Poor Relations

Guess what happened when Cleo Sims and her felonious offspring took over a Dallas anti-poverty agency

In the minds of the Meadows' residents, a secure fence around their complex would be a godsend. "If there was a security fence around it, it would be much better," says Lillian Baker, a delightful 72-year-old whose perfectly tended apartment is filled with pictures of her kids, none of whom, she volunteers, "ever made me go down to the juvenile home."

"Kids--they're not from in here--break into these empty apartments and smoke drugs," says Baker, who never goes out after dark. She's lived in the Meadows for 12 years and has much of her rent paid directly to DCCAC through the federal government's Section 8 housing program.

Last year, DCCAC applied for a grant to build a fence from the City of Dallas' South Dallas/Fair Park Trust Fund. The city gave DCCAC $15,000 to cover a portion of the costs.

The city's files show that four contractors bid for the job last November, but according to the man who came in with the low bid, Cleo Sims helped him make certain his would be the winner.

That man is Antonio Griffin, who went to prison in 1989 on an eight-year sentence for attempted house burglary and robbery. Paroled in May 1992, he registered with the county in 1993 as Antonio's Cleaning Express. He says he's moved up from that to construction work, but hasn't gone back to change the name.

Griffin, who worked under contract as an electrician and handyman for DCCAC in 1996 and 1997, says he and Sims knew what the other bids were when they arrived at his price for the fence job.

The 26-year-old ex-con provided the Observer names and figures he said were contained on original bids that he says Sims showed him for the Meadows fence. Griffin's numbers match precisely bids on file with the city.

Griffin's bid--hand-printed on a non-letterhead form--was for $30,000. The next lowest was for $33,426 from C&R Construction, signed by Charles Roberson; Allied Fence Co., a well-established contractor, came in at $69,000 for the required 1,400 feet of fence and two sliding gates. Quality Ironworks, another company with a solid history, bid $52,291.

Bill Tolbert, assistant director of the Dallas comptroller's office, says the city wanted copies of the bids to make certain that the best price was obtained and that bidding was done "in a fair and equitable way." But he also says that picking the contractor was ultimately DCCAC's responsibility and that sealed bids were not required.

Cleo Sims did not return telephone calls about Griffin's claims.
Like his sister Bridgett Sims, Harvey Scott was working last year as a contractor for the agency. Scott had two contracts, in fact: one for lawn mowing and maintenance under the name Harvey's Maintenance Service, signed in 1994, and another under the name Ocean Port Services for delivery work, signed in 1995.

That year, DCCAC paid Scott $18,874 for yard and maintenance work--an amount the state found excessive in last year's monitoring report. Also like his sister, Scott has a drug record. His is a felony cocaine possession conviction in 1991 that resulted in five years' probation, records show. Dallas police arrested him in a car wash in South Dallas, where they saw him holding a syringe containing a brown-colored mix of heroin and cocaine, according to a sworn police affidavit. Last year, a judge extended Scott's probation for two more years, so it now runs until 1998, court records show.

He also pleaded guilty to misdemeanor theft five times between 1977 and 1990.

According to Griffin, Scott had another source of income besides his maintenance-man pay. Griffin says Scott demanded a portion of the money he made on DCCAC jobs. "You pay a little to get a little," Griffin told the Observer.

Scott could not be reached to comment.
Griffin claims he paid Scott a total of more than $3,000--several hundred dollars each time he did some type of work for the agency. "He needed the money to pay his bills. I had to go with it. He was getting me jobs with the company."

Griffin says he paid Scott about $800 from money he had been paid for his work on the fence. "I got sick and tired of that," Griffin says. "Everybody in my family knew about it."

When he complained to Cleo Sims about the payments, she denied any knowledge and asked Griffin why he was giving Scott money, Griffin says.

For the fence project, DCCAC hired Griffin in late November and expected the work to be done in late April. Four months past that deadline, only a small part of the fence is completed, and residents say no work has been done since spring.

The completed section stretches about 30 feet down the property's north side, and it's already grown over and choking with weeds. From there, only top and bottom rails have been installed around most of the hard-pan lot. The work pathetically trails off along Meadow Street, where the iron fence and poles, stuck weakly in the dirt, sway at the slightest touch. At the parking lot, the fence simply ends, half-fallen-over, a single iron rail tracing the horizon.

There's no sign of two "drive-through security gates," or the "walk-through gate" with "in-out remote security pad for entry," as Griffin's bid promises.

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