By STEVEN WARD
Advocate staff writer
Published: Sep 3, 2009
A consultant recently hired by the East Baton Rouge Parish Housing Authority has been charged by the U.S. Attorney in New Orleans for reportedly embezzling more than $900,000 from the Housing Authority, of New Orleans.
Elias Castellanos, 43, of Davie, Fla., was charged with theft via a bill of information filed Tuesday by U.S. Attorney Jim Letten.
According to the charge, Castellanos stole $900,927 from HANO between September 2006 and June while employed as its chief financial officer.
The bill of information contained no other details about the alleged crime. Kathy English, a spokeswoman for Letten, said she could not make any other comments about the case.
When reached for comment Wednesday, Castellanos declined to comment and referred questions to his attorney, Alan Baum, of Studio City, Calif. Baum said he is trying to work out a settlement of the criminal case with prosecutors and could not elaborate.
Castellanos, of Caballero and Castellanos, LP, was hired by the East Baton Rouge Parish Housing Authority in June 2007 to help the agency come up with a long range strategic plan, Richard Murray, executive director of Housing Authority, said Wednesday.
Murray also said the Housing Authority hired Castellanos a few months ago to secure a portion of $2 billion in U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development stimulus money.
Murray said the Housing Authority agreed to pay Castellanos $15,000 for the contract. He has received $7,500 and the remainder will be paid once an invoice is issued, Murray said.
Castellanos was trying to obtain $17.5 million in federal stimulus money for the Housing Authority, Murray said. The agency planned to use the money for housing for the elderly and disabled, he said.
Melonie Bayham, chief operating officer for Housing Authority, said Wednesday that it’s too soon to know if Castellanos was successful in getting that federal stimulus money.
Bayham said the total amount the Housing Authority paid Castellanos for various contract work between December 2006 and now is $109,207.
The Housing Authority also hired Castellanos for work on its budget, accounting staff training and analysis of audits, Bayham said.
Murray said he was very surprised when he heard about the charge against Castellanos.
“I don’t know the details so I can’t say too much. I believe innocent until proven guilty. In our case, he always did good work for us,” Murray said.
Murray said there are no current contracts with Castellanos.
When asked if he had concerns about Castellanos and Housing Authority money, Murray said he did not. “I don’t have any suspicions about that. He never had any access to our funds,” Murray said.
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