HOUMA — The Houma-Terrebonne Housing Authority failed to notify the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development that the group had settled two federal lawsuits.
According to a report by Houma Today, HUD learned of the settlements after reading articles in two local newspapers. If federal lawsuits are settled using money from HUD’s general fund, there would be a problem. However, funds for the two settlements came from other sources.
In a special meeting Feb. 16, according to the Daily Comet, the Houma-Terrebonne Housing Authority concluded there were no violations to HUD regulations when it settled the lawsuits. The Housing Authority’s attorney, Jacob Dagate, confirmed that no rules were violated in regards to the settlements.
“HUD thought the settlements were paid out of the general fund, but they were not,” Terrebonne Commissioner Barry Bonvillian told the Louisiana Record. “No laws were broken and HUD determined it was done properly.”
The Houma-Terrebonne Housing Authority settled lawsuits from 2009 and 2013.
The 2009 lawsuit involved a claim by Terrebonne Parish NAACP President Jerome Boykin and the authority’s former executive director, Wayne Thibodeaux. Thibodeaux allegedly made defamatory fliers about Boykin while he was running for the state senate. Thibodeaux denied ever making the fliers, but the Housing Authority Insurance Group settled the case for $35,000.
The Housing Authority also settled a lawsuit alleging Thibodeaux fired Tyrikia Porter, an employee at the Housing Authority, because she testified against him at a grievance hearing. Porter accused Thibodeaux of sexual harassment until she left in 2012. The Housing Authority settled for $29,000 on the advice of counsel, despite Thibodeaux's opposition to the settlement.
Thibodeaux was hired in April 2006 and fired Jan. 26 of this year in a 3-2 vote with Bonvillian. Allan Luke and Charletta Lyons voting in favor, while Chester Dillard and Gordon Landry were opposed.
“I requested from our secretary all information on all of the different lawsuits,” Bonvillian said. “She turned everything over to HUD when they requested it.”
Another lawsuit that the Housing Authority is facing involves a mother whose daughter was shot and killed in a 2014 standoff. Lisa Baker is suing the Housing Authority, alleging that on-site security did not do enough in protecting her daughter, Barbara Baker, from her ex-boyfriend, Skylleur Hayes. Lisa Baker alleges that the Housing Authority was aware that her daughter had a restraining order against Hayes. Hayes was convicted of her daughter’s murder.
"From my talking with the accounting department here, regarding any payments out of the general fund, the only case where that would arise would be the (Boykin) case. That was not paid as a settlement. That was paid as an insurance deductible. That's something that's different, but that's something we'll report back to HUD and see what they say,” Jacob Dagate, attorney for the housing authority, told the Daily Comet.
In both settlements, the insurance company for the Housing Authority paid the settlements, so HUD’s general fund was not used.
“In the future, HUD wants to be notified before any settlements are made,” Bonvillian said.