The decision to fire GHURA Executive Director Ray Topasna was made even before the board voted, that is what Topasna alleges happened the day he was forced to resign during the Calvo administration.
“While we were sitting in the board room … and they hadn’t even voted whether to terminate me or to force me to resign … the media was already saying I was terminated when in fact that was not the case. That was the press release issued by the board even before they voted,” Topasna recalled.
This is now round two for Topasna as head of the housing authority. In 2011, he was appointed as executive director and according to Topasna he hasn’t done anything differently now from when he was appointed by the previous administration.
Topasna calls his removal during the Calvo administration as ironic, saying that his performance now over the last eight months was recently evaluated and the board, half of which are holdovers from the previous administration, had collectively agreed that it was “outstanding.”
But was his termination back then in retaliation for not cooperating with directives from either the GHURA board or the administration to offer favorable treatment or to make reimbursement payments to the legal counsel Mark Smith?
“That may be what I believe but I can’t prove that. All I can say is the fact that charges were brought forth before the former counsel and charges were brought up against the former board itself says a lot … but I can’t prove that they fired me because of that,” Topasna said.
Bottomline, according to Topasna, is that he got fired for trying to do what’s right and refusing to violate federal law.
“Well, again, I don’t want to get into details because there is an ongoing trial, but my predecessor Marcel Camacho was also fired for trying to follow the rules and trying to ensure that he keeps the housing authority in check and out of trouble and he got fired after a year. And then I got fired after, about 10 months after, as executive director,” Topasna said.
PNC files indicate that in 2012, then GHURA executive director Marcel Camacho resigned and then sent out a press release calling into question the GHURA board’s handling of the low-income housing tax credits. He made reference to certain irregularities with the tax credit program that he said would all be made clear in the end.
Meanwhile, Topasna had filed a civil lawsuit alleging violations of the Federal False Claim Act of 2015 by then members of GHURA’s board and former board chairman David Sablan.
Court documents state that former legal counsels for GHURA, one of which is Mark Smith, received Section 8 payments as landlords. Also named in court documents are attorneys Rawlen Mantanona and Cesar Cabot who have alleged conflicts of interest in their roles as GHURA’s legal counsel as they, too, were identified as landlords to section 8 tenants.
According to Topasna, there is a sense of relief when the documents were unsealed. “But it’s not over until it’s over,” Topasna says referring to ongoing litigation over the matter.
He says the feds were already poking around way before he was terminated.
In 2012, Topasna, then the deputy director, was interviewed by the FBI regarding concerns surrounding GHURA’s award of low-income housing tax credits to the two lowest-ranked offerers namely, the fourth-ranked Tower 70 which is owned by Robert Salas and Keith Farrel and the fifth-ranked Great Homes which is owned by Catholic Social Services, Jones & Guerrero, and the Calvo Finance Corporation.
This resulted in the filing of a protest by the first-ranked applicant Medallion Guam. According to PNC news files, this award was mired in controversy and it resulted in two separate protests and an investigation by the FBI in 2012.
Court documents state that Topasna is suing for back pay as well as interest on the back pay and compensation for the special damages he sustained for allegedly refusing to violate federal law.
He is also seeking full reimbursement of federal dollars paid by GHURA to Smith, Mantanona and Cabot, as well as the recovery of the $52 million in housing tax credits awarded to Great Homes and Tower 70.