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 filed a discrimination claim with the Equal Opportunity Commission and is 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 BHA management practices.
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 investigated as former BHA projects manager.
A discrimination complaint was filed with the EOC in April on behalf of 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 as executive director at the recommendation of his father, former BHA Executive Director William DeSue.
Plante contends 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.
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 isn't true. Through attorney Ric Gilmore of Gilmore/Saxon in Tampa, the BHA 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 April. Branch said that typically means the complaint will go no further.
Plante said it's not over until EOC informs him and he is still expecting "the potential" for mediation or a nonbinding EOC decision. If EOC decides DeSue has a case, "Then he will be given the right to sue," Plante said.
Branch said she doesn't anticipate that happening.
Plante said despite all of the media attention, the only argument made against his client is improper use of vacation time. Plante said his client paid that money back and the vacation time was known to Branch, who Tuesday publicly declared herself the whistleblower who reported DeSue's mismanagement to HUD. DeSue's mismanagement allegedly resulted in hundreds of thousands of dollars of BHA 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 appealed 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 made June 17 was to be delivered to the BHA Board for its meeting Thursday.
Branch said HUD wanted the BHA 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.,