Housing Secretary Ben Carson’s penchant for involving his son and other family members in agency matters – specifically a “listening tour” in Baltimore last June – set off alarm bells with lawyers at the Department of Housing and Urban Development.
According to a report today in the Washington Post, Carson’s son, Columbia businessman Ben Carson Jr., and daughter-in-law were inviting people with whom they potentially had business dealings to join the tour.
“This gave the appearance that the secretary may be using his position for his son’s private gain,” HUD deputy general counsel Linda M. Cruciani wrote in a July 6, 2017 memo that the Post obtained.
Among those on the guest list for the tour:
Under Armour chief executive Kevin Plank; Genesis Rehab Services co-chief operating officer Dan Hirschfeld; Abell Foundation President Robert C. Embry Jr.; Teresa Carlson, vice president of worldwide public sector at Amazon Web Services; former Enterprise Foundation chairman Frederick “Bart” Harvey III; and members of the Paterakis family, which owns real estate development and bakery businesses in the city.
Cruciani said HUD officials told her that Carson Jr. and his wife, Merlynn Carson, also asked that an administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) be invited.
A little less than three months later, according to federal records, CMS awarded a no-bid $485,000 contract to the consulting company Myriddian, whose chief executive is Merylnn Carson. Carson Jr. identifies himself online as one of Myriddian’s board members, the Post said.
A source told the newspaper that the CMS administrator did not attend the Baltimore event and the Post said CMS had no record of her receiving an invitation.
At a teleconference with HUD lawyers and officials days before the June tour, Carson Jr. told them that “nothing we would do would be near a conflict.”
In a face-to-face meeting with the lawyers and department officials, the Johns-Hopkins-neurosurgeon-turned-federal-housing-chief also defended his son’s involvement in the visit.
“The secretary said that it was difficult to have a Listening Tour in Baltimore without his son’s involvement as his son was the largest employer in Maryland,” Cruciani wrote.
Carson Jr.’s firm, Interprise Partners, specializes in infrastructure, health care and workforce development.