COLUMBUS, Ga. (WRBL) – The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Office of the Inspector General is investigating the owners of the Ralston Towers, New Jersey-based P.F. Holdings, LLC., News 3 has learned.
Multiple sources confirmed Wednesday, that the ongoing investigation is criminal. HUD special agents have been on the ground in Columbus, according to sources familiar with the situation.
The HUD Office of Investigation conducts criminal and administrative investigations to prevent fraud, waste, and abuse in HUD programs. P.F. Holdings contracts with HUD to provide low-income housing. There are about 200 residents currently living in the downtown building.
The news of a criminal investigation comes after a historic July 1 judgment in Muscogee County State Court, where a jury awarded the family of former Ralston resident Charles Hart $125 million in a wrongful death lawsuit.
Hart died in a sweltering Ralston room in July 2017.
Since this year’s verdict, HUD has re-inspected the Ralston twice, and the building has received failing scores both times.
The Ralston scored a 42 on a July inspection. Two weeks ago, the building was reinspected and scored a 30. Anything below 60 is failing.
Now, the residents and owners of Ralston Towers are waiting for HUD’s next move, which will likely be to cancel the contract with P.F. Holdings.
That would trigger a HUD relocation team that would help find suitable housing for the Ralston residents and begin the process of moving them out of the dilapidated 100-year-old building.
While the investigation into P.F. Holdings and the Ralston continues, new disturbing photos of the conditions inside the building have continued to come out. Pictures of sewage backed up into a bathtub earlier this week were given to News 3 by attorney Charles Gower. He represented the family of Charles Hart in the wrongful death lawsuit that finished in July.
“Well, it’s not our hope that it be shut down. It’s our hope that the owners, by HUD’s insistence, would make the needed repairs and make it a habitable place. We don’t want it shut down. We want it fixed,” Gower said.
Gower thinks the odds of that happening are “…close to zero.”
Since the judgment against the Ralston owners in July, Gower has been retained by additional Ralston residents for possible litigation against hte owners. Those suits have yet to be filed.
Previously, Columbus mayor Skip Henderson has said that the behavior of the Ralston owners could be criminal. Now that the HUD Inspector General’s Office is investigating P.F. Holdings, that could change from possibility to certainty.