CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Charleston housing developer Douglas E. Pauley offered to drop a federal discrimination complaint he filed against Mason County commissioners if the commission paid him $30,000, according to a letter sent to county officials by the county's prosecutor.
"It was, 'You pay us, or we'll be after you,'" said Mason County Commissioner Rick Handley, who also was named personally in the September 2009 complaint.
Pauley filed the discrimination charges after commissioners rejected his request to build a 32-unit apartment complex for seniors and the handicapped on land owned by state Treasurer John Perdue and his wife, Robin. The FBI is investigating the property deal.
Later in 2009, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development sent investigators from its Philadelphia office to Mason County. HUD agents interviewed Handley and Commissioners Miles Epling and Bob Baird.
Epling, a Marine Corps veteran who received a Purple Heart for injuries he received during the Vietnam War, lost both of his legs in battle. Baird was 76 years old when Pauley filed his discrimination complaint.
"Mr. Pauley was bringing discrimination charges against an older man and a paraplegic," Handley said Thursday. "It's bad that someone would have to go to such lengths to get what they want."
What Pauley wanted was commissioners to write a letter of support for his apartment complex to the West Virginia Housing Development Fund, which would administer tax-credit funds that would finance the apartment complex.
Pauley, a Perdue campaign donor, also offered to withdraw his discrimination complaint if county commissioners issued the support letter, according to Mason County Prosecuting Attorney Damon Morgan's September 2009 letter to the commission. Morgan was representing the commission in the dispute with Pauley.
Earlier that year, Pauley and the Perdues asked Mason County commissioners to write the letter supporting Pauley's project. Commissioners voted 3-0 against the request, saying the project was "out of character" with the rural area.
Pauley's offer to drop the discrimination charges didn't persuade commissioners to change their mind about supporting the project.
"Our reaction was, "We're not signing anything,'" Handley recalled. "Right is right, and wrong is wrong."
Commissioners also refused to pay Pauley the $30,000, which Pauley said would reimburse him for the expenses he incurred "formulating and designing the plan" for the apartment complex, the prosecutor's letter states.
Pauley has declined to comment on the investigation. His lawyer, Ben Bailey, was out of his office Thursday and could not be reached for comment.
In his Sept. 2, 2009, complaint to HUD's Office of Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity, Pauley alleged that Mason County residents who opposed his project did not want the apartment complex because "mentally handicapped" people would live there.
Homeowners with property near the Perdues' land also did not want the elderly living there because "they would marry younger people with children," according to Pauley's complaint.
Other neighbors who spoke at an April 2009 commission meeting said seniors at Pauley's apartment complex "could get Alzheimer's and deteriorate rapidly and cause problems," according to Pauley's complaint filed with HUD.
Handley said Pauley's allegations in the discrimination complaint took homeowners' statements out of context. Handley said such allegations had nothing to do with the commission's decision to vote against the project.