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Housing authority member suspended

Patrick Bowman

Firm Build
Patrick Bowman Firm Build Merced Sun-Star

The federal government has suspended Patrick Bowman from his position on the Merced County Housing Authority because of his pending criminal case.

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, which funds the authority, sent a letter to Bowman's Los Banos home explaining that his removal was necessary because the allegations are "contrary to the government's interest in maintaining the integrity of its programs."

Bowman has been charged with seven felonies, including diversion of construction funds, embezzlement, falsified corporate records and criminal conflict of interest.

The charges stem from his job at Merced County Office of Education and his role in Firm Build, a nonprofit that taught troubled youth construction skills. Until its demise, Firm Build had a close relationship with the Housing Authority and office of education.

"I have determined that immediate action is necessary to protect the public interest because this criminal complaint is evidence of the irregularities seriously reflecting on the propriety of further federal government dealings with you," HUD acting director Henry Czauski wrote. "Given the seriousness of the allegations, I have determined that your immediate suspension is necessary to protect the public interest."

The suspension is temporary, pending the outcome of Bowman's criminal case, which has been proceeding slowly due to its complexity.

Ralph Temple, Bowman's attorney, did not return phone calls for comment. A call to Bowman's cell phone was not returned.

The suspension can be challenged within the next 30 days, though if false statements in defense are given, the department can pursue a civil or criminal case.

Bowman is employed as an administrator with Merced County Office of Education. He has an annual salary of $104,764. He's not supervising anyone and is working on a curriculum for Valley Community Schools and Juvenile Hall.

The Merced County Board of Supervisors was forwarded a copy of the letter last week by the District Attorney's Office.

The suspension adds a third vacancy to the authority, which had two other members resign in the past year. The board is planning to make appointments in the coming months, county spokeswoman Katie Albertson said.

Firm Build went bankrupt in mid-2007, prompting a District Attorney's Office investigation that lasted 15 months and culminated in September with the arrest of Bowman, program manager Rudy Buendia III, administrative manager Joe Cuellar and secretary Christina Ledezma.

The Board of Supervisors appointed Bowman to the Housing Authority in May 2008, after the nonprofit had collapsed and was in the midst of a well-known probe into its failure.

According to investigative reports, from May 2005 to December 2006, Bowman directed $120,000 from the office of education to Firm Build for projects with no connection to the school.

The office of education's automotive training center project at Castle Commerce Center was never opened up to competitive bidding for construction, as investigators believe it should have been. Instead, Firm Build was named the general contractor, though no contract was ever signed. The project's cost ballooned to $1.25 million.

The conflict-of-interest charge comes from investigators finding evidence that Bowman had Firm Build renovate his home.

A preliminary hearing -- when a judge determines if there's enough evidence to go to trial -- is scheduled for August.

The Housing Authority, which is charged with creating affordable homes for the county's poorer residents, has been handicapped by a dysfunctional and dwindling board.

Deidre Kelsey, chairwoman of the Board of Supervisors, has heard allegations from both sides, sometimes contradicting each other.

"The allegations have been far-flung and wild. I'm pretty well confounded," she said.

Joe Ramirez resigned last year and Tom May left in March. The meeting last week was canceled because there wasn't a quorum.

Kelsey said she hopes new members and the conclusion of the criminal trial will resolve the Housing Authority infighting.

"Our board needs to have a full-functioning and legitimate local (Housing and Urban Development) board," Kelsey said. "We truly miss the partnership we could forge."

Reporter Scott Jason can be reached at (209) 385-2453 or sjason@mercedsun-star.com.

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