"I heard one of them say, 'I don't get paid enough at PHA,' " Herman Davis said. "I heard one guy say, 'My cut should be more than that.' Everything was done real sneaky."
Local and federal authorities were suspicious, too. Especially because the building on Ogontz Avenue near 68th is owned by a convicted drug dealer, Mark Miller.
As PHA workers and PHA materials were being used to renovate his building, Miller, a/k/a "Sharkey," was facing federal charges for possession of cocaine with intent to distribute.
He later pleaded guilty and was sentenced to 33 months in prison. He has since been released.
The work on Miller's building is just one example of how millions of dollars of construction materials - bought at Home Depot by PHA - went into private homes, investigators believe.
The theft of PHA materials is the subject of an expanding FBI probe into the agency, which has been rocked by recent revelations of sexual-harassment suits against executive director Carl R. Greene, who was fired last week.
Melvia Miller, Miller's 82-year-old mother, is listed in city records as the owner of the Ogontz Avenue property, but she told the Daily News that her son had bought it and recorded her as the buyer.
"He does all his properties like that," she said. "He puts my name on it."
Miller, 40, who purchased the property in September 2007, said that his mother "suffers from dementia," but admitted that he owns the building on Ogontz.
He said that he doesn't know how or why the PHA construction materials were delivered to his property. He declined to discuss the renovations in his building.
"They must have brought it to the wrong address," Miller said. "We know nothing about it. We don't know nothing.
"The feds already asked . . . and now I have a reporter calling me," he said.
Miller has ties to a leader within PHA's Tenant Support Services Inc., a nonprofit PHA subsidiary also under federal investigation.
When Miller was facing his drug charges, Gloria Redd, who was a TSSI board member in 2008, wrote to the court in support of his pretrial release.
"I've known Mr. Miller and his family since the time they were born," wrote Redd, who described herself as PHA's Tenant Council president of Whitehall Apartments in her Dec. 5, 2007, letter. "Mr. Miller has always presented himself as being very helpful and supportive within our community.
"He's devoted to his family and always makes himself available to assist our community whenever asked," she wrote.
Redd failed to respond to numerous messages from the Daily News asking for comment.
The Rev. Davis said that when two men and a woman came to buy the Ogontz Avenue property, about a year before the renovations began, they wanted to purchase more.
"I was surprised, the money they seemed to have," Davis said. "They wanted to buy all the buildings on the block."
Davis and his son said that Miller's building had been gutted before the supplies arrived.
"We knew something wasn't right, the way it was delivered out back," the Rev. Davis said. "They had big trailers with wood. Nothing came in the front of the building."
"The whole building was new inside," Herman Davis said. "Everything was filled out. I would think there was at least $150,000 of materials. . . . They were making it into a hair salon."
Davis and his son wondered who was paying for all of it.
"How could someone move to the 'hood and have all this stuff?" Herman Davis asked. "There's no money like that around here."
About seven workers framed the Ogontz property, the Davises said. New windows and a new roof were installed. His father said that a refrigerator was delivered.
The Davises said that after a couple of weeks, construction abruptly stopped and no one ever occupied the building. The hair salon never opened.
A few weeks later, PHA investigators came to ask the Davises questions about what they'd seen, they said. The investigators took numerous photos. Later, federal investigators stopped in and asked more questions, the Davises said.
Vandals have since smashed the front windows of the property, the Davises said. The first-floor windows and door are now sealed with plywood.