Magazine article Editor & Publisher

Expose Leads to Indictment: Baton Rouge Paper's Investigative Report into Housing Program Abuses Gets Action

Magazine article Editor & Publisher

Expose Leads to Indictment: Baton Rouge Paper's Investigative Report into Housing Program Abuses Gets Action

Article excerpt

A NEWSPAPER EXPOSE last year of abuses in the locally administered housing program for the homeless in Baton Rouge, La., has led to the federal indictment of the official allegedly responsible.

On March 31, 1996, the Advocate of Baton Rouge ran a two-page investigative report alleging that Lil Barrow-Veal, who administered foreclosed houses under contract with the United States Department of Urban Development, had leased or purchased 51 houses from HUD and then leased or sold them at considerable profit.

Some houses intended for the homeless she literally gave to relatives and affluent friends, the article charged.

After a 14-month federal investigation, Barrow-Veal was indicted last month on 38 counts of mail fraud, money laundering, tax evasion and other charges related to the housing program. Her attorney said she would plea not guilty.

Greg Garland, the reporter who investigated the program she administered, recently received the Investigative Reporters & Editors' award for investigative reporting by a newspaper under 100,000 circulation.

"This is a classic investigative story that really nails it," read his award citation, written before Barrow-Veal's indictment. "A sensational story that documented the widespread abuse of a major HUD program. Both HUD and the local official did everything possible to block access to the information. The reporter overcame major obstacles in seeking to detail major abuse and corruption in a federal homeless program at the expense of the poor."

Garland's story was one of 13 winners out of 450 entries.

Barrow-Veal, 57, a colorful, local figure, is a political protege of four-term Gov. Edwin Edwards, who appointed her Lousiana's good-will ambassador to China. In 1995, she legally changed her first name to "Ambassador"

Garland said he had stumbled onto the housing story while investigating suspected fraudulent claims by private contractors to the state's Medicaid program.

He said he was overwhelmed by the amount of material and decided to focus on individual contractors, including Barrow-Veal, with whom he was familiar from an earlier, unrelated story.

"Her name cropped up, so I went in and started digging through documents" he said. He learned that she had been terminated as a Medicaid provider the day after the inauguration of Gov. Murphy J. "Mike" Foster in January 1996.

"Once I found out she had been kicked out, I found about all the companies she owned, including one called Safety Net" he said. "When I ran Safety Net through our newspaper database, I found all these real estate transactions in which she bought a home from HUD and sold it the same day"

Garland soon found this was "one little silver of the picture" that she had leased or purchased 51 homes. …

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