Records obtained by American Oversight raise serious concerns about the influence Ben Carson Jr., the son of the secretary of housing and urban development, has on HUD operations — and about whether the department has taken action to benefit the Carson family’s private business interests.
In early 2018, American Oversight uncovered documents showing the startling extent to which Ben Carson Jr. consistently used his influence to connect his business contacts with HUD officials. Following Washington Post and CNN reports on his troubling sway over HUD operations, the department’s inspector general (IG) confirmed it had opened an investigation into the role Secretary Ben Carson’s family has played at HUD. More than a year later, the IG has not released the findings of that investigation.
American Oversight has subsequently obtained records from the Baltimore City government that suggest Ben Carson Jr. pushed to include two Baltimore neighborhoods — Poppleton and Park Heights — in which Interprise Partners, the company Ben Carson Jr. co-founded, was considering making investments, on Secretary Carson’s “listening tour” of the city. Adding to the concerns raised by these documents, HUD later awarded a $1.3 million grant to aid in the redevelopment of the Poppleton neighborhood.
On June 19, 2017, senior Baltimore Housing official Jeannine Dunn emailed Interprise Partners co-founder Harrison Perry to follow up on a recent meeting and to suggest areas of the city that presented “worthwhile investment opportunities.” Among the handful of investment opportunities Dunn suggested were the Poppleton and Park Heights neighborhoods.
Four days later, Carson Jr. began lobbying to include the Poppleton and Park Heights neighborhoods on Secretary Carson’s Baltimore listening tour. Responding to queries from William H. Cole, CEO of the Baltimore Development Corporation, Carson Jr. said that he had “just sent a message to dad and Lynne [Patton]” about the exclusion of Park Heights from a list of tour stops and was “also trying to get the tour to visit Poppleton.”
That day, Carson Jr. sent an email to “dad” and to HUD official Lynne Patton, who had worked for the Trump family before her appointment and swift rise at HUD, advocating that the Park Heights neighborhood be added to the listing tour.
A few days later, on June 25, Carson Jr. noted in an email to Dr. Samuel Ross (then the CEO of Bon Secours Baltimore, a health system engaged in community housing initiatives) that he had visited the Poppleton neighborhood with Dan Blythewood and Ian Arias — executives at La Cite, a development firm with a major ongoing “large-scale redevelopment” in Poppleton known as Center/West. Carson Jr. indicated that the listening tour would visit the development.
In an email chain the following day about Carson Jr.’s efforts to “get both Park Heights and Poppleton moved into” Secretary Carson’s tour, a Baltimore City official expressed concern about the addition of Poppleton. He said that “given the unusual way [Poppleton] went about getting HUD financing support,” he found “the interest in it somewhat disconcerting.”
What was “disconcerting” about how Poppleton received HUD financing by June 2017 remains unclear, but more recent developments have also been concerning. In September 2018, Baltimore Housing announced that HUD had awarded the agency a $1.3 million Choice Neighborhoods Planning Grant — to be used for the redevelopment of Poppleton and a neighboring area.
Carson Jr.’s vigorous efforts to ensure that his father’s Baltimore tour highlighted areas that his company seemed to be considering for investment alone demand further investigation. The prospect that such a neighborhood — Poppleton — may have received HUD funds in a “disconcerting” manner only serves to bolster the case for an in-depth probe. American Oversight is continuing its investigation of misconduct at HUD, and urges the department’s inspector general as well as members of Congress to fully investigate the role that Secretary Carson has allowed his family to play at HUD, and to specifically determine if the agency has taken any action or awarded any funding in order to benefit Carson Jr.’s private business interests.
On Monday, American Oversight sent a letter to the House Financial Services Committee and the House Oversight and Reform Committee urging them to consider opening investigations of Secretary Carson’s improper delegation of authority to members of his family, including Ben Carson Jr.’s involvement in the orchestration of his father’s Baltimore listening tour and the subsequent awarding of a $1.3 million HUD grant to the Poppleton neighborhood.
The letter outlines the many legal and ethical issues that arise from Carson Jr. having effectively acted as a HUD official while simultaneously acting as a private businessman. By allowing his son to act in such a role, the secretary may have been in violation of criminal corruption and anti-nepotism laws, and Carson Jr.’s activities could represent not just inadequate attention to lobbying and ethics rules, but unlawful influence over official decisions for personal gain.
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