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New Complaint Includes Lewd Pics & No-Bid Contracts at Providence Housing Authority

Tuesday, March 06, 2012


The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) confirmed Monday that it is looking into allegations made by a Providence Housing Authority (PHA) employee against the agency’s longtime executive director, Stephen O’Rourke.

Elizabeth Herosy, the PHA’s executive administrative officer, filed an addendum to her original complaint against O’Rourke last week, this time claiming she found pornographic material on his computer and that the PHA handed out a slew of no-bid contracts after receiving millions of dollars in federal stimulus funds.

“The allegations are both distasteful and disturbing and our normal process would be to go through and see if we could verify them,” said HUD spokesman Jerry Brown.

Brown said a review has already begun and he expects it be “extensive.”

O’Rourke: Complaint is “Preposterous”

Herosy’s additional complaint comes just weeks after she claimed the PHA was marred by “serious misconduct, fraud and perhaps criminal activity” by O’Rourke. Included in the addendum are details about pornographic images she found on O’Rourke’s computer, alleged misappropriation of funds and a claim that she once found a gun clip in his office.

The PHA’s Board of Commissioners voted late last month to hire an independent lawyer to investigate Herosy’s allegations. On Monday, O’Rourke told GoLocalProv he was aware of the addendum, but he could not comment on the claims because of the investigation.

“I have seen her addendum to her original and can say they are even more preposterous than the first,” he said. “However, since there is an internal review about to begin, I am at a disadvantage and told not to comment. However, I do not own that house see mentioned. You can look that up easily. I am certain that the review will clear me of her charges.”

Pornographic Pictures on Work Computer

Herosy, who listed various incidents where she felt she had been sexually harassed in her original complaint, claims that she found naked pictures of women on O’Rourke’s computer when he would ask her to check his e-mails.

“On many occasions over the last several years when Mr. O’Rourke was out of the office he would call me and instruct me to check his emails for him,” Herosy claims. “I would go into his office and use his password to log onto his computer. I would immediately find emails that contained pictures of not only full frontal nude women, but also obscene, vulgar closeups of breasts and genitals. Several of these emails contained pictures of men and women, and women and women, in sexual acts.”

Herosy says O’Rourke laughed at her when she expressed concern over what she had seen.

“Each and every time that this occurred, which was on a regular basis over a period of years, I would immediately call Mr. O’Rourke and tell him of my disgust and outrage, and he would laugh and then dictate to me the responses that he wanted me to send,” Herosy claims. “I repeatedly told him that seeing or responding to these types of emails was not part of my job.”

On at least one occasion, Herosy suggests that O’Rourke even e-mailed a picture of a female employee’s breasts to a group of friends.

“For example, my close personal friend, a coworker who is a very beautiful woman, was at an event with Mr. O’Rourke while he was roaming around with a camera,” Herosy claims. “He somehow managed to zoom in and snap a photo of her breasts, and later emailed it to her and to his group of male friends.”

No-Bid Contracts

Herosy’s latest complaint also includes incidents where she believes no-bid contracts were handed out after the PHA received federal funding.

She claims that a numbers of contracts that were awarded after the agency received federal stimulus funds did not go out for bid, which made some employees uncomfortable and unwilling to sign the contracts. Records show the agency received over $5 million in funds from the Recovery Act.

In another incident, Herosy alleges that a company was given a no-bid greenhouse contract, which came from Community Development & Block Grant (CDBG) funds.

“I believe that Brewster Thornton Architects were hired for a $30,000 contract that was not bid, and that the overseers of the grant at HUD in Washington are aware of this,” Herosy claims. “Also, I believe that funds have been shifted from budget line items assigned to Olneyville Housing to line items assigned to the Providence Housing Authority.”

PHA Owes Herosy Over $11,000

Since filing her original complaint, Herosy has filed for protection under the state’s whistleblower law, which protects her from retaliation by her employer or co-workers.

GoLocalProv has also learned that the Department of Labor and Training (DLT) has ruled that Herosy is entitled to $11,169.21 in back pay (see letter below). The DLT made that ruling late last month after she filed a complaint.

City Looking into Complaints

According to the PHA’s most recent annual report, the agency had 237 employees and a total payroll of $9,060,456 during the 2010 fiscal year. Salaries are paid by the operating budget, the capital fund budget, the section 8 budget and various grants, according to the report.

The report also notes that for the first time in at least a decade, zero grievances were filed by labor against management in 2010.

Still, the massive complaint has prompted Mayor Angel Taveras to ask the City Solicitor to work with investigative authorities who are currently looking into Herosy’s allegations.

“If the allegations against the PHA prove true, the Mayor will pursue any necessary actions,” city spokesman David Ortiz said last week. “The allegations are particularly disheartening because for over 75 years the PHA has provided vital services for thousands of Providences residents and has been recognized nationally as a model organization.”


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