A former director of the Apalachicola Housing Authority has been charged with allegedly stealing thousands of dollars in federal housing funds and spending them on personal items.
Selena Jo Noblit, 42, of Panama City, appeared Thursday in federal court, charged with stealing funds from a program that received federal grant money from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
According to the criminal indictment, between June 2011 and May 2012, while serving as the director of the housing authority, Noblit allegedly embezzled and misapplied thousands of dollars for her personal gain and for the benefit of others who were not entitled to the funds.
Noblit, who had worked as executive director beginning in July 2008, was terminated one year ago from her job by the five-member board that governs the public housing program. First established in 1962, the housing authority oversees 54 public housing units on two sites within the city.
The allegations against Noblit, which informed sources said pertained to the use of a housing authority credit card to purchase personal items including clothing and vacations, first surfaced in connection with an August 2011 technical assistance visit by representatives of the Jacksonville Office of Public Housing.
That visit, intended to address what HUD officials called “basic operational challenges,” found problems with the governance, staffing levels, and maintenance operation, including an average cost per work order that was more than 10 times the national average.
A follow-up visit to the public housing units in spring 2012 found that “none of the improvements needed had taken place,” according to an Aug. 6, 2012 email from Gloria Shanahan, with HUD’s Office of Public Affairs.
“HUD also found that federal funds were inappropriately used,” wrote Shanahan. “The matter was serious enough to inform the board of the Housing Authority (which) decided to terminate the employment of the executive director.”
Paul Mills, director of the Springfield Housing Authority, was brought in to serve as acting director of the housing authority, which in 2011 received about $256,000 in federal funding.
After working to oversee a series of improvements to the local housing authority’s operation, Mills stepped down earlier this year, and was replaced by Steve Lanier, an Apalachicola native who had returned to his roots after completing a Navy career in Key West.
Noblit is scheduled for trial on August 5, 2013, before Judge Robert L. Hinkle. She is facing a possible maximum sentence of 10 years in prison, three years of supervised release, a $250,000 fine, and a $100 special monetary assessment.
U.S. Attorney Marsh praised the work of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, Office of Inspector General, whose investigation led to the indictment in the case.
The case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Winifred Acosta NeSmith and Eric K. Mountin.
An indictment is merely an allegation by a grand jury that a defendant has committed a violation of federal criminal law and is not evidence of guilt. All defendants are presumed innocent and entitled to a fair trial, during which it will be the government’s burden to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt at trial in a court of law.