GHURA director sues his bosses, seeks back pay

LEGISLATURE:Guam Housing and Urban Renewal Authority Executive Director Ray Topasna, center, appears before the Guam Legislature in May in the Guam Congress Building in Hagåtña. Topasna has sued his board over back pay. David Castro/The Guam Daily Post

The Guam Housing and Urban Renewal Authority’s current board members have been named as defendants in an amended civil lawsuit filed by GHURA Executive Director Ray Topasna in federal court Friday.

Topasna’s lawsuit alleged he was fired from being the executive director of GHURA during then-Gov. Eddie Calvo’s administration in November 2012 after Topasna allegedly opposed payments to Mark Smith, who was a brother-in-law of Calvo at the time, court documents state. Topasna alleged he opposed payments to Smith while Smith was the legal counsel of GHURA and at the same time a landlord to some of GHURA’s federally funded Section 8 housing program tenants. Section 8 tenants get federally funded rent vouchers.

A conflict-of-interest rule by the U.S. Housing and Urban Development, which is the provider of GHURA’s housing funds, forbade Smith from being a landlord to the agency he represents, the federal government has alleged in a related civil case.

Last week, federal prosecutors filed a civil case that 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. For the period of his service as GHURA’s legal counsel from March 11, 2011, to May 21, 2013, Smith received $197,777 for legal services, the federal civil lawsuit alleges. The federal lawsuit asked to triple the damages Smith owes to the federal government.

In his related lawsuit, Topasna seeks the full recovery of all federal monies GHURA paid to Smith during his work as legal counsel and as a landlord through the Section 8 low-income housing program.

Topasna is also seeking two times the amount of back pay that he says is owed to him for the years he was kept out of GHURA following his termination. Topasna was reinstated as GHURA director under Gov. Lou Leon Guerrero’s administration. He made more than $100,000 a year at GHURA before he was fired. He'd been out of the executive director's job for about six years, so his lawsuit, which is seeking double in back pay, plus damages, could result in more than $1 million.

Topasna seeks special damages as a result of his termination "for refusing to violate federal law as he was ordered to do so by Defendant GHURA's Board of directors." 

The GHURA members who were named in the lawsuit are Sabino Flores, Monica Guzman, Carl Dominguez, George Pereda, Joseph Cameron and Joseph Leon Guerrero.

They were confirmed to the GHURA board after the firing of Topasna. However, the lawsuit had to name the current board members in their official capacity.