Former Medford housing chief fined $5,000 and barred from public employment for six years

Former Medford Housing Authority chief Robert Covelle has been fined $5,000 and barred from public employment for six years for violating state purchasing laws, Attorney General Martha Coakley said today.

Prosecutors said today they had reached a settlement agreement with Covelle. Prosecutors have been investigating for a year, but declined to press criminal charges because they found no evidence Covelle personally profited from the violations.

“Procurement laws help maintain the integrity of public projects by requiring a strong, transparent bidding process,” said Coakley. “Covelle violated the trust placed in him to protect taxpayer dollars and ensure that all businesses were competing fairly for projects at the Medford Housing Authority.”

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Covelle, 59, who resigned in May amid allegations of favoritism in hiring and contracting, failed to follow bidding laws in contracting for work at two MHA developments, Coakley said. Covelle chose Capitol Contracting to renovate the basement walls of LaPrise Village without putting the job out to bid, the attorney general said. After hiring the company, Covelle fabricated a list of bidders, a contract, and an invoice, backdating the documents to make it appear as if he had followed proper procedures, Coakley said. Capitol was owned by a friend of John Lonergan, Covelle’s director of operations.

Lonergan was also placed on leave in the spring while police investigated whether he kept money from the sale of copper salvaged from a public housing project that was about to be demolished. He was later terminated.

Covelle also hired a security company, Allliance Detective and Security Service, for the Walking Court development without putting the job out to bid. The company billed MHA between $140,000 and $150,000 between August 2009 and November 2011 for security provided at Walking Court and several other developments. But it wasn’t until the state began investigating Covelle’s management and contracting practices in June 2011 that Alliance drafted an agreement that included all the developments where Alliance was working. Covelle asked Alliance to backdate the agreement to 2009, when the company began working for Medford Housing.

Capitol Contracting was cited in a US Department of Housing and Urban Development audit released in March. That audit concluded that the agency paid $1.3 million to 21 contractors without following federal contracting rules. Alliance Detective was not among them.

Covelle left his $126,000-a-year job almost three weeks after Governor Deval Patrick demanded his resignation. At first he insisted he would not quit, prompting Medford Mayor Michael McGlynn, the housing authority board, and the Medford City Council all to call for his ouster.

According to a report on the investigators’ findings, Covelle and others at the MHA claimed they were unaware of the state’s contracting rules.

Covelle’s lawyer, Thomas Drechsler, said Covelle never benefited from any contracting mistakes.

“Mr. Covelle is proud of the service that he gave to the Medford Housing Authority and appreciates the support of the many tenants who have reached out to him,” said Drechsler. “He’s satisfied with the agreement and wants to put the matter behind him. The most important to note is that after a lengthy and thorough investigation, there’s never been any evidence that Mr. Covelle was in any way personally enriched or gained personally in any way from his actions.”

Coakley is recommending that all housing authority executive directors and other employees who oversee capital projects attend mandatory training on proper contracting given by the state inspector general.