HUD to begin review of Brewer land deal

Posted Oct. 23, 2009, at 10:41 p.m.

BREWER, Maine — A U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development official will be in town Monday to begin reviewing the financial books of the Brewer Housing Authority, an official said Friday.

“I don’t really want to use the word ‘investigation’; it’s more of a review,” said Kristine Foye, HUD deputy regional director for Region 1, headquartered in Boston.

The federal agency is reviewing a possible conflict of interest involving a land deal between the Brewer Housing Authority and former board chairman Calvin Bubar, and is starting with the housing authority’s financial documents.

“We’re going to review all the files to determine if federal funds were used in the sale of the land,” Foye said.

In addition, state Sen. Richard Rosen and state Rep. Michael Celli issued a letter Friday requesting that Maine Attorney General Janet Mills begin an investigation into the same land purchase. In the letter, they encourage the attorney general to take “an extensive look” at the housing authority’s financial records for the past five years.

The Brewer City Council sent a letter to Mills on Oct. 14 asking her to investigate whether any laws were broken when the housing authority purchased 258 Chamberlain St. from Bubar on Oct. 7 for $280,000. The purchase price was more than three times the assessed value and more than twice what Bubar paid for it in 2007.

“We wish to indicate our support of the Council’s decision and hope that your office will be able to sort out this matter, which has been a point of frustration for many in the Brewer community,” the joint letter from Celli and Rosen states.

Brewer’s letter to the Attorney General’s Office asked it “to determine if any statutes of the State of Maine have been broken. Specifically, Title 30-A, [subsection] 4724 as it may pertain to the Brewer Housing Authority.”

The Maine law regarding housing authorities states: “No employee or commissioner of any authority may, within two years of that service … voluntarily acquire any interest, direct or indirect, in any contract, project or property included or planned to be included in any project of that housing authority over which the employee or commissioner has exercised responsibility, control or decisions during tenure with the authority.”

Records of meetings show Bubar was chairman of the housing authority’s board while negotiations were under way about the housing authority purchasing his 4.16-acre parcel, which is valued by the city for property taxes at $88,000.

Bubar resigned as chairman of the authority’s board of commissioners in July.

Kate Simmons, a spokeswoman for the Attorney General’s Office, said Friday that officials are looking into the matter. She said the agency is working with HUD and city leaders to determine a course of action.

Bubar, his attorney, Joseph Ferris, who also is a City Council member and deputy mayor, and Gordon Stitham, the Brewer Housing Authority executive director, all have said that Bubar did not participate in board discussions about the land purchase, and that there is no conflict of interest.

Bubar and his wife, Nancy, purchased the Chamberlain Street land for $120,000 in mid-September 2007, and one month later Bubar was appointed to the board of commissioners. He was made chairman in January 2008, and according to board meeting minutes, discussed the possibility of selling his property located on Chamberlain Street to the housing authority.

Any violation of the state’s conflict of interest law is a Class E crime, which is punishable by up to six months in jail and a $1,000 fine.

The Brewer Housing Authority is supported by state and federal funds and funds from renters.

“If no federal funds were used [to purchase Bubar’s land], we’re out of it,” HUD’s Foye said. “The first step is to determine if federal funds were used. Then we can talk about the next step, if that’s determined.”

Stitham has said Bubar’s land was purchased with local program funds.

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