Feds seek triple in damages against former GHURA attorney

SMITH: Former Guam Housing and Urban Renewal Authority attorney Mark Smith is pictured outside the District Court of Guam in 2017 when he was facing a criminal case involving his alleged conflict as a landlord to certain of GHURA's Section 8 tenants and at one time legal counsel to the agency. Post file photo

Federal prosecutors have filed a civil complaint seeking triple the amount of damages against a former Guam Housing and Urban Renewal Authority legal counsel, Mark Smith, who allegedly didn’t disclose his conflict as a landlord to certain of GHURA’s tenants under the federally funded Section 8 rent voucher program.

The case names GHURA Administrator Ray Topasna as a related party. The case alleges Smith received a total of $281,131 in rent payments as a landlord under the Section 8 program between March 16, 2012, and May 2, 2014, through a friend of Smith, Glenn Wong.

The case further alleges Smith used Wong, a flight attendant, to conceal Smith's ownership of rental properties being rented under the Section 8 program.

Wong was also named as a defendant in the civil complaint.

The two faced criminal charges but the case ended in a mistrial.

Topasna has described Smith as the former brother-in-law of then-Gov. Eddie Calvo. Topasna claimed in court documents he was fired from being the executive director of GHURA under the Calvo administration when he refused to authorize payments to Smith.

Topasna seeks compensation for the years he lost his job at GHURA. Gov. Lou Leon Guerrero’s administration rehired Topasna earlier this year as GHURA executive director.

The complaint states it seeks from Smith and Wong an amount of “damages, trebled as required by law, together with the maximum civil penalties allowed by law, costs, post-judgment interest, and such other and further relief as the court may deem appropriate.”

The treble damages and civil penalties being sought are under the False Claims Act, and “for unjust enrichment, arising from a fraud upon the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development,” the lawsuit states.

Smith was hired by GHURA as its legal counsel in March 2011.

As GHURA’s legal counsel who formulated policy or influenced decisions with respect to federally funded housing programs, Smith was prohibited from having any direct or indirect interest in any federally funded housing contracts involving GHURA, or in any benefits or payments under such contract, during his term as legal counsel and for one year thereafter, the lawsuit states.

For the period of his service as GHURA’s legal counsel between March 11, 2011, to May 21, 2013, Smith received $197,777 for legal services.

Despite the prohibition on conflicts of interest, the case alleges, Smith continued participating as a landlord under the Section 8 program and received $272,898 in Section 8 payments during his tenure as GHURA’s legal counsel, with another $106,951 in Section 8 payments within the year he left GHURA but was still subject to the conflict rule.

Smith owned multiple rental properties in Dededo, Mongmong-Toto-Maite, Tamuning and Agat, which he rented out to Section 8 tenants, the lawsuit states.