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Alexander County

Former Alexander County Housing director must pay HUD $500K after using federal money on travel, gifts

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CAIRO — Former Alexander County Housing Authority Executive Director James Wilson was ordered Wednesday to pay a penalty of $500,000 for making false claims while he was the director, court documents show.

The penalty stems from a November 2017 complaint filed against Wilson and Martha Franklin, also a former Housing Authority executive director, by the Department of Housing and Urban Development. HUD sought 125 civil penalties totaling $908,007.38 against the two, as well as other, smaller fines.

According to previous reporting in The Southern, that complaint alleged that Wilson, of Cairo, and Franklin, of Thebes, used federal public housing dollars for travel and gifts and submitted false documentation to HUD. Meanwhile, residents in Alexander County Housing Authority units Elmwood and McBride lived in deplorable conditions, in housing without heat and infested with vermin and roaches.

When reached for comment in 2017, Wilson had little to say about the filing.

“My only comment is, ‘I wish everybody a Merry Christmas,’” he said in a voicemail message, returning The Southern’s call. He could not be reached Wednesday.

According to the court documents provided to The Southern, Franklin’s case was dismissed in August after she came to an agreement with HUD.

The document filed Wednesday totaled Wilson’s liabilities to HUD at $923,007.38. It says that these were levied against him for “false claims and statements that he made or caused to be made to the Alexander County Housing Authority.”

The document says that HUD and Wilson reached an agreement.

“The parties represent that they have entered into a settlement agreement whereby (Wilson) agrees to admit liability to HUD in the amount of $500,000 for making or causing to be made 125 false claims.” The only thing needed to make the agreement official was the court’s approval, which was granted.

The time period these false claims were made was between December 2011 and May 2014.

The document details the liabilities, all of which materially violated HUD’s Public Housing Operating Fund Program requirements as:

  • 62 payments for travel expenses from federal funds between February 2012 and May 2014;
  • 7 payments for personal expenses from federal funds between January and November 2012;
  • 45 payments for resident councils from federal funds between December 2011 and March 2013; and
  • 11 payments for contracts, prohibited by a conflict of interest, from federal funds between April 2013 and May 2014.

The document says Wilson knew these to be ineligible for reimbursement. It details that the travel expenses were for travel to conferences where Wilson expensed prohibited items like alcohol. The seven payments for personal expenses were for gifts and meals for himself and employees.

The payments to resident councils were deemed fraudulent because the funds were not properly accounted for.

As to Wilson’s ability to pay the penalty, the court filing notes that it is presumed he has the ability to pay.

In a 2015 report, The Southern uncovered years of mismanagement and fraud in Cairo within the ACHA under Wilson’s leadership. The funds siphoned by Wilson and others took money away from maintenance to the aging public housing complexes in Cairo and Thebes.

This resulted in residents living in deplorable conditions equated with the developing word. Rats, roaches and mold sat next to residents at the dinner table, on the sofa and were next to them in bed. Residents reported spraying insecticide around children’s beds to keep vermin from crawling into bed with them.

In 2017, residents of two ACHA properties in Cairo were told that they would be forced to move, with HUD giving them vouchers to use at eligible properties throughout the country. Some found success in their new cities, while other found more pitfalls.

To date, the Office of Inspector General — which would forward any criminal allegations to the Department of Justice for consideration, if warranted — has not released any reports related to either review.


On Twitter: @ismithreports


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