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The Suburbanite
  • SMHA gave free rent to fired security guard

  • Official says perk was approved by former Housing Authority Director Mike Williams
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  • Editor note: This is the eighth in an intermittent series by Repository reporter Tim Botos examining the Stark Metro Housing Authority, accused in a federal audit of improperly spending or failing to document more than $10.5 million of its public-housing dollars.
    A Stark Metropolitan Housing Authority security guard was allowed to live in an agency-owned apartment complex for at least four years — without paying rent.
    The security worker, 45-year-old Allen P. Ridley III, lived in a one-bedroom unit at Hillview Apartments beginning in 2009. It's unclear why Ridley was provided free housing but it continued until this month.
    No other security guards enjoy that perk, according to SMHA Executive Director Herman Hill, who was hired in February.
    The Ruthe and Isadore Freed Housing Corp. — a Housing Authority non-profit spinoff — manages the Sixth Street NE complex for SMHA.
    Freed Director Shellie Thomas said Ridley already was living in the unit when she took over for Angela Battle in December 2009. Battle, who was suspected of stealing money, resigned in September 2009 before she was fired.
    Thomas said she questioned SMHA officials about Ridley's setup. She said the only answer she received was that Mike Williams (SMHA executive director from May 2009 until his resignation at the end of 2012) had OK'd it.
    "It always bothered me, so I asked them all the time about it," Thomas said. "There was no lease ... nothing. I was told that Mike had authorized him to move in there."
    INVESTIGATION
    It's unclear why Ridley was provided free rent, when no other security guards on the payroll receive housing.
    Williams has declined multiple requests to be interviewed for stories about SMHA. A phone message left at the home of Ridley's mother, seeking comment, was not returned.
    It's also not known if this issue is under examination in an ongoing FBI and U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development Inspector General investigation of SMHA. That probe is at least studying issues uncovered during a HUD audit this summer.
    In the audit, SMHA was advised to pay back $10.5 million in federal funds improperly spent on nonpublic housing programs, and/or without approval from HUD.
    Ridley was hired to the $10-per-hour job on Dec. 1, 2008. According to a résumé he'd submitted at the time, Ridley had most recently worked as a security officer in the Cleveland Municipal Schools' system, and played professional football for the Pittsburgh Steelers in 1995 — though his name does not appear on the team's historical roster, which is arranged in alphabetical order.
    There is no mention or documentation of the Hillview living arrangement contained in his employee personnel file.
    SMHA AND FREED
    Thomas said she made Hill, the current SMHA director, aware of the free-rent situation.
    Page 2 of 2 - Last month, she sent a letter to Ridley, notifying him he would have to establish official residency and pay $470 a month rent if he wanted to continue living at Hillview.
    "He indicated to me that he would be moving," she said.
    Then, on Oct. 17, Ridley ran into on-the-job trouble. Hill fired him for using a SMHA vehicle for personal use. Ridley admitted it, according to a citation in his personnel file.
    And although Freed continues to manage units for SMHA and shares a similar mission, the two entities are in the process of severing their legal and operational ties.
    The audit had noted that SMHA paid $2 million in salaries, benefits and other expenses for Freed employees over a number of years — which was deemed an improper use of funds.
    Hill called that a "reckless" practice. He said the subsidies have ended.
    Freed offices recently moved from the downtown SMHA complex to the Hunter House.
    Reach Tim at 330-580-8333 or
    tim.botos@cantonrep.com.
    On Twitter: @tbotosREP

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