A $31,000 dining set the Department of Housing and Urban Development purchased, which raised eyebrows when first reported Tuesday, includes a table, sideboard, breakfront – all in mahogany – and 10 mahogany chairs with a blue velvet finish, according to the company that sold the furniture to the agency and purchase documents obtained by CNN.
The table and two base pedestals cost more than $4,000. The pedestals are described as having “hand applied ebonized inlay with bell flowers topped by hand carved scrolls and a fluted column.”
Eight Regent dining side chairs from the David Phoenix Collection total $7,920 ($990 a piece) and are described as “stately … with rich exposed wood detailing the back and a graciously sculpted leg.” Two additional armchairs are a bit more expensive – $1,050 each.
But it’s the Jefferson sideboard, wood top and breakfront deck base from the Alexa Hampton Collection that really racked up the charges. The three pieces total $13,579. “Crafted of crotch mahogany, satin wood and quartered mahogany borders, carved teardrop and dentil molding on crown,” reads the description reviewed by CNN.
Throw in another $2,500 for shipping and the total cost is $31,651.
Asked to describe the table’s dimensions, Evelyn Sebree, the owner of Sebree and Associates, an interior design firm that sold the set to HUD, told CNN in an interview that it’s a “really large table.”
Sebree, a dealer for OFS Brands, said the agency was looking for something “traditional” and that she worked online with her contact at HUD to sort through their options.
“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.
HUD won’t receive delivery of the furniture until May, after which Sebree will receive payment, she said.
Senior White House aides are furious about the series of negative stories on spending at HUD and have taken a more hands-on role in trying to stem the tide, sources with knowledge of the situation tell CNN.
House Oversight Committee Chairman Trey Gowdy, a South Carolina Republican, has asked HUD for records relating to office furnishings since the beginning of 2017.
The agency’s spending on its furniture came into question after a top HUD career employee says she 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. In a sworn complaint, Foster says a supervisor told her that “5,000 will not even buy a decent chair.”
Two tweets from Ben and Candy Carson Wednesday night said that “there has been no dishonesty or wrongdoing.”
“Thank you to so many who have expressed concern for me and my family over the latest accusations. 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,” they tweeted. “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.”
The dining set, intended for 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,” the official said.
Carson did not personally “order a new table” and the major purchasing decision was made “by the career staffers in charge of the building,” the official added.
Sebree, whose business operates in Baltimore, said that despite Secretary Carson’s roots in the city she has no connection to him or his family: “I have never met them. Never ever ever.”