CAIRO — Court documents show that Martha Franklin, who previously served as executive director for the Alexander County Housing Authority, has reached a settlement with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development after HUD filed a fraud complaint against her last year.
In addition to her executive director's role, Franklin also served at a separate time as the finance director. She worked closely with disgraced former ACHA executive director and former Cairo mayor James Wilson — the two were cited last year for defrauding HUD of hundreds of thousands of dollars and making more than 100 false claims.
A 2017 complaint filed by HUD alleged that the former director of the Alexander County Housing Authority submitted false documentation to HUD after spending federal public housing dollars on travel and gifts. Meanwhile, residents in two Housing Authority-managed apartment buildings lived in deplorable conditions.
Together, the actions of Wilson and Franklin contributed to the accelerated dilapidation of several housing authority properties in Cairo. Through a lengthy investigation, The Southern previously uncovered that Wilson approved sweetheart deals for employees, improperly expensed travel and used federal dollars for personal items and gifts.
Court documents filed in August show that Franklin agreed to pay HUD $30,000 in two $15,000 installments — one the day the agreement was ratified and another by Jan. 15 of next year.
“Under Martha Franklin’s direction and control, the ACHA failed to maintain the Elmwood and McBride complexes resulting in significant degradation in the quality of the housing,” an attachment to the settlement agreement says.
CAIRO — On a recent afternoon when Kristen Simelton was digging for the remote under the couch cushion, she pulled out a smashed rat instead.
“Martha Franklin failed to direct the income and resources of the ACHA to maintaining the ACHA’s properties or benefiting its residents: instead Franklin continued the practice of directing the ACHA’s income towards personal enjoyment and staff bonuses,” the attachment also says.
Franklin served as director after Wilson left the position, but authorized Wilson’s consulting fees, the document says.
It also details that Franklin was responsible for making sure that the ACHA properties met HUD standards for lead paint but failed to do so. However, the court document says she certified to HUD that the ACHA was indeed in compliance. It also says she similarly misreported compliance with civil rights laws.
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Wilson, who was also named in HUD’s 2017 complaint, also reached an agreement with HUD this year. After pleading that he made a total of 125 false or fraudulent statements, he agreed to pay a fine of $500,000.
According to HUD spokesperson Jereon Brown, the money paid will be sent to the U.S. Treasury.
Sen. Tammy Duckworth, D-Ill., weighed in on the fines.
“While this does not make the residents of Cairo whole or change the conditions they were forced to endure, it is a positive step that finally brings a measure of accountability and justice to the community. I will continue working to ensure the individuals who failed these residents are brought to justice," Duckworth said through a spokesperson Thursday.
The degrading ACHA properties and their complete mismanagement in Cairo caused HUD to take over local control of the housing authority in 2016. A year later, HUD announced to 185 families that the Elmwood and McBride housing complexes would be closed and its residents relocated. This meant that almost 400 people would be forced to leave the city as there was not sufficient HUD-sanctioned housing in town.
Some have found success in their new homes and cities, and others have struggled with the transition, saying that they wished there had been more done to prepare them for not only a new home but also a new way of life.
Franklin could not be reached for comment for this report.
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Khamille Edwards, 2, looks out the front door of her grandmother's Elmwood apartment Feb. 20. Khamille's grandmother, Kristen Simelton, said she moved her family from one Elmwood apartment to another in the last six months hoping the conditions would improve. They have not. She watches her grandchildren often and said she hangs their school uniforms on hangers on the wall to dry after being washed so roaches from their dresser don't ride with them to school. She said she doesn't want that embarrassment for them.
Children ride bikes through Cairo's Elmwood housing complex during a burst of warm weather Feb. 20.
Jacklyn Davis poses for a portrait Feb. 1, 2016.
Jacklyn Davis sits in the doorway of her Elmwood apartment Feb. 11 in Cairo. Davis said since Housing and Urban Development took over local control of the Alexander County Housing Authority in February 2016 she has seen nothing change in the housing conditions in Cairo's public housing.
Jacklyn Davis, middle, hands juice to a child she is babysitting as her daughter, Jackergha Davis, takes her breathing treatment Dec. 16, 2016 in their Elmwood apartment. Jacklyn had to take Jackergha to the hospital in the last two years for a serious allergic reaction to something in her house. Jackergha's face had swollen and she developed a rash. Jacklyn believed the trigger was mold in her family's bathroom. She said since this incident, her daughter has had to do more breathing treatments than she did in the past. Despite her best efforts, Jacklyn said nothing she does helps the mold and she said housing officials will not do anything to permanently fix the problem.
Jacklyn Davis ties up a bag filled with dead mice Dec. 26, 2016 outside her Elmwood apartment in Cairo. Davis said when she complained to housing of mice in her apartment, the administration did not believe her. In turn, she decided to save the dead mice to prove the problem exists.
Jacklyn Davis watches as children nap on her living room floor Dec. 16, 2016 in her Elmwood apartment. Davis said she watches children for neighbors from time to time to earn a bit of extra income.
Cairo-based rapper Doc May poses for a portrait Jan. 5 in his brothers McBride apartment in Cairo. Doc May used to live in housing and still has family there. He said he spends a lot of time at both Elmwood and McBride and hopes he can make it out of Cairo through music.
Children sing gospel songs Feb. 5 in the common area of the McBride Family Housing complex in Cairo.
Chico Woods, right, laughs with Nick Davis, left, Feb. 5 in front of the north side Spirit House Liquor Store in Cairo. In Cairo, there currently are no grocery stores, or even a gas station. However, there are three liquor stores. Woods said he hopes the problems his city faces can reach a wider audience. “America, if you listening, we need help here in Cairo,” Woods said.
Myra Rayford poses for a portrait Jan. 26, 2016.
Myra Rayford dries her son, Thailan Swift, after a bath Aug. 31, 2015 in her McBride apartment in Cairo.
Myra Rayford, right, cooks dinner while talking with her then 10-year-old daughter, Mikaylah Swift, Aug. 31, 2015 in her McBride apartment in Cairo. Rayford said roaches would often come out of the stove when she cooked, so she avoided using it as much as possible. Along with glue traps, Rayford sprays insecticides like those on the kitchen table, throughout the house to keep the bugs at bay. She said it could be challenging, though, to get housing officials to deliver the rodent and insect poisons needed to keep the houses bug-free.
Myra Rayford steps out her front door Aug. 31, 2015 to look for one of her children who was late coming home. Rayford said because of violence, her children are not allowed to play outside after dark and sometimes when they have to come home late from school because of sports, it can make her nervous.
Myra Rayford hands money for school to her daughter, Mikaylah Swift, Aug. 31, 2015 in her McBride housing apartment in Cairo.
Myra Rayford, right, cleans her living room while her fiance, Al Swift, left, watches television with their son, Thailan Swift, Aug. 31, 2015 in Rayford’s McBride Housing Development apartment in Cairo. Both Rayford and Swift struggled to find steady employment in or around Cairo. Swift was part of the Youth Build program in 2013, designed to provide life-skills training to at-risk young people, but he said the program came to a halt almost as soon as it started. Though they have both since found work, they still cannot find a way to move out of housing.
A roach trap is filled with dead roaches Aug. 31, 2015 in Myra Rayford's McBride apartment. The trap was no more than a week old.
Thailan Swift waits to be put to bed Aug. 31, 2015 in his family's McBride apartment in Cairo. Swift's mother, Myra Rayford, said she built the extra large bed for times when her children and grandchildren were too scared to sleep in their own beds because of bugs and mice crawling on and around them in the night.
Mikaylah Swift picks up her brother, Thailan Swift, to be taken to bed Aug. 31, 2015 in their family's McBride apartment in Cairo.
Thailan Swift reaches for his dinner Aug. 31, 2015 in the McBride housing complex in Cairo. Thailan's sister, Mikaylah Swift, told him to eat before the bugs got to his food. Roaches crawled, openly, in their family kitchen. Leftovers were not always an option as bugs would crawl on them before they could be put away. At times roaches would make their way into the refrigerator as well.
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