by Sam Levin
Lavern Charles Hester, a former St. Louis director with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, admitted to accepting tens of thousands of dollars in bribes in exchange for approving a mortgage refinancing for a development project. And yesterday, the 58-year-old Florissant man was sentenced to eighteen months in prison and two years of supervised release for the fraud scheme.
Hester formerly served as the director of multifamily in HUD's St. Louis field office and was responsible for approving and overseeing the Federal Housing Administration financing of properties.
But in June 2007, prosecutors say, he started abusing his authority when he began to accept bribes from two individuals who wanted to ensure that their project would get the financing it needed.
Eventually, authorities discovered the scheme between Hester and Donald Robinson and Crevonda Cramer, who had in 2007 purchased a HUD-subsidized multifamily property called the Chevy Chase Apartments in Mexico, Missouri. They made this purchase through a company called New Beginnings Redevelopment II LLC.
Authorities say that between June 2007 and December 2008, Hester accepted $38,000 in payments from Robinson and Cramer with the promise that he would approve a $1.5 million federal refinancing of the mortgage of the Chevy Chase Apartments.
Prosecutors say he also agreed to a release of construction funds associated with the rehab of Chevy Chase.
He pleaded guilty last September to one felony count of "conspiracy to provide and accept an illegal gratuity" and appeared in court for sentencing yesterday.
Robinson has also pleaded guilty and was sentenced to six months in jail and six months home confinement.
HUD played a role in investigating this case.