The Department of Housing and Urban Development spent $31,000 last year to replace a dining room set in the office of Secretary Ben Carson, according to federal records and a whistleblower.
The revelation follows CNN’s reporting that in early 2017, a top HUD career employee was pressured to find funds beyond the legal $5,000 limit to renovate Carson’s office. The official, Helen Foster, alleges she was demoted from her job after pushing back on the requests and that the acting HUD secretary, Craig Clemmensen, told her that Carson’s wife, Candy, was behind the requests.
The dining set, in the secretary’s dining room at HUD headquarters, was replaced because it was in a state of disrepair, according to a department official.
The official disputed that the dining room is subject to the $5,000 limit on office decoration for certain political appointees.
“The old table and chairs were from 1967 and deemed unrepairable,” he told CNN.
He said Secretary Carson did not personally “order a new table” and that the major purchasing decision was made “by the career staffers in charge of the building.”
Talk show host Armstrong Williams, a longtime confidant of Carson’s, echoed the official’s comments and said Carson believed “his office suite was just perfect.”
Candy Carson did not respond to CNN’s requests for comment.
HUD says the total amount spent on redecorating the secretary’s office was $3,373 for new blinds. The HUD official said that purchase counts toward the $5,000 limit.
The department showed CNN a receipt for $1,100 worth of repairs to the dining set dated May 2017. The work included “repair[ing] loose joints on 9 chairs” and the back of a 10th chair. “Justification: Secretary’s Dining room chairs are badly in need of repair,” the paperwork reads.
Documents indicate HUD received a quote to replace the dining set in late October, and placed an order on December 21 for $31,561. The department official said the furniture has not yet been delivered to HUD.
It was purchased from a small business that appears to operate out of the owners’ apartment in Baltimore, according to purchasing records.
The company, Sebree and Associates LLC, had previously done work for the federal government, most recently in 2014. Federal records show it renewed its registration as a federal contractor on August 8, about four months before HUD issued the purchase order.
The company’s owner, Evelyn Sebree, tells CNN she’s done business with the federal government for years and despite the Baltimore roots does not know the Carsons.
This story has been updated with comment from Evelyn Sebree.