Sen. Rubio wants feds to investigate Eureka Gardens' owner

Senator sends letters in wake of visit to Eureka Gardens in Jacksonville

By Lynnsey Gardner - Investigative reporter

Tenant Association President Tracy Grant, Mayor Lenny Curry, Sen. Marco Rubio

WASHINGTON, D.C. - U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio sent letters Tuesday to several federal agencies urging them to open an investigation into the Global Ministries Foundation, which owns Eureka Gardens in Jacksonville.

The letters to the Department of Justice, Treasury Department, U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs were sent just a couple of weeks after Rubio walked the Eureka Gardens subsidized housing project and talked with tenants. 

Earlier this month, Rubio, who has been a vocal critic of conditions at the property, was joined by Mayor Lenny Curry and City Councilman Garrett Dennis on a tour of the apartment complex on Jacksonville's Westside, getting a firsthand look at the problems that the I-TEAM has been reporting on for eight months.

After his tour, Rubio was outraged, calling GMF’s owner “a slumlord” and even calling for a possible criminal investigation of Global Ministries, which owns five other properties in Jacksonville and dozens more around the country.

I-TEAM: Sen. Rubio wants criminal probe of Eureka Gardens

In a letter to the Justice Department, Rubio expressed his concern that GMF owner Rev. Richard Hamlet takes in millions of dollars in federal housing funds each year and employs family members in many of his top positions.

“GMF has received millions of dollars in federal funding, raised hundreds of millions in municipal bonds, and claims exceedingly high property values - yet they can’t seem to find the money to maintain a decent standard of living at their facilities,” Rubio wrote in the letter to Attorney General Loretta Lynch.

READ RUBIO LETTERS: Treasury Department | HUD | Justice Department | Banking hearing

In a letter to the Treasury Department, Rubio said the Internal Revenue Service would be able to use GMF’s Form 990s to verify how much of the $6 million of federal money it receives annually to run Eureka Gardens -- and GMF’s six other Jacksonville properties -- was spent on repairs.

“[T]he practice of receiving federal dollars without spending much on repairs raises concern regarding the organization of the nonprofit and the purpose of transferring funds between Reverend Hamlet’s nonprofit organizations,” Rubio wrote in the letter to Secretary Jacob Lew.

Rubio asked HUD to support the investigation requests and to initiate its own investigation through the agency’s Office of the Inspector General.

“It is my hope that the coordinated effort of responsible agencies can correct the failures created by a faulty process and a slumlord,” Rubio wrote in a letter to HUD Secretary Julian Castro.

Rubio also asked the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs to hold a hearing to investigate property owners like GMF and conduct oversight of HUD’s inspection process.

“Your Committee can do a great service to many Americans by shining light on the problems currently afflicting federal housing programs,” Rubio wrote in a letter to Chairman Richard Shelby.

Hamlet released a statement Wednesday on Rubio's call for the investigations:

“After decades of neglect by previous owners, GMF has invested approximately $1 million to date, and will ultimately spend approximately $2 million in restoration of Eureka Gardens, including restoration of its critical infrastructure. In response to Senator Rubio's uninformed allegation about anyone's ability to misappropriate HUD funding, we want to be crystal clear regarding the HUD oversight process. The finances of each and every HUD property owner — including GMF — are assessed on an annual basis by an independent auditor. These auditors have never found any wrongdoing regarding our acceptance of HUD rental subsidies in connection with the operation of any of our properties, or otherwise. We abide by and take seriously our commitment to the law and to IRS regulations. We have always been, and will continue to be, 100 percent transparent."

Last week, the U.S. Senate passed a bill (H.R. 2577) spearheaded by Rubio to reform how HUD inspects public housing projects like Eureka Gardens and Washington Heights in Jacksonville.

I-TEAM: Senate passes bill reforming HUD oversight of public housing

Rubio added three amendments to H.R. 2577 to improve HUD's oversight of subsidized housing projects: 

  1. The inspection process that the I-TEAM demonstrated was flawed at Eureka Gardens will now get an official review, and possibly reform.
  2. Mandated response times to emergency situations will be shortened from 30 to 15 days for owners to make repairs.
  3. Temporary relocation will be provided to tenants if the property owner is in default for not providing safe and sanitary housing.

The House had previously passed the bill, which will now go to conference committee to work out the differences with the Senate bill.

Copyright 2016 by WJXT News4Jax - All rights reserved.