VHA stops checks to Jackson company|Review raising more questions

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, June 17, 2009

A Jackson engineering firm receiving large checks for years from the Vicksburg Housing Authority will get no more money until housing commissioners determine what services, if any, have been provided.

Commission Chairman Jay Kilroy said Southeast Engineering Group has been unresponsive to requests to meet with commissioners and explain contracts it has handled for nearly a decade with the Good Shepherd Community Center for the VHA’s 10-week summer education program for children who live in public housing.

While Good Shepherd charges $17,146 each year to host and operate the program, Kilroy said Southeast Engineering has been paid nearly three times as much — approximately $37,000 annually — to write up the same four-page contract.

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Southeast Engineering has also been paid approximately $3,800 per month to execute a contract for security services at Waltersville Estates with Coffie Enterprises — which charges $4,895 monthly for providing 24-hour gated security at the apartment complex.

And another $14,479 has been paid to the Jackson firm monthly for unspecified “modernization coordinator services,” said Kilroy.

In addition to suspending the payments, the commission voted to pay Coffie Enterprises directly for May, and Kilroy said it will likely do the same until a permanent VHA director is hired, at which point all contracts for services will be put out for new bids. Calls to Southeast Engineering were not returned this morning.

“I have not been able to find any contracts with Southeast Engineering that require us to have them make these payments for us,” said Kilroy, noting Jim Stirgus Sr., fired as executive director last month, had hired the firm originally. “If they want to take us to court to try to get payments, I would welcome the opportunity to bring some of this before a judge.”

Stirgus headed the agency for nearly 21 years. The five commissioners, four of whom were appointed in a February makeover, reviewed about 30 applications for a new executive director in a closed session following Tuesday’s meeting in hopes of scheduling interviews with candidates later this week.

Kilroy, one of the new commissioners, has uncovered stacks of questionable contracts and other VHA dealings that suggest conflicts of interest. For years, Stirgus sold the authority’s surplus vehicles to VHA employees. An immediate family member of Stirgus — who was never a VHA employee — is listed as a “person in charge” on 2005 invoices from Southeast Engineering Firm.

Invoices and copies of checks from 2001 through 2008 show former VHA Maintenance Supervisor Charles Jones Jr. endorsed and cashed checks totaling $72,365 for a company called Phoenix Enterprise.

Jones, 45, 924 Bowmar Ave., is to go to trial Nov. 30, where he faces up to 46 years imprisonment on drug charges stemming from a Dec. 19 arrest in which police allege he had 2.2 pounds of cocaine shipped to him at VHA executive offices at 131 Elizabeth Circle.

Following the arrest, Stirgus fired Jones, who had been with the VHA since 1983 and had been in charge of maintenance, purchasing and receiving since 1991. Jones has since been separately arrested and charged with embezzlement, stemming from a subsequent search of his home in which authorities discovered and seized equipment and cleaning supplies they claim were stolen by Jones.

Stirgus, 79, has not been implicated or charged with any crimes. A friend of Jones for decades, he has repeatedly said he does not believe Jones stole from the housing authority or was involved in drugs. He has said Jones had been allowed to store the property at his residence for the past 15 years.

Aside from Phoenix Enterprise, police are investigating whether Jones owned another company with which the VHA had contracted. Central City Services and Supplies was paid nearly $100,000 over a 5-month period to complete renovations on VHA apartments on evenings and weekends. Kilroy said a post office box that served as the mailing address for the business was rented to Jones and that Jones endorsed the checks.

Southeast Engineering was also poised to handle a contract for spending $888,000 of the $787 billion economic stimulus bill awarded to the VHA — a plan Stirgus submitted before being fired for the reroofing of 150 homes in Rolling Acres. However, Kilroy said local roofing companies informed him the roofs are only seven or eight years old and do not need replacement for at least five years. Additionally, he said spending $888,000 for the work is far too expensive even if it was needed — and has estimated it could be completed for about $300,000. The commission is now working to identify new projects on which to spend the stimulus money.

“You’ve got to assume all that excess money wasn’t being given to Southeast Engineering as some kind of act of kindness,” said Kilroy. “The trouble is proving it.”

The City of Vicksburg has no management or auditing authority over the VHA other than appointing the five commission members who, in turn, hire a director. Funding for the agency, which manages 430 homes and apartments at six subdivisions throughout the city, comes from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and rent payments. A federal investigation into the VHA is reported to be ongoing, and HUD is requiring the commission to submit an updated improvement plan monthly or face an April takeover by HUD.


Contact Steve Sanoski at ssanoski@vicksburgpost.com