They believed she conspired with Jones to sell public housing, and that she received some bribe money, but they clearly did not buy the government's case that she was the brains behind the plot. According to the San Francisco Chronicle, jury foreman Greg McGiboney said Williams "was almost as much a victim as anyone else.

"Inasmuch as we don't see her as an evil criminal, and she allowed herself to continue to be involved, she got left holding the bag."

Due to be sentenced next February, Williams faces six years in federal prison. Her attorneys are filing an appeal. When asked why she thought prosecutors chose to focus only upon her, she replied, "Somebody had to go down. I think the picture is larger than me. Once they put me in jail, the investigation will be over."

In interviews with FBI agents conducted over the course of two months, Jones described in detail how she thought up, planned, and openly solicited bribes from her circle of acquaintances in return for housing. The FBI concluded that Jones was assigned to work with Williams on relocating tenants "because it was well known in the community that Jones was Charlie Walker's daughter, [and] Jones had some credibility and notoriety which made it easier for her to do this job." According to transcripts of FBI interviews, Jones acknowledged that she used her father's restaurant, called Uncle Charlie's, in Bayview-Hunters Point, as a place to conduct her bribery business.

Jones' statements to the FBI and trial exhibits, including memos among a variety of Housing Authority staffers, indicate that higher-ups at the authority, including Smith, Owens, and Rosales, all reviewed and approved some of the paperwork connected to the Section 8 bribery scheme. This paperwork typically included driver's licenses, income tax forms, and welfare forms that had different addresses than the phony statements of cohabitation filed by Jones' "customers." In other words, a simple comparison of dates and addresses would have been sufficient to spot Jones' and Williams' handiwork.

Also, Jones told the FBI that she gave Rosales gifts because she had "help[ed] people" who were not eligible get housing assistance. The gifts supposedly included a "ten-dollar baggie of marijuana," and two tickets to a fund-raiser, sponsored by Walker, for Mayor Brown. When asked about these allegations, Rosales' attorney, Tyree Jones, said, "No comment."

« Previous Page
Next Page »
My Voice Nation Help
©2014 SF Weekly, LP, All rights reserved.