Last summer, Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Secretary Ben Carson enlisted his son’s help in organizing a listening tour in Baltimore, despite warnings from HUD’s deputy general counsel that doing so risked violating federal ethics rules because it gave the appearance of using his position for his son’s private gain.
Yesterday, The Washington Post reported on the possible ethics violation. Using FOIA (the Freedom of Information Act), the Post obtained a two-page memo dated July 6 from Linda M. Cruciani, deputy general counsel for HUD, in which she “details conference calls and meetings that [she] and her colleagues had with Carson, his son and other senior HUD officials to urge that Carson Jr. not be involved in the listening tour.”
Despite the warnings, Carson Jr. remained intimately involved in planning the June event, crafting the itinerary, and even attending a closed-door session on housing policy. He has also attended at least one other event since: Secretary Carson’s October trip to Baltimore.
In a meeting with Cruciani, the Post reports, Carson told her it would be difficult to have a Baltimore event without his son’s involvement since Carson Jr. is a large employer in the area. He has three law firms and 2,600 employees, according to the Cruciani memo.
The week before the listening tour, HUD officials Mason Alexander and Lynne Patton raised concerns about more than half a dozen individuals Carson Jr. and his wife, Merlynn Carson, asked be invited to the event, who the officials feared Carson Jr. “may be doing business with…or may be interested in doing business with…”
According to Alexander and Patton, one of these individuals was Seema Verma, administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS). Less than three months after the event, CMS awarded a $485,000 contract to Myriddian, a consulting company where Merlynn Carson serves as CEO. Carson Jr. is listed as a board member. A spokesman for CMS said Verma did not attend the event and that CMS does not have record of her receiving an invitation.
Carson Jr. told Cruciani that “nothing we would do would be near a conflict” and that he only wanted to “help his father ask the right questions.” Secretary Carson issued a statement saying, “My family, or people with relationships with my family, have never influenced any decision at HUD.”
Alisa Williams is managing editor of SpectrumMagazine.org.
Image Credit: Flickr.com / U.S. Dept of Housing and Urban Development (HUD)
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