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HUD official claims she was demoted after refusing to break law for Ben Carson's office decorations

Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Dr. Ben Carson appears on SiriusXM's Town Hall on May 23, 2017, in Washington, D.C. A HUD staffer has filed a complaint alleging that she was retaliated against for refusing to violate spending limits for office redecoration. (Larry French/Getty Images)

A senior official in the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development said she was demoted after she refused to violate spending laws to redecorate Secretary Ben Carson’s office, according to a complaint she filed with the office of special counsel.

The Guardian obtained a copy of the complaint, which details allegations by HUD’s chief privacy officer, Helen Foster.

The office redecoration

Foster said she was asked in January 2017 by acting HUD director Craig Clemmensen to help Carson’s wife, Candy, get money together to redecorate Ben Carson’s office.

She said Clemmensen told her past administrations “always found a way around” the $5,000 spending limit and that “$5,000 will not even buy a decent chair.”

By February, when Foster still had not fulfilled the illegal request, she claims she began losing responsibility in the office.

Sensitive FOIA requests

Foster, who was in charge of responding to Freedom of Information Act requests, said that in February she was prevented from handling two sensitive FOIA requests related to former Trump family event planner and current HUD staffer Lynne Patton, possibly because some thought Foster was a Democrat.

Foster’s political affiliation is currently unknown, although 2003 records show she was registered as a Republican at that time.

Budget issues

Foster said she found a $10.8 million budget shortfall caused by “accounting irregularities.”

She said she reported the issue to HUD chief operating officer David Eagles, who told her in June 2017 that the department was “unwilling” to report the deficit to appropriations staff.

Demoted and reassigned

HUD hired an assistant secretary for administration, and placed that position above Foster in the hierarchy. The position had been vacant during the Obama administration.

In July 2017, Foster was reassigned, but she said she wasn’t sent a job description for her new role for several months.

No comment from HUD or special counsel

Both the HUD department and the office of special counsel declined to comment on the pending case.

Foster is seeking a public apology, compensatory damages and reinstatement to her previous position.

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