Ben Carson (Getty/Brendan Smialowski)

Ben Carson punished employee who wouldn't give $5,000 for office chair: report

A complaint filed by a former top HUD official alleges she was ousted by a Trump appointee over redecorations


Charlie May
February 27, 2018 3:42PM (UTC)

The Department of Housing and Urban Development is the latest agency under President Donald Trump to come under scrutiny for allegedly abusive practices, such as prioritizing an extravagant and lucrative redecoration for the office of department head Ben Carson.

A complaint filed last November by a former senior HUD official also alleged that she received pushback for attempting to bring attention to unreported budget losses totaling $10 million and that she was ousted from her role by a Trump appointee, a new report from The Guardian showed.

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The lawsuit alleged that HUD has "violated laws protecting whistleblowers from reprisals."

On the eve of Trump's inauguration, Helen Foster, HUD's former chief administration officer, alleged she was told by acting HUD director Craig Clemmensen to help Carson's wife, Candy, obtain funds that would be used to redecorate the former presidential candidate's office. However, when she pointed out that there was only a statutory limit of $5,000, she was allegedly told, "$5,000 will not even buy a decent chair."

By Feb. 10, Foster maintained her position that $5,000 was the limit, but she was told repeatedly "to 'find money' for Mrs Carson," the complaint said, according to The Guardian. Clemmensen also allegedly told Foster that previous administrations had "always found ways around that in the past."

"This is a long-time public servant who did well at her job, and now her reputation has been ruined," Foster's attorney, Joseph Kaplan said. Foster said she was also feared to be a Democrat, which prevented her from handling sensitive Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests.

Foster has also claimed that when she raised an issue about a budget shortfall to the tune of $10.8 million to David Eagles, the department's chief operating officer, he told her, "agency leadership is unwilling to report the $10.8m funding deficit." Typically, the deficit would be reported to the appropriations staff who deal with congressional approval for the department's funding, The Guardian noted. She said she also brought up the fact that hiding the deficit would be against the law.

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The budget shortfall was found to be a result of "accounting irregularities" in 2016 which were found by Foster's team.

Foster, who said she was rated "excellent" in her most recent performance review and given a bonus worth 12 percent of her salary, claimed she was ousted by the Trump appointed and Senate confirmed Suzanne Israel Tufts, who was given the title of HUD’s assistant secretary for administration. Foster claimed the position essentially diminished her responsibility and ate up her role. The job went unfilled under the Obama administration but existed under former President George W. Bush's.

Tufts is a seasoned Republican operative and comes from Trump's home county of Queens, New York, The Guardian noted.

The revelations make HUD the latest agency to be faced with a scandal, which seems to have a common denominator of senior officials abusing power and funds for personal benefit. It was seen under Tom Price, the former secretary of Health and Human Services, when he took private flights on both business and personal trips.

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Taxpayer funds have also been abused by Environmental Protection Agency brass Scott Pruitt, who like Price, also enjoys roaming the skies in first class. Add Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke to that list, too, as he came under fire in recent months for expensive short-distance helicopter trips, one of which was in a rush to ride horses with Vice President Mike Pence.

Carson may not be taking expensive trips on private aircraft, but it seems as if he feels the need to prop himself in a luxurious chair that exceeds one of those measly chairs that costs under $5,000. Either way, he'll likely just end up falling asleep in it.

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Charlie May

Charlie May is a news writer at Salon. You can find him on Twitter at @charliejmay

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