HUD accuses former Illinois housing authority execs of misusing public funds

The Department of Housing and Urban Development claims that the former executive director and finance director of an Illinois housing authority misappropriated public housing funds and used the money on themselves, according to a complaint filed Tuesday.

HUD’s complaint alleges that two former officials of the Alexander County Housing Authority used public housing funds for personal travel and gifts and submitted false documentation to the federal government.

The complaint, filed Program Fraud Civil Remedies Act of 1986, claims that former ACHA Executive Director James Wilson and former ACHA Finance Director and Executive Director Martha Franklin “knowingly overstated their travel expenses,” including double-charging ACHA for “unreasonable and unsubstantiated” travel expenses.

Included among those supposedly unsubstantiated expenses were hotel stays in Las Vegas, personal meals and alcohol, and gifts to housing authority staff. 

Wilson served as ACHA’s executive director from 1989 until April 2013, while Franklin was ACHA’s finance director from 2004 through April 2013 when she became Executive Director, serving in that role through March 2015.

In its complaint, HUD claims that Franklin and Wilson:

  • Used public funds to pay for unreasonable and unsubstantiated travel expenses, including charging the housing authority for both mileage and airfare, using the housing authority’s credit card to pay for meals while collecting per diem, and using the housing authority’s credit card to pay for hotels while collecting lodging vouchers
  • Used ACHA funds to pay personal expenses, such as personal meals and gift cards
  • Misused federal funds to make payments to the chairperson of the board of ACHA
  • Caused the housing authority to enter into an agreement with Wilson for consulting services in violation of conflict of interest rules

The complaint also accuses Wilson filing false statements regarding the ACHA’s compliance with civil rights laws and lead-based paint regulations.

In total, HUD is seeking 125 civil penalties against Wilson and Franklin totaling $720,000 and another $188,000 in assessments based upon the “false” claims they allegedly made with respect to the HUD funds.

Additionally, HUD is seeking to have Wilson and Franklin barred from doing any business with the federal government indefinitely.

“Every dollar misspent on personal travel and other expenses is a dollar that could support the individuals and families we serve,” Dane Narode, Associate General Counsel of HUD’s Office of Program Enforcement, said. “Taxpayers deserve to know that the public programs they support are helping to meet the needs of the many, not the few.”

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