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Houston housing investigation starts as Mayor Turner names new director

HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) — As Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner tries to move past surprising allegations from the now-former Housing director, there are signs of increased scrutiny from inside and outside Houston City Hall.

A day after he fired Tom McCasland, Turner announced that Keith Bynam will serve as the interim director of the department. Bynam was the department’s deputy director of compliance and operations.

It comes at the same time as Chris Brown, the city’s controller, said, “This week’s revelations underscore an ongoing pattern of concerning procurement processes and a continued lack of transparency at city lall.”

McCasland told a Houston City Council Committee Mayor Turner’s “‘do it because I say so’ culture creates the breeding grounds where fraud goes undetected.”

McCasland said he was specifically “not alleging fraud,” in his comments Tuesday, but laid out issues with a multi-million dollar deal to build a Clear Lake senior apartment complex.

A day after reported the firing of Tom McCassland, the city’s top housing director, people are reacting to the accusations he made.

The complex scored lower in city evaluations than several projects that were not funded.

Turner said it was his right to do it and denied any wrongdoing.

The developer, MGroup, has not replied to 13 Investigates calls or emails about the project and the inclusion of the mayor’s former law partner on the deal.

In documents submitted to the state of Texas, the mayor’s former law partner, Barry Barnes, is listed as both a co-general partner and co-developer.

Turner said he was unaware of that until Tuesday.

Wednesday, the mayor’s office released documents from 2015 and 2016 showing Turner dissolved his law firm with Barnes days before taking office.

The mayor’s office also released an email Wednesday from McCasland to City Attorney Arturo Michel.

On Monday, McCasland wrote Michel saying, “I do not believe there are any legal issues raised by my email (objecting to the Clear Lake deal), which is focused on the business terms of the deal.”

Michel told a colleague, releasing McCasland’s email, “helps the city’s position.”

It may not be enough to end inquiries.

A GLO spokesperson tells the agency and HUD are already examining Houston housing deals.

GLO has labeled McCasland’s statements as “serious allegations of fraud or corruption.”

The GLO had been in touch with HUD, the Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs, Gov. Greg Abbott’s office and the Department of Public Safety, according to a spokesperson.

DPS, which did not return emails from , would only be involved to look at possible criminal matters.

Controller Brown, who has audited city projects in the past, continued in his statement, “In the past several months alone, our office has been denied procurement documents required to conduct an audit of the Strategic Procurement Department and were told to stop all work on a financial transparency project that would bring much-needed insight into the city’s spending practices. Taxpayers deserve a city government that is transparent and above reproach. Unfortunately, recent events suggest that the city is falling short of that goal.”

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