City Hall

A Dallas Housing Caseworker Plans to Plead Guilty to Using His City Job to Get Sex, Free Rent

Last year, the city of Dallas abruptly shut down Project Reconnect, its $1.6 million effort to help ex-prisoners get housing and job training, amidst an investigation into nepotism and misallocation of funds. The Dallas Morning News reported that the inquiry centered on $91,000-per-year director Suanne Spires Durham and the possibility she was illegally diverting funds to a 24-year-old woman, possibly a relative.

Barely a mouse fart as far as Dallas housing scandals go. Durham was indicted, and the matter was promptly forgotten by pretty much everyone.

Ah, but the investigation hadn't quite run its course. Today, former Project Reconnect staffer Lawrence Hart pleaded guilty in federal court to one count of making a false statement to HUD, which funded the program, one count of witness tampering, and one count of deprivation of rights under color of law. prosecutors filed documents in federal court showing that former Project Reconnect staffer Lawrence Hart intends to plead guilty to one count of making a false statement to HUD, which funded the program, one count of witness tampering, and one count of deprivation of rights under color of law.

(Kathy Colvin, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorneys Office, writes: "Mr. Hart has not pleaded guilty. While documents have been signed and filed indicating that he intends to enter a guilty plea to three counts ... a date has not yet been set for him to do so before a judge. It is only at that time that he will have 'pleaded guilty.'")

In a brief cameo in the initial Morning News story, Hart played the role of hero and victim, unfairly threatened with disciplinary action by Durham after he questioned whether her 24-year-old maybe-relative was eligible for benefits.

Court documents paint a different portrait. Hart, they say, was milking the program for his own benefit.

The $980-per-month Carrollton apartment he lived in from August 2012 to July 2013 was paid for, save for $5 per month from his own pocket, with HUD funds administered through Project Reconnect. His name wasn't on the lease -- court documents say he convinced an unidentified third party to apply for benefits -- but he was the sole occupant.

Dallas PD and the FBI interviewed Hart on July 8, 2013, by which point Project Reconnect had paid his rent to the tune of $8,619.03. Immediately after the interview, Hart called the third party and told him to lie to investigators, hence the witness-tampering charge.

But that just involved money and lying to federal agents. Hart also used his position as a Project Reconnect caseworker to coerce a client into sex. According to the plea agreement signed by Hart, he told the woman he would fast-track her application if she'd have sex with him. When she ended their relationship in January 2013, Hart told her he was booting her from the program. She was apparently unaware that Hart had no authority to do so, and she moved out at the end of the month.

Hart faces a maximum 22 years in prison and $450,000 fine. We're waiting on confirmation, but he's presumably been fired.

Send your story tips to the author, Eric Nicholson.

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Eric Nicholson
Contact: Eric Nicholson