Richmond taxpayer money has been used to fund cable TV in a government center that doesn’t even exist.
For four months, ABC 8News Investigative Reporter A.J. Lagoe has been digging into how the Richmond Redevelopment and Housing Authority and its troubled police department spends tax dollars. Just last week, RRHA shut down its police department, and Lagoe’s investigation raises serious questions about years of lies and wasted money within the housing authority.
Across from Shockoe Hill Cemetery, on Hospital Street in Richmond, sits the ghost of the RRHA Police Department. The gate is closed and locked tight, the building empty—nothing more than a brick-and-mortar monument to what just weeks ago was a seven-member police force tasked with enforcing the law and protecting the thousands of people who call Richmond public housing home.
The loss of the police department has many, like Mike Horne, questioning their future safety.
“There’s going to be more crime; it’s going to get worse,” he said.
The department has been mired in scandal for months. Last fall, RRHA Police Chief Hal Hazleton was suspended and fired under a shroud of secrecy. Hazleton has filed a half-a-million-dollar lawsuit claiming he was fired as a “conspiracy,” because of his reporting of “improper activity inside RRHA,” a claim the housing authority denies.
As Lagoe began digging into the department, one thing became crystal clear: there was very little financial oversight by RRHA CEO Adrienne Goolsby and the board of directors. ABC 8News found apparent misuse of public funds going back for years, including a rental car, gas, airport parking and airline luggage fees for a private Las Vegas vacation taken by Chief Hazleton and his wife. Lagoe also discovered that for years, Richmond taxpayers have been paying for Hazleton’s NRA membership.
“Money should have better uses for something else … something to keep the neighborhood safe,” Horne said.
Pouring over years’ worth of credit card statements, ABC 8News found expenses that are enough to have RRHA’s neighbors across the street rolling over. In June 2010, Chief Hazelton spent $900 at h.h. Gregg on a TV and mounting bracket for the new EOC—that’s police speak for Emergency Operations Center. Bills show charges for Dish Network: $67 in August, $102 in November and $224 in December. That’s also when Comcast cable begins appearing on Chief Hazelton’s RRHA credit card for the EOC--$54 that December. Then, month after month, year after year, the charges for Comcast and Dish Network keep showing up on RRHA credit statements. In every instance, the bills show they’re for the department’s Emergency Operations Center, but there’s a major problem with that claim.
Richmond Police Department Captain Paul Kinery was loaned to RRHA to serve as a temporary police chief in the wake of Hazleton’s firing. He told Lagoe that RRHA management had forbidden him to speak with the media. When Lagoe asked him to see the EOC, Kinery claimed he didn’t have access to it.
Through a glass door on the end of the building, ABC 8News filmed where RRHA sources told Lagoe there were once “plans” to build an EOC. But looking inside, there was just a room filled with junk: bikes and an old grill, but certainly no TVs hanging on the wall. In an email ABC 8News received minutes later, RRHA Public Relations Manager Osita Iroegbu said, “RRHA does not have an Emergency Operations Center.”
Back in February, when ABC 8News first began investigation the EOC TV situation, Lagoe emailed former Chief Hazelton and asked why the RRHA police department had both Comcast cable and DirecTV for the EOC. His response was, “we had both for a redundant system; One goes down, have the other.”
This means there’s a redundant system for a nonexistent Emergency Operations Center and thousands of tax dollars were paid for cable and Dish Network. Right above the door to the chief’s office is a satellite dish, and numerous sources told Lagoe the only TV in the entire building hangs on the wall inside his office.
Former Chief Hazelton has stopped communicating with ABC 8News and told Lagoe to speak with his attorney.
Adrienne Goolsby, the $178,000-a-year RRHA CEO who is ultimately in charge of ensuring tax dollars aren’t wasted, has been refusing Lagoe’s numerous requests for an on-camera interview to discuss this and other topics for the past eight months. Even when ABC 8News has walked up to her, cameras rolling, her only response is, “no comment.”
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