The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and its secretary Ben Carson are catching criticism after the department purchased a dining set that cost more than $31,000 — which came from a Baltimore interior design firm, according to CNN.
The pricey mahogany dining set, which came to a total of $31,651, was purchased from local interior design firm Sebree and Associates and includes a table, sideboard, breakfront and 10 chairs with a blue velvet finish, CNN reported.
Evelyn Sebree, the owner of Sebree and Associates, declined to give an interview to The Baltimore Sun, but told CNN that she worked with HUD online to find furniture that was “traditional.”
“They said they were looking for dining furniture for the secretary’s office because a new secretary was coming in and the current furniture was old and it was raggedy,” Sebree said. Sebree also told CNN that she has not met Carson or his wife, Candy, and had no previous ties with the former Johns Hopkins neurosurgeon despite their mutual connections to Baltimore.
The New York TImes reported Thursday that Carson is attempting to cancel the dining set order.
The details of HUD’s purchase comes after Helen Foster, HUD’s former chief administrative officer, alleged she was demoted after refusing to bankroll a pricey remodeling for Carson’s office, which she said was requested by Carson’s wife. In a complaint filed in November, Foster said she was told the administration “has always found money for this in the past” and that “$5,000 will not even buy a decent chair.”
HUD would later spend $31,561 on the dining set, according to an agency document.
Foster also described an environment in which high-level officials at the agency told Foster to skirt the rules or break them entirely.
The allegations of financial mismanagement in Foster’s complaint come on the heels of a Trump administration budget proposal that would slash funding for affordable housing and impose work restrictions for those who receive rental assistance.
The Carsons denied allegations of wrongdoing in two tweets Wednesday.
“Rest assured that there has been no dishonesty or wrongdoing by us. All the numbers and evidence are being gathered and a full disclosure is forthcoming,” stated Ben and Candy Carson from the @RealBenCarson handle.
“We suspect, based on past attempts, that they will continue to probe and make further accusations even without evidence or substantiation. We will continue to ask for God’s guidance to do what is right,” they stated in the other.
In response to a request for comment Tuesday, HUD said only blinds were purchased for Carson’s office and were within the $5,000 limit. The agency said the dining set was considered “a building expense” rather than a decoration and was not ordered by Carson, the department said, but by “career staffers.” HUD said that Carson, instead, decorated his office mainly with furniture from the agency’s basement.
The Associated Press contributed to this article.
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