I-TEAM: Where did $1.1M go? Feds probe Aiken Housing Authority's missing million

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Wednesday, Sept. 11, 2019
News 12 at 6 O'Clock

AIKEN COUNTY, SC (WRDW/WAGT) -- Families living in poverty rely on Aiken Housing Authority for a roof over their heads. The agency provides housing assistance to more than 1,100 families in Aiken County.

We have been looking into Aiken's Public Housing Authority for 10 months. But the agency is in big financial trouble with more than $1.1 million in question.

We can tell you the Department of Housing and Urban Development has now also opened an investigation.

But where’s the money? The I-Team tracked it to a non-profit group under the leadership of the former housing director.

Let’s start by talking to Carol Carlson. Carlson doesn't have a get out of jail free card to get herself out of the projects. She didn't even have the money to buy a heater when we met her last winter.

"The little baby sleeps in here so I got to make sure he has heat,” Carlson said.

She lives in New Hope, one of seven public housing complexes owned and operated by Aiken Housing Authority.

We were told seven months ago by AHA director that funding continues to decrease for the housing authority while maintenance issues and concerns increase.

But let’s talk about how the authority operates. HUD gives tax dollars to AHA, and uses the money for maintenance at the public housing complexes. Federal dollars also fund the Section 8 voucher program.

The Community Development & Improvement Corporation, or CDIC is a non-profit organization that provides private, Section 8 housing for low-income families in Aiken County. The AHA maintains and manages it in return.

Reggie Barner served as the CEO of Aiken Public Housing for 20 years. He also served as the CEO of CDIC during that time.

"You started CDIC,” we asked.

"I did,” Barner said.

"Last year you retired?" we asked.

"Correct,” Barner said.

"What's your role now?" we asked

"I serve as a consultant to them to try to help facilitate some of the other development stuff,” Barner said.

Barner is a consultant who still appears to have access to CDIC’'s bank account. Our I-Team got a hold of a CDIC check dated in August. The check was made out to

Speaking of names, Barner's name is linked to more than 30 private corporations and most of which are property groups.

"There is a lack of affordable housing in the community, and there is a need for additional affordable housing to be developed in the community,” Barner said.

Let's get back those money problems. In 2017, AHA gave $600,000 to CDIC in public housing money; that's federal dollars -- our tax dollars. Barner was both the CEO of Aiken Housing Authority and CDIC at the time.

HUD found out about it and wrote this in March: "Not only did AHA fail to require full reimbursement from the CDIC, but AHA allowed these expenses to accumulate to an alarming level, which now exceeds $1.1 million."

"You were the director of Aiken Public Housing. You started the non-profit CDIC, which goes out and finds these different apartment buildings, which then the vouchers are given to by Aiken Public Housing and you’re the registered agent for a bunch of these corporations like RV, Horsecreek Busch Homes,” we said to Barner. “That's three different things your making the decision for --"

"No, it has a board,” Barner interjected.

"It looks like a conflict of interest,” we said.

"It’s not,” Barner said. “It’s not."

The South Carolina Secretary of State does not require a corporation to reveal ownership, but does ask for the name of the manager, organizer, incorporator or registered agent. Reggie Barner's name is on 26 businesses and half of those are linked to Aiken Housing Authority.

So where is the money?

"What we are trying to focus on now is selling off some of the assets so we can back the internal -- so have an internal fund we owe back to the housing authority for staff costs and maintenance,” Barner said.

HUD gave the authority until April to come up with a repayment plan. We asked for the plan this summer. There isn't one.

In that same letter to the mayor back in March, HUD ordered the authority to immediately end its cost sharing agreements with CDIC. That also didn't happen.

Three months after that federal order, our camera caught AHA maintenance workers still working at Ridgeview Manor, a CDIC-managed property.

Our camera also caught AHA maintenance workers and an AHA manager at a housing complex. Barner is listed as the president of Horsecreek.

We checked and this property is linked a corporation also listed under Reggie Barner's name.

“Property records do not show mention CDIC,” we said to Barner. “It mentions these corporations that you’re the registered agent for."

"Yeah, so let’s do this at this time to alleviate any further issue,” Barner said. “So let’s stop it at this point. I’ll get you the information because I don’t want is a misunderstanding of information being disseminated on."

Barner did send us a citing of state law that says it does not require the registered agent to be the owner. He did not send us ownership documentation.

"I am going to stop the interview at this point,” Barner said.

Back to Carol Carlson. Her life is not a game.

"People don't understand that we are here. We are lost. We are forgotten,” Carlson said.

She can't just collect money to move.

The office of the inspector general has been investigating Public Housing Authorities across the country. The agency reported making 166 arrests this March. In April, HUD requested its enforcement division look into Aiken Housing Authority. By the way, Reggie Barner is also currently working as the interim director of public housing in Spartanburg.

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