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Federal Housing and Urban Development proposes debarment of Freeport housing director

The federal Department of Housing and Urban Development

The federal Department of Housing and Urban Development has proposed debarment of Edward Pearlman, the head of the Freeport Housing Authority, over allegations of mismanagement stemming from his tenure as executive director of a housing authority in Tennessee. Credit: ABC12 News Flint, MI

The federal Department of Housing and Urban Development has proposed barring the head of the Freeport Housing Authority from doing business with the government for three years over allegations of mismanagement during his tenure as executive director of a housing authority in Tennessee.

A letter released by HUD Thursday states that Edward Pearlman was cited for his "failure to maintain and operate" housing projects in Shelby County, Tenn., in a "decent, safe and sanitary manner." News reports from Tennessee and minutes of an authority meeting show that Pearlman was fired from that position in 2011. He assumed leadership of the Freeport Housing Authority last year.

Pearlman has until March 24 to contest the decision, known as debarment, according to the HUD letter. If he is debarred, he will not be able to work as an employee or contractor for the federal government, or any agency that receives federal funds, for three years.

"Right now, he has a right to an appeal," said Joseph Cattano, board chairman of the Freeport authority. He declined to comment further.

Pearlman has not returned multiple calls from Newsday this week, and the housing authority has not responded to requests for documents made under the Freedom of Information Law.

Village officials declined to comment on Pearlman's proposed debarment. Housing authority board member Luvine Martin also declined to comment. Attempts to reach the four other board members were not successful.

The housing authority manages 351 public housing units and distributes Section 8 vouchers to help pay rent for qualified Freeport residents.

It has received more than $8 million in federal funds since 2012 and had a $6.7 million budget in 2010, according to the most recent audit the authority provided.

Pearlman is paid about $80,000 per year by the housing authority. The authority does not receive money from Freeport Village, officials said.

Pearlman's potential debarment comes at a time when residents have complained that housing authority buildings are in a state of disrepair nearly 17 months after superstorm Sandy struck, and that the authority has not responded to their complaints.

Thursday, Charles Brandon, who has lived in Freeport public housing for 15 years, said of Pearlman, "He didn't do what he was supposed to do."

Records reviewed by Newsday and media reports show that Pearlman was executive director of the Shelby County housing authority from April 2008 to September 2011.

An audit by HUD found instances of mismanagement in Shelby County, including Pearlman's handling of a housing project the authority was supposed to sell.

That project was abandoned, with residents' personal documents left in an unlocked office. Pearlman told auditors he'd decided to "let it go back to nature," the audit states.

Debarment is among the most severe administrative penalties available to be used against HUD employees and contractors, said Amy M. Glass, a lawyer with the Washington firm Ballard Spahr, who has experience with HUD regulatory and compliance issues.

She said if Pearlman is debarred, the Freeport Housing Authority would not lose funds or suffer other consequences.

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