Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson allowed his son to help organize an event in Baltimore last year even though department lawyers warned that it created the appearance of a conflict of interest.
In a two-page memo published Wednesday by The Washington Post, a HUD attorney wrote that Ben Carson Jr. reached out to some of the city’s most prominent leaders to request they attend events associated with the June “listening tour.”
“I expressed my concern that this gave the appearance that the Secretary may be using his position for his son’s private gain,” Linda M. Cruciani, the department’s deputy general counsel for operations, wrote in the July 6 memo.
Carson Jr., who does not work for HUD but often appears with his father at official events, invited notable local figures including Robert C. Embry Jr., the president of the Abell Foundation, Under Armour CEO Kevin Plank and members of the Paterakis family to attend the event, Cruciani wrote. It’s not clear which of those invitees attended.
Embry, a former assistant secretary of HUD and a former commissioner of the Baltimore Department of Housing and Community Development, said he was invited to a Carson event and attended. He told The Baltimore Sun that neither he nor the Abell Foundation does business with the Carson family and that Carson Jr. has never solicited business from him.
The Abell Foundation has sponsored the Carson Scholars Fund, a scholarship program Dr. Carson created in 1994.
An Under Armour spokeswoman said Plank declined the invitation last year and that neither Plank nor the company has business with the Carson family.
Another HUD official and a former event planner for the Trump family, Lynne Patton, relayed that Carson Jr. and his wife “may be doing business with these entities or may be interested in doing business with” them, Cruciani wrote.
Cruciani described a meeting that attorneys had with Carson Jr., days before the Baltimore event, in which the secretary’s son said he had invited people “who work with us, but [who] advance HUD initiatives.” He told the attorneys that “nothing we would do would be near a conflict.”
The attorneys then met with Secretary Carson and advised him not to include his son at the event, Cruciani wrote. Carson said it would be hard to do that because “his son was the largest employer in Maryland.”
Carson Jr., the chairman of a Columbia-based investment firm called Interprise Partners, did not respond to a request for comment.
HUD spokesman Jereon Brown did not respond to a question about whether the department took action to address the attorneys’ concerns.
Secretary Carson said the goal of the Baltimore visit — one of many he has conducted since his confirmation in March — was to help the city’s residents access affordable housing.
“In my role as HUD Secretary, I try to be as inclusive as possible and talk with a wide variety of people because when it comes to increasing access to affordable housing, no rock should remain unturned,” Carson said in a statement. “My family, or people with relationships with my family, have never influenced any decision at HUD.”
Carson, a retired neurosurgeon at Johns Hopkins Hospital, visited Baltimore in June and toured homes that had benefited from federal lead abatement programs. Many of his meetings, including with city and state officials, were closed to reporters and the public. Both Carson Jr. and the secretary’s wife, Candy, attended several of those events.
Among the people that Carson Jr. had invited, Cruciani wrote, was Seema Verma, administrator of the Woodlawn-based Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. Three months after the Baltimore visit, the Post reported, the agency awarded a $485,000 contract to the Columbia-based consulting company Myriddian.
State records show Merlynn Carson, the secretary’s daughter-in-law, is that company’s CEO. A biography of Carson Jr. on Interprise’s website says he is on the board of Myriddian Staffing Solutions.
A Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services official told The Post that the contract was for career development services for the agency’s contacting staff. The official said Verma did not attend the Baltimore event and that the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services had no record of her receiving an invitation.