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CAIRO — Two U.S. senators have joined a growing chorus of officials calling for answers and swift corrective action related to alleged misspending by former employees of the Alexander County Housing Authority. 

In a letter, Sen. Charles Grassley, an Iowa Republican who is chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, and Sen. Mark Kirk, R-Illinois, also requested from the head of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development a series of documents and answers to questions about HUD's oversight role over the housing authority. 

In a follow-up statement, Kirk said that not only has the Alexander County Housing Authority failed at its basic duties, but that HUD also failed the residents in the state's poorest county who rely on public housing. 

HUD's "lack of oversight shows gross incompetence in managing tax dollars," Kirk said. A HUD spokeswoman based in Chicago did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Kirk's statement or the letter to HUD Secretary Julian Castro from the senators.  

The three-page letter quotes extensively from a series of articles in The Southern Illinoisan investigating the alleged mismanagement. The newspaper has chronicled — based on an extensive review of public records including contracts, receipts and HUD reviews — excessive spending on benefits, food, travel, retirement incentives and other items while the housing developments the authority manages fell into a state of extreme disrepair.   

The letter, dated Oct. 23 from Grassley and Kirk, says that the newspaper articles describe "very serious financial and administrative mismanagement issues ..." and asks for a 10-point list of documents and answers to questions. Among items the senators are seeking: copies of all HUD reviews of the housing authority; former longtime director James Wilson's employment contract; all salary and compensation paid to Wilson; all compensation and benefits paid to other employees; details of the authority's vehicle fleet; travel records; and financial disclosure forms. 

The letter, which requests a response by Nov. 6, also asks HUD to document steps taken to provide training to housing authority board members and management. 

Story collection: Chaos in Cairo

This is the complete collection of stories, editorials and documents The Southern has published looking into spending at the Alexander County Public Housing Authority.

While some of the state’s poorest residents and children have been living in public housing here described as unfit for humans, some employees and management of the Alexander County Housing Authority have collectively taken home hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars via questionable payments, bonuses, consultant contracts, retirement incentives and legal settlements in addition to their regular pay, according to federal and agency documents obtained by The Southern Illinoisan.

Stories are shown here by date, with the most recent story on top.

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Note: This story launched a series of stories about the Alexander County Housing Authority. Read the rest of the stories here.

Grassley and Kirk's letter follows one that U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Illinois, and Rep. Mike Bost, R-Murphysboro, sent to HUD Secretary Castro on Sept. 4 calling for an immediate investigation by the agency. It does not appear that HUD has responded to that letter nearly two months later, or if HUD officials have, the newspaper was not made aware despite a request for copies of responses filed under the Freedom of Information Act. 

“Improper use of funds should not be tolerated in any case, but the county’s unique needs for federal assistance bring an additional urgency to the allegations,” stated the Durbin/Bost letter. 

On Aug. 27, the Alexander County Housing Authority board voted 3-2 to enter into a voluntary compliance agreement with HUD establishing goals for addressing issues of maintenance of the housing developments in the worst shape, training employees and board members and righting discriminatory practices in hiring and housing for which HUD had previously cited the housing authority. 

On Oct. 6, HUD's Office of Inspector General, issued a subpoena demanding a long list of documents and electronics from the housing authority. Two days later, on Oct. 8, sources have said that three OIG officers accompanied by an FBI agent, delivered the subpoena to the housing authority's office in Cairo, and spent about four hours carting out boxes of paperwork and computers. 

The subpoena, obtained via a public records request, stated that the information was requested as part of an ongoing investigation by HUD's investigative arm. 

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molly.parker@thesouthern.com

618-351-5079

On Twitter: @MollyParkerSI ​

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Molly Parker is general assignment and investigative projects reporter for The Southern Illinoisan.

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