Whistleblower Recounts Retaliation in Sex-for-Repair Scheme
Maintenance worker Lucky Crosby goes into details about how the Baltimore Housing Authority handled the Sex-for Repair Scheme and why he believes he was fired for speaking out
STEPHEN JANIS, TRNN: Hello. My name is Stephen Janis, and I’m an investigative reporter for the Real News Network in Baltimore, Maryland.
It’s an apparent problem with accountability and lack thereof that seem to produce a new scandal weekly in the city of Baltimore. This time the Baltimore Housing Authority is now under intense scrutiny after eleven women filed a federal lawsuit alleging maintenance workers demanded sex in exchange for repairs at the city’s troubled Gilmor Homes housing project, where not incidentally Freddie Gray was arrested.
But those allegations are just part of the problem. That’s because the lawsuit claims that not just the victims, but a small group of housing employees brought evidence of the scheme to the attentions of top officials in the department to no avail, and in fact those same employees suffered retaliation themselves. Today we have one of those whistleblowers with us, a man who is facing pressure to sign a document he says compromises his rights in order to get his job back. Lucky Crosby is a 14-year veteran of the city Housing Authority, and an elected union official. His job was to repair and maintain apartments among the city’s 11,000 low-income housing units. But two weeks ago, he was fired for what he claims is retaliation for investigating the claims of sex for repairs. And now his story is taking yet another twist, and many say it’s an example of just how broken the city Housing Authority is.
So Mr. Crosby, thank you very much for joining us. We appreciate it.
LUCKY CROSBY: Thank you for having me.
JANIS: So tell me, you know, this is a long tale. This isn’t just, you know, one or two weeks. When did your problem start in the Housing Authority, and why?
CROSBY: You can say 2007, because of the unsafe condition that the employees was made to work in, and there seemed to be no accountability when you make reports to the supervisors, than the managers, than the [assets] managers.
JANIS: What kind of unsafe conditions are you talking about?
CROSBY: Well you can say from the maintaining of the trucks, that some of the trucks’ brakes wasn’t working. From the shabby equipment that we was getting, and some equipment we wasn’t getting, from the safety boots to the uniforms, to IE, everything involving us going into these filthy units with all kind of rodents, mice, and everything in it. And from dealing with old, let’s say like refrigerators and stoves that should have been replaced, but housing refused to replace them because of cost effective measures. Dealing with the unsafe windows, where some units the windows would not open properly, without locks and latches and pulleys and balances in them.
JANIS: So this was just–and when you would file reports, what would happen?
CROSBY: I would get, I’d get disciplined.
JANIS: You’d get disciplined.
CROSBY: Yes. Told that I’m a troublemaker, shut up, or you’re going to lose your job. Or they’d assign me somewhere, transfer me somewhere. Put me on crappy details.
JANIS: All right. So fast forward to, to two weeks ago. You come into work, you have investigated these claims. First of all, tell us what you found at Gilmor Homes with your, when you, the union looked into the problem.
CROSBY: So first, I must give a disclaimer. I am a homeowner and a resident of Sandtown-Winchester. You can look out my back door and see Gilmor Homes. Presser Court, to be exact. So I was aware of that communities like, Community United within the Gilmor Homes doing their own investigation. And then I was also made aware that certain things was being said. But on this particular date, it happened to be July 30, I received several phone calls from members of the maintenance staff of Gilmor Homes, asking me did I see the article in the Afro. I said, yes I did.
Then at 5:42 I received a phone call from Sean Buchanan, deputy associate director of Baltimore City Housing Authority. He informed me that we could not have our scheduled meeting for the 31st because he’ll be going to Gilmor. And I said, interesting. I’ll be going to Gilmor, too, to investigate for a health and safety matter, the sex for maintenance work. He said oh, no, no, no. I’m there to discuss the lack of productivity. I said, well, I will be there for the health and safety. He paused, like he didn’t want me there. So we got off the phone. So I then called Mr. Anthony Coates, who is Local 647 president. Anthony Coates told me to start investigating.
I then went around 7:00 in the evening to Gilmor Homes where I started speaking to tenants. And my questions were, do maintenance come to repair your work orders in a timely manner? It was a resounding no. So then the followup question was, I say did any maintenance man, in a blue uniform, did they say anything disrespectful to you? And they say, what do you mean by disrespectful? I say, in a sexual nature. And they came out with the stories about what the maintenance supervisor said to them, asked of them, and were trying to force them to do.
JANIS: So then what did you do with [inaud.]. Sorry.
CROSBY: July the 31. I then called, because I was at Allendale, a high rise development. July the 31 around 11:00 AM, where–I then called Carla Walton, the chief of human resources, around 11:00 AM. I explained to her why I needed to go to Gilmor, i.e. because of what the residents are saying that maintenance are doing. The maintenance employees fall under 647. As the chief [inaud.] and safety officer it was my duty to be able to investigate. She then told me–well, let me explain what I told her. I told her what I had heard from the residents in that evening investigation. The conditions that I noticed at 7:00 in the evening. Told her about it. She told me she would be getting back to me so I can get [released]. She said, I got to call Sean Buchanan and see if Sean Buchanan’s going to talk about this sex for work. And I said, that doesn’t make sense. I said, you need to let me know, because I’m catching public transportation there, so I need you to let me know by 2:15.
She then called me back at 2:41 on July 31. But Sean Buchanan had pulled–had left the room. And he called her and told her I was there. The whole plot was trying to get me out of the room. Then they planned on disciplining me for being at the meeting. So they told the executives there not to mention anything about the sex stuff at Gilmor. Subsequently, I was suspended. I was suspended on August the 6–August the 5th and 6th for going to Gilmor. I have the suspension letter.
JANIS: Right. So you were just trying to investigate what you thought was an issue. And then, you know, it turned out that it really was a serious issue, with the federal lawsuit that was filed. So one of the interesting things you told me was that there is fraternization between housing employees and, and women at other housing projects, right?
CROSBY: There’s always been.
JANIS: How is it, what is it–how do you know this?
CROSBY: Because I have been here long enough to know that. Because there are women involved in relationships with men. There are men involved in relationships with women.
JANIS: City housing employees.
CROSBY: Some of the men and women work for the Baltimore City Housing Authority.
JANIS: So it’s not totally abnormal.
CROSBY: Not totally abnormal at all. If you go to 417 and you will see that there are employees at 417 have babies by public housing residents.
JANIS: Okay. So fast forward to, you know, the lawsuit comes out. Obviously this becomes a big issue. [Inaud.]
CROSBY: Right. According to the contract, which I have a copy of, we have a monthly labor management meeting with the Housing Authority executives. When I mean executive, everybody except Graziano. So you go from the chief of staff to the deputy commissioner, to the associate deputy commissioner, to the chief of human resources to the deputy chief of human resources. In August, in early August, we the union brought up all the concerns about Gilmor including what I found out from residents. I offered to go with Carla Walton, the chief of human resources, to introduce her to some of these women so they can hear these stories. I offered to show her these deplorable conditions at Gilmor in front of Kimberly Washington, in front of Nick Calace, in front of Sean Buchanan. And I was rebuffed.
JANIS: So they said they don’t want to hear about this.
CROSBY: I quote, Carla Walton said she don’t deal in hearsay.
JANIS: Okay. So at that point they were taking this seriously. Now, fast forward to the lawsuit, and it gets a lot of publicity, and people seem to be taking it seriously. But then what happens to you, you get fired. What happened?
CROSBY: Well, they, they fired me for, they said, workplace violence. I’m still confused. What happened was October 5, I got into an altercation, argument. No physical. Nothing physical. Nobody was touched. Over a mud pan. Over the cleaning of a mud pan. So as the safety officer, I was telling–in the supervisor’s office, telling the supervisor, I used [indecorative] language to point out how unsafe these two employee was. That’s all happened.
JANIS: And then, so what happens two weeks later? They say they’re going to–.
CROSBY: Two weeks, actually, October 7 I was suspended. I was called down to 417 East Fayette Street, where I was told on three different occasions by [Greta] Porter, the deputy assistant human resource manager, that this was not a disciplinary action. So I went thinking they’re going to ask me, finally take my statement, because nobody interviewed me about Gilmor to this day. I thought they were going to take my statement about Gilmor. She starts saying, you got anything you want to tell me? Anything you want to tell me? I was like, no, not really. What’s going on?
So she finally mentioned that there was a, I guess a charge brought against me by a fellow employee. By the way, both of us is under 647. This should have been a union issue, not even went to human resources.
JANIS: Right. So the union should have–yeah, okay.
CROSBY: Right. So I say, what do you mean, you’re talking about Timothy Edwards, and what happened October 5? So I explained to her that I used language, indecorative language, to express my frustration about this member putting residents and staff members in harm’s way. Simple. Like I have done over a hundred times at the Housing Authority of Baltimore City.
JANIS: And so you were fired. And so was this retaliation? I mean, bottom line, was this retaliation for your, for your Gilmor Homes–.
CROSBY: Yes it was. Right. Let me just explain. On the 7th when I was first suspended I was escorted out of 417 by armed guards. I have handled hundreds of hearings. I have never seen a member escorted out through armed guards through the lobby. It embarrassed me.
JANIS: Was it security guards or police officers?
CROSBY: These were armed security guards that monitor now, monitor the high rise building.
JANIS: Wow. You were escorted out. So how did you feel?
CROSBY: Yes. I was humiliated. I’m now taking anxiety medicine and sleep medicine, because I have nightmares of Carla Walton instructing the officer to shoot me. And in light of what’s going on around America with African-American unarmed men being shot by law enforcement, how stupid and insensitive this could be.
JANIS: So two weeks later, though, you get re-hired. What happened?
CROSBY: No, two weeks–. October 22 they tape a termination letter on the front door of my house. They taped it on the front door of my house. To humiliate me once again. So again, I had already put in grievances for my grievance hearing, which I have not had yet. So then I was terminated. So fast forward, I received a call from Mr. Anthony Coates, the [acting] Local 647 president on Thursday, telling me that he’d been suspended for harassment and discrimination.
So that was Saturday. Friday they had a hearing–when I say they, Paul Graziano, Kimberly Washington, Carla Walton, Sean Buchanan, Anthony Scott, Nick Calace. With Anthony Coates, George [gleeson], Ryan Byers. Nathan Burrell.
JANIS: So they have a hearing to–.
CROSBY: To reinstate Mr. Coates.
JANIS: Oh, okay.
CROSBY: Because no president in the history has ever been suspended for something that’s [inaud.]. So to reinstate Mr. Coates, and Mr. [Middleton] went in there, and Mr. Middleton said that Mr. Crosby got to be reinstated, too. He’s a whistleblower, and I’m going to call the feds on you. That’s what he told Paul Graziano. So then Glen Middleton and George [geeson] comes out. I’m waiting in the parking lot for Mr. Coates. They come out and tell me that I’ve been reinstated. And they then say that they want me to sign a paper saying something about a 45-day gag order. Saying something about, I got to go back on probation for 45 days. And Glen Middleton said we’re going to get you all your back pay.
So I instruct union members, the key thing is to get your job back. We can grieve all the rest of it. So I accepted that verbally with Mr. Middleton and Mr. [geeson]. Then I was told to go down to 417 and get the paperwork. And we got to 417, it would be Tuesday, myself and Anthony Coates, the union president. There was no paperwork. Then they say, go to [inaud.] 67, located 1410 Bush Street to get the paperwork. I thought that was strange, myself. Then as I’m waiting [in] Glen Middleton, executive secretary office, they say they have the paper for me to sign. She presented me with this, what I presented you with. A settlement agreement.
JANIS: Right. Which outlines, you know, that you had to give up–you’re not going to get your back pay.
CROSBY: Basically they are telling me to give up all my rights to file grievances related to my termination and suspension, that I’ll be moved to a non-family development or high rise to keep me from reporting on the deplorable conditions. And it said that I will go back on probation for 45 days. No employee goes back on probation for 45 days.
JANIS: All right. We’re going to continue this conversation with Mr. Crosby. We’re going to go, we’ll talk about what’s really wrong with the housing department in the light of what’s happening [to you].
This is Stephen Janis reporting for the Real News Network in Baltimore.
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