Facebook Twitter



The six-month House investigation of federal housing programs yielded dramatic tales of mismanagement and favoritism but failed to reveal definitively what roles former top agency officials played and whether they engaged in criminal activity.

"We didn't crack the ring," said Rep. Christopher Shays, R-Conn. "We didn't nail down and expose what I think was a conspiracy to defraud the government."'The investigation by the Government Operations subcommittee on employment and housing began in April after a Department of Housing and Urban Development report found that a rehabilitation program was being milked for millions of dollars in excess rents and that subsidies apparently had been steered to developers who hired well-connected consultants.

In 24 hearings the panel was told how HUD failed to keep track of millions of dollars, mismanaged programs and gave favored treatment to those with agency or political connections.

But the refusal of former HUD Secretary Samuel R. Pierce Jr. and three of his top deputies to answer questions about their roles left a gaping hole in the investigation and also effectively ended it. Only a few more hearings are expected before the investigation is closed.

The question of whether there was criminal activity was left to the Justice Department. Justice Department spokesman David Runkel said Friday that investigations are ongoing.

"We have more than 700 open cases that involve up to 1,000 individuals or companies," he said. "These are high priority items and will continue to be until this HUD mess is cleaned up."

But Runkel said Attorney General Dick Thornburgh opposes congressional efforts to get him to name a special prosecutor to investigate HUD.

Federal authorities have in recent months reviewed records compiled by HUD's inspector general and the subcomittee, and several grand jury investigations are known to exist.

The only way for the subcommittee investigation to make significant progress would be to secure the testimony of one or more of the former HUD officials who refused to testify, members of the panel said. The only way to do that, it appears, would be to grant immunity.

The panel's chairman, Rep. Tom Lantos, D-Calif., said Friday he had no current plans to offer immunity to anyone, but said he had not ruled it out in the future.

Lantos appears to lack the support on the panel he would need for such a move.

"I have no intention of playing God and trying to decide who should and who shouldn't be granted immunity," said Shays.

Rep. Barney Frank, D-Mass., said immunity was "a very sensitive subject" and should only be granted if approved by prosecutors.

One member of the panel, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said preliminary discussions with two of the former Pierce aides about immunity had convinced him they would provide too little evidence to make it worthwhile.

Even Lantos, who has appeared to relish his role in leading the televised hearings, conceded the decisions by Pierce and others not to answer questions effectively brought the subcommittee investigation to a halt.

"The subcommittee has finished the bulk of its work," he said.

That work included public testimony from 50 witnesses, staff interviews with scores more and occasional theatrics.