WASHINGTON — A former top federal housing official invoked her Fifth Amendment constitutional rights Tuesday to avoid answering a congressional committee's questions about alleged influence-peddling during the Reagan administration. Deborah Gore Dean, who was executive assistant to former Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Secretary Samuel Pierce, cited her pending request for department records in refusing to testify about her role in the awarding of millions of dollars for renovation of low-income housing under a HUD program.
Her refusal to cooperate came as members of Congress expressed outrage over the series of scandals emerging from HUD, which include reports that millions of dollars in money that HUD should have received from the sale of foreclosed properties is unaccounted for.
Ms. Dean appeared under subpoena before the House Government Operations subcommittee on employment and housing, which is conducting a broad inquiry into the scandals.
A well-connected Republican, Dean is described by some as having exercised broad authority in Secretary Pierce's name and has emerged as a central figure in the investigations into the Section 8 Moderate Rehabilitation program.
A report by the HUD inspector general said the program was riddled with political favoritism and mismanagement. Mr. Pierce, testifying last month before the committee, said Dean was among those with responsibility for deciding who got HUD funds under the program and suggested she may have been behind any political abuses.
The panel also heard from another former HUD official, who said ``there were political influences involved'' in the program's selection process.
Silvio DeBartolomeis, former deputy assistant secretary and acting commissioner of housing, said that on two occasions he signed documents approving funding for projects under the program after being ordered to do so by Dean.
The Washington Post, citing an unnamed HUD source, has said as much as $100 million may be unaccounted for from sales of HUD properties. HUD spokesmen said they could not confirm that figure.