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?

Not only do Jones' FBI interviews indicate that Housing Authority executives knew of the bribery arrangement, other trial exhibits show that the higher-ups had been repeatedly informed that public housing was being sold. Depositions in the whistle-blower lawsuit filed by Housing Authority clerks, for example, contend that Executive Director Davis knew about corruption in the relocation program.

U.S. Attorney Robert Mueller declined to comment on the Williams case or the status of the FBI probes into San Francisco's city government. Both the U.S. Attorney's Office and the FBI also declined to comment on evidence in the public record of apparent high-level involvement in bribery at the Housing Authority.

Federal Public Defender Barry Portman, who observed Williams' trial and has served as a defense attorney for three decades, views the situation this way:

"If Pat Williams is the top of the Housing Authority investigation -- that's not going very far up the ladder. In my experience this is where things generally stop, they seldom go beyond middle management. The United States attorney in this district has not delivered a Mr. Big since the 1950s."

Bridgette Moore, a low-level eligibility clerk, was one of the most vocal complainers about fraud in the Section 8 program. Her deposition for the whistle-blower lawsuit alleges the agency's top officials knew about the bribery conspiracy. She helped FBI agents wade through a thousand relocation files to pick out the fraudulent ones.

In September 1999, the United States attorney charged Moore with felony conspiracy, alleging she processed some of Jones' fraudulent paperwork. By doing so, the government claimed, Moore was agreeing to be part of the conspiracy and furthering it. But high-ranking officials -- such as Smith, Owens, and Rosales -- also processed fraudulent paperwork, contends Moore's attorney, Susan Raffanti.

The case against Moore was eventually dropped, but Raffanti contends that the conspiracy theory used by the government to indict Moore could have been applied to the higher-ups.

There is an obvious contradiction between Rosales' claim to be a whistle-blower against Housing Authority wrongdoing, and her apparent role as a Housing Authority executive who signed off on paperwork related to the very bribery on which she has blown the whistle.

In December 1996, for instance, Rosales sent a memo to Davis complaining that the practice of giving Section 8 certificates to ineligible people was "bleeding the system dry." Court exhibits show that over a four-year period Rosales and other eligibility staff members repeatedly wrote memos to executive officers of the Housing Authority detailing "skullduggery" in the Section 8 program. Rosales provided the HUD inspector general with copies of these memorandums and chronologies of fraudulent acts she believed were regularly committed at the highest levels of the housing agency.

In January 1999, 10 eligibility clerks complained in a memorandum to the Housing Authority executive office. "How do we know that [Section 8] referrals from the Mayor's Office or those approved by administrators are not payoffs, whether monetary or not," the clerks wrote. "We should not have to work under such conditions. This causes a lot of stress on us."

In a recent interview, Raffanti said that "quite a few" of the Section 8 referrals came from Brown's office. She said mayoral referrals were given certificates previously set aside for victims of domestic violence.

The mayor's press office did not return calls seeking comment for this story.

Rosales' deposition in the whistle-blower lawsuit alleged that both Jones and Williams were involved in bribery, and described Walker's peripheral participation in his daughter's activities, as well as his behind-the-scenes role at the Housing Authority.

Rosales said that the granddaughter of Paula Young, an agency property manager, paid Jones $2,200 in regard to a Section 8, and Young was outraged. She called Walker to complain about the payment, Rosales testified, "and Charlie Walker made Yolanda give the money back."

In an interview, Young said the FBI asked her questions about Williams, but not about Walker. Young disputed Rosales' version of the incident, saying that she did not call Walker.

In her deposition, Rosales described the fear that kept her from going directly to the police with her accusations of bribery. "My fear was reprisal from Charlie Walker, and I don't know what type of reprisal it may have been, but I know and understand he's great friends with the mayor."

Rosales, a slight woman of Philippine heritage, described Walker's power inside the Housing Authority this way under oath: "Charlie had Ronnie Davis wrapped around -- had him wrapped around a leash; Charlie Walker was the top dog, and Ronnie was the bottom dog." Rosales added that she was told that several Housing Authority employees, including Pat Williams and Paula Young, were under Walker's "protection." She then laid out what she understands to be the "code of ethics" in the public housing underworld. "[I]f Charlie Walker does a favor for you," Rosales testified, "you don't go against the king or boss; that if you do, then you need to watch it."

In response to questions about Rosales' allegations, Walker said, in a telephone interview, "Anything I would say would be wrong. I do not know what you are talking about."

Attempts to reach Owens for comment were unsuccessful. Rosales' attorney said he instructed his client not to comment for this story.

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