HUD investigation into Stark Housing Authority contracts continues

CANTON — Two men embroiled in a federal investigation into “possible irregularities” in Stark Metropolitan Housing Authority employment contracts were recently sent to prison for bank robbery.

Earlier this month Brian Spenny, 60, of Massillon, was sentenced in Summit County Common Pleas Court to 8 to 12 years in prison for robbery and kidnapping for the December 10 robbery of a KeyBank in Northfield, in northern Summit County. John Dampman, 46, of the same address as Spenny, was sentenced in April to up to three years in prison for the same robbery.

In December, the bank robbery arrests of Spenny and Dampman were widely reported by Cleveland TV news stations and the Akron Beacon Journal – likely because those stories included dramatic video of an officer fighting with Spenny. , as money was on the ground in the MGM Northfield Park parking lot, and another that showed Dampman hiding under a porch.

Three months earlier, The Repository had reported Spenny and Dampman’s involvement with two companies – Cooling Contractor Services and Dampman Contracting – which had tendered or won contracts last year for work such as cleaning, gutter cleaning and shrub pruning at Stark County social housing sites.

Cooling Contractor Services was paid $121,675 in spring and summer 2021 – until it was discovered the firm had apparent links to then Housing Authority development director Ashley Currence.

In early August 2021, the Housing Authority stopped making payments to Cooling. Dampman Contracting, which had also started bidding for works, was not awarded a contract because the Housing Authority then launched an internal investigation.

Currence abruptly resigned during the probe.

In October, the Housing Authority submitted its findings to the Office of Inspector General of the US Department of Housing and Urban Development. Almost a year later, his investigation continues.

This agency will not comment on or confirm the existence of investigations until they are complete, but its work may result in criminal charges, civil suits, or administrative actions against the agencies.

A review of the Housing Authority’s repository of records, previously turned over to federal investigators, provides insight into the depth and breadth of what former executive director Herman Hill called ‘possible irregularities’ and details further the roles of the two men in the suspect public housing employment contracts.

Herman's Hill

What do housing records show?

Hundreds of pages of agency documents, photos and emails, turned over to the Office of Inspector General, reveal that:

  • According to payroll records, the only employees of Cooling Contractor Services were Spenny, Dampman and Nicholas Cooling.
  • Cooling had sought and received ongoing partial payments for work she claimed to have performed, although payments were generally not made until after work under these contracts was completed.
  • Other contracts were to be awarded to the companies, including plans for a five-year porch painting contract at $90,000 per year.

Connections between a group of five

It is unclear why companies have started bidding for the Housing Authority works, from February 2021.

However, the agency began reviewing the contracts shortly after Currence phoned Canton police on July 20, 2021. She alleged that her husband, John Gantz, assaulted her and Nicholas Cooling, owner of Cooling Contractor Services, while at Currence’s on 22nd Street NW. .

Using public records, the Housing Authority in its internal investigation and The Repository – in a previous story – unraveled links between Currence, Gantz, Spenny, Dampman and Cooling, as well as other concerns.

The last four had all lived in Erie, Pennsylvania. Gantz and Cooling shared a cell phone number. Currence had signed bid tabulation sheets and other working papers and made monitoring visits to cooling project sites, which is said to be an apparent conflict of interest. Both Dampman and Spenny had long criminal records in Erie. In fact, Spenny was branded a “career” bank robber when he was sent to prison in 2014 for two bank robberies.

Neither Spenny nor Dampman, now in jail, responded to story requests last year. Currence, Gantz and Cooling did not respond to requests for comment for this or the latest story.

In an August 3, 2021 email to Currence, Hill noted that Gantz was listed as a Statutory Agent for Cooling Contractor Services in state business records. “Is this the same John Gantz you are married to? ” He asked.

No response from Currence was found among the records accumulated by SMHA.

At the time, the Housing Authority’s internal review had also revealed that: Cooling’s business address did not exist; the company was created just a week before receiving its first contract and used start-up bank checks; gutter cleaning jobs were assigned to sites that did not need it, were equipped with leaf guards or had no trees; and the bushes that needed to be pruned were not.

Three days later, the Housing Authority asked to meet with Cooling. On the same day, August 6, 2021, Nicholas Cooling emailed the Housing Authority complaining that he was waiting to be paid for a bill submitted weeks before.

“Are you all on the same page there or not? he wrote.

Cooling went on to point out that he was paid for more recent work he allegedly did at an agency-owned home on 41st Street NW. It’s the same house The Repository reported was bought and then rented to a woman Hill knew through youth basketball teams.

SMHA

“You know, the one that (Repository) is still writing about,” Cooling wrote. “(You) withhold money for work done, but pay work immediately for issues that are published publicly in the newspaper.”

On August 12, Currence resigned.

In her resignation letter, she said she was quitting her $77,000-a-year job to teach at Malone University.

On August 24, Anthony De Tota, Housing Authority contracts and procurement specialist, sent a duplicate ‘notice of cure’ email and certified letter to Cooling Contractor Services. In this document, he notified the company that it had 10 days to complete the unfinished work for which it had been paid.

“The SMHA considers your work…grossly inadequate,” the letter read.

Why is the HUD Office of Inspector General involved?

The HUD Inspector General’s Office was alerted because most of the Housing Authority’s funds come from HUD’s federal taxes.

The Stark Agency manages 2,5000 public housing units for the poor and oversees the county’s Housing Choice Vouchers (Section 8) program which pays landlords who rent to low-income tenants.

Although the Housing Authority paid $121,675 to Cooling Contractor Services, it failed to pay an additional $58,000 in cooling bills because Hill had ordered all payments stopped.

Ashley Wright

Emails to and from Currence, or copied to her last year, detail Cooling Contractor Services’ projects in 2021 – some appeared to have been suspended or canceled during internal review:

  • A $10,200 job to clean up Cherrie Turner Towers apartments.
  • Gutter cleaning at various sites for $76,000, under a three-year contract.
  • A runner-up gutter cleaning award for an additional $57,000, the same day he was named the lowest bidder for a $35,000 contract to trim shrubbery.
  • A $73,000 quote provided for the pressure wash, in which Currence advised she was the only person to contact.
  • Coloring work at Meadowview, though it’s unclear what that entailed.
  • A low bid for the “fill and seed” job, which prompted an email to Currence from one of the losing bidders, Todd’s Enviroscapes, wondering how Cooling could have turned into such a low bid.
  • Installation of address plaques in the Jackson Sherrick apartments.
  • Chimney cap replacement for $1,800.
  • A five-year contract to paint the porch, at $90,000 a year for various jobs.

Even before the internal review began, some Housing Authority staff, including site managers, began to question the lack of progress on the work Cooling had been hired to do.

On June 25, 2021, Malinda Broyles at Linwood Acres, emailed Currence about gutters and downspouts that weren’t cleaned or repaired at her 112-unit complex in southwest Canton .

“We just checked our records and Linwood was never included for cleanup,” Currence explained in his response to Broyles, although Linwood was among the sites listed in the project description provided to bidders.

On several occasions, Currence intervened via email from the agency on Cooling’s behalf, regarding finances. In one case, she indicated that a purchase order had been created and therefore it was acceptable to pay the company. In another, she asked how soon an approved payment would arrive in Cooling’s bank account.

The Repository had requested internal review documents from the Housing Authority on several occasions in the past. However, Hill — who left to take the executive director position at Akron earlier this year — told the outlet that no such document existed because it had been turned over to HUD.

After Hill left in April, the Repository renewed her request. The Housing Authority provided a redacted version of the requested records two weeks ago for review at the office.

Contact Tim at 330-580-8333 [email protected] On Twitter: @tbotosREP

About Kristina McManus

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