Ex-Bradenton Housing Authority director claims he was fired because he's black

myoung@bradenton.comJuly 16, 2014 

Wenston DeSue addresses the crowd during the Minnie L. Rogers Plaza and Retail Center's groundbreaking ceremony on the grounds of the former 13th Avenue Community Center. The Central Community Redevelopment Agency collaborated with several entities to bring a grocery store and other retail businesses to the site at the intersection of 13th Avenue West and 1st Street in Bradenton. TIFFANY TOMPKINS-CONDIE/Bradenton Herald

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BRADENTON -- As the Bradenton Housing Authority tries to move forward from its troubled past under the former leadership of Wenston DeSue, who remains under federal investigation for financial mismanagement, DeSue has put himself on the offensive by filing a discrimination claim with the Equal Opportunity Commission and appealing a U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development restriction that limits him from participating in HUD programs.

DeSue was fired and escorted out of the Bradenton Housing Authority offices in late 2013 after a yearlong federal investigation of his management of the agency.

According to DeSue's attorney, David Plante, of The Plante Law Group in Tampa, his law firm is representing DeSue and his girlfriend Stephany West, who also has been the target of the investigations as the agency's former projects manager.

A discrimination complaint was filed with the EOC in April on behalf of both West and DeSue, "because he and Miss West were treated despairingly and we believe the motivation is that he's black," said Plante.

"Certain people at the housing authority believe he was overpaid, and there have been comments made that he is under-qualified and was given the job due to nepotism."

DeSue took over the executive director position at the recommendation of his father, former Executive Director William DeSue.

Plante contends that any federal investigation at this point is speculation and called it "alleged" since there has been no contact from HUD in almost a year. If and when charges are filed against his clients, Plante said he is ready to defend them.

In the meantime, Plante said the EOC complaint will continue, but has not heard back from the EOC and has only received limited response from the housing authority.

Acting Executive Director Darcy Branch said that wasn't true. Through the board's attorney, Ric Gilmore of Gilmore/Saxon in Tampa, the board responded.

"We received the complaint on April 2 and Mr. Gilmore hand-delivered the housing authority's response on April 30," said Branch.

Branch said she and Gilmore recently discussed the case because they had not heard back from DeSue's attorney or EOC since they responded in April. Branch said that typically means the complaint will go no further.

Plante said it's not over until EOC informs him and that he is still expecting "the potential" for mediation or a non-binding EOC decision. If EOC decides DeSue has a case, "Then he will be given the right to sue," Plante said.

Branch doesn't anticipate that happening.

Plante said despite all of the media attention, the only argument that has been made against his client regarding his dismissal is the improper use of vacation time. Plante said his client paid that money back and that the vacation time was known to Branch, who on Tuesday declared herself as the whistleblower who reported to HUD about DeSue's mismanagement of the agency, which resulted in hundreds of thousands of dollars of debt.

"Someone should look into Branch's motives for being the whistleblower," said Plante. "I don't think it's a coincidence that she's been vying for Mr. DeSue's job ever since."

Plante has also filed an appeal on HUD's decision to restrict DeSue from HUD programs.

"We've had an informal hearing before a hearing officer and they have yet to issue an opinion," said Plante.

A ruling was made June 17 and was to be delivered to the housing authority board of directors for its meeting Thursday.

Branch said HUD wanted the board to see its ruling before it becomes public, but after receiving inquiries, Branch told the Bradenton Herald that HUD had upheld its original decision and denied DeSue's appeal. Plante said he was unaware of the decision.

DeSue did not return phone calls from the Herald. Plante said his client has been instructed not to talk to the media.

Mark Young, Herald urban affairs reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7041 or follow him on Twitter@urbanmark2014.

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