By Rick Dandes
The Daily Item
NORTHUMBERLAND — Fourteen months after Point Township was cleared of wrongdoing in administering a $381,000 federal grant, the state Department of Community and Economic Development may foist the repayment demand it received from the federal government onto the Northumberland County municipality.
The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, which distributes grants that aid in the creation of low-income housing, wrote in a Sept. 10 letter to DCED that regulations were violated in the Point Township case and the money “must be repaid.”
DCED had absolved Point Township in August 2012.
Point Township received $500,000 from DCED on July 30, 2004, to build a 16-unit housing complex called Kingspointe. Fourteen units were to be sold to qualified low- and moderate-income buyers in the Home Investment Partnership (HOME) program.
The project ultimately failed to meet affordability requirements, HUD said, and Point Township failed to enter into a contract with the developer, the Yoder Group of Turbotville, prior to the expenditure of federal funds.
DCED must repay the grant by Aug. 30, HUD wrote, adding that the state agency failed to monitor the project until November 2010, and upon learning that Point Township did not sign a contract with the Yoder Group — in direct violation of the HOME program regulations — DCED failed to take the appropriate action to recapture the federal funds.
Attempts Wednesday to reach Andrea Edwards, economic development specialist with HUD, were unsuccessful.
In a statement Wednesday night, Point Township solicitor Rick Shoch acknowledged that “HUD sent the letter to DCED requiring the commonwealth to repay funds to HUD in connection with its administration of a HOME grant project located in Point Township.”
Point Township has assured DCED that it will continue to cooperate with the state agency should DCED choose to appeal the HUD decision, Shoch wrote.
HUD’s letter has inflamed Northumberland County commissioners Vinny Clausi and Steve Bridy, who blame township supervisors and Shoch, who is also a Northumberland County commissioner.
“I have reviewed the letter from HUD to the state about Point Township’s misuse of $381,000 in federal grant money,” Clausi said. “Now, HUD, because of all the abuses by both the Point Township supervisors and their solicitor, as well as state officials, is demanding that $381,000 be paid back. This is a disgrace and hurts the taxpayers.
“In the end, I know the Point Township taxpayers will suffer the most and have to ultimately pay this misused money back. I still don’t understand how you can give away $381,000 without any sort of contract. What attorney would ever allow their client to do such a thing?”
Shoch was not Point Township’s supervisor when the money was distributed.
Said Bridy: “Now, finally, the evidence shows that Mr. Shoch used his position as a county commissioner, and touted in the press that they brought in other higher elected officials at the state level to cover up what I feel is borderline criminal activity.
“I think it’s party politics. I believe the Republican Party (to which Shoch belongs) used its elected officials in this matter to cover up the facts and to allow Point Township to get away with what they have done. They got away with it at the state level, but the federal government did what’s right. I feel bad for the taxpayers of Point Township, and I believe there is an element of corruption at high levels of local and state government.”
Shoch dismissed his colleague’s sentiments.
“Anyone who can read and is capable of rational thought can see that the HUD letter to DCED neither states or implies any of the wild assertions that Mr. Bridy and Mr. Clausi are making,” Shoch said Wednesday night. “The public can be assured that there were no abuses or coverups in Point Township, as Bridy and Clausi assert, by virtue of the fact that the township unilaterally handed over copies all of their records regarding this matter to the Federal Bureau of Investigation well over a year ago, with a request that the agency please feel free to investigate the matter.”
Point Township also invited the FBI, and the investigative division of HUD’s Office of Inspector General, to come to the township offices to review any other records they deemed fit, Shoch said.
“This was done to ensure that the public could have faith that their local municipal government was not hiding anything,” Shoch said.
“If Mr. Clausi and Mr. Bridy want anyone to take them seriously, they should invite the same kind of investigation into the county’s DCED grant issue.”
Shoch said he prodded his colleagues months ago to ask the HUD Inspector General’s Office to investigate Northumberland County’s handling of its Homelessness Prevention and Rapid Re-Housing Program grant. His colleagues, he said, instead sent their request specifically to that agency’s Audit Division, not the Investigative Division that would look for fraud.
“We in fact had individuals from that agency at the county recently reviewing records for several weeks, but it has been confirmed to me by one of the outside agencies involved that these individuals were from the agency’s Audit Division, and were merely conducting an audit, not a fraud investigation,” Shoch said.
“Mr. Clausi and Mr. Bridy continue to deceive the public regarding this issue, and I think the public should be asking ’Why?’ What are they trying to hide?”