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Former Housing Commissioner Del Angel Focus of D.A. ‘Inquiry’

The Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office has confirmed that it is conducting an inquiry into whether a former Los Angeles housing commissioner has violated conflict of interest laws.

Deputy District Attorney Max Huntsman said his office is looking into whether former Housing Authority of Los Angeles Commissioner Maria Del Angel voted on matters related to the Estrada Courts Resident Management Corporation (RMC), a non-profit branch of the public housing development, while still an RMC board member. One of Del Angel’s adult sons is a longtime employee of the organization, and some housing authority residents allege she voted to approve funding that would benefit her family. Her son is not a target of the inquiry, according to the D.A.

Read this story IN SPANISH: Ex Comisionada de Viviendas Esta Bajo Examen por el Fiscal del Distrito [1]

“It’s my understanding that at one time she [Del Angel] did serve on the RMC board, many years ago, but not at the same time that she served as a [HACLA] commissioner,” said HACLA spokesperson Eric Brown.

The Estrada Courts RMC was founded 23 years ago with the purpose of advocating for residents and social service programs in the Boyle Heights community. Since 1991, the RMC has received contracts and funding from HACLA and other sources to provide a variety of services, including: landscaping and clean up, construction to replace all water and sewer lines, childcare training and childcare services, unit-to-unit moves, school readiness services for parents and children, and security for Estrada Courts, Pueblo del Rio, and San Fernando Gardens. Today the Estrada Courts RMC is a $4 million dollar corporation, according to the organization’s website.

Last year, residents of the Pico Gardens housing project told EGP that they believe Del Angel has on several occasions violated conflict of interest laws related to the RMC. They also accused her of orchestrating her “emergency transfer” from Estrada Courts to their public housing development as a way to upgrade her housing accommodations.

Huntsman did not confirm whether the housing transfer was part of the inquiry, but said, like other residents, Del Angel is entitled to ask for a transfer. She cannot, however, use her position to get a more favorable contract or nicer unit, he said.

Del Angel and HACLA, at the time, denied the charges.

An investigation by CBS 2 reporter David Goldstein earlier this year, however, thrust Del Angel and other commissioners into the limelight for “double dipping”—asking for reimbursements for expenses charged to credit cards for which they had already received per diem compensation.

Goldstein’s report led to on-going investigations by Los Angeles City Controller Wendy Greuel and the District Attorney’s office focusing on the alleged misappropriation of public funds.

The inquiry was opened in March and Del Angel is one of three HACLA commissioners whose conduct is being reviewed, Huntsman told EGP. Former Commissioner Beatriz Stotzer and current Commissioner Margarita Garr are also part of the inquiry.

Stotzer resigned after it was revealed that Dist. Atty. Steve Cooley and the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development were looking into possible conflict of interest violations related to her ownership of Section 8 Housing and her work as a HACLA commissioner.

“We are waiting on the D.A.’s investigation” to decide if action should be taken regarding Garr, the only commissioner under scrutiny still on the board, Rachel Kruer with the mayor’s office told EGP on Tuesday.

An inquiry is not a criminal investigation, stressed Sandi Gibbons, Public Information Officer for the D.A.’s office. “It is a review to determine if a criminal investigation will be opened,” she said.

Del Angel could not be reached for comment.

Since the allegations of wrongdoing surfaced, four board members have either resigned or were not reappointed by the mayor.

The city council has confirmed two of the mayor’s new appointees, Kimberly Freeman and Dennis Hernandez, and is scheduled to consider a third nominee, Mitchell Kamin on Aug. 17. An appointment to replace Del Angel, as a resident member of the commission is still open. The mayor’s first choice, Isabel Ayala, a 50-year resident of Ramona Gardens, has bowed out from consideration due to family issues, according to Kruer.

Perhaps responding to criticism from local stakeholder groups angry that Mayor Villaraigosa had “rushed” to make new appointments without input from housing residents as “promised,” the mayor’s staff last week interviewed a candidate proposed by Union de Vecinos, a member of the L.A. Human Right to Housing Collective.

Twenty-six-year-old Daisy Lopez, a Pico Gardens Resident, was interviewed on Aug. 4.

Lopez told EGP by email that she was nervous and didn’t want to do it at first, but was moved by the support of her fellow residents. She said she is interested in not only representing herself, but all public housing residents in the policy decision process.

Lopez has a Bachelors Degree in Liberal Studies, with a minor in Spanish. She has lived at Pico Gardens all her life, and is currently an after school teacher at Para Los Niños and as a child attended Second Street Elementary, Hollenbeck Middle School, and Roosevelt High School. She served one year as the secretary of Pico Gardens Resident Advisory Committee.