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 June 6 in federal court in Panama City, 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 at least $5,000 for her personal gain and for the benefit of others who were not entitled to the funds. The indictment did not specify how much had been taken.
Noblit, who 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.
“It was noted that the properties were strewn with debris, toys, and boats (used for employment) and in a few instances, multiple vehicles appearing to be inoperable,” read the report. “Most notable were the electric dryers that were connected to exterior electrical outlets and found on several front porches.”
Also, the report noted, “the staffing levels of the AHA appear disproportionately large to the size of the public housing property.”
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.”
In 2011, the housing authority received about $256,000 in federal funding. Paul Mills, director of the Springfield Housing Authority, was brought in July 24, 2012 to serve as acting director of the housing authority.
Mills worked to oversee a series of improvements to the local housing authority’s operation. He expanded office hours, and stabilized the authority’s bank accounts. He cleared up shoddy paperwork related to operations in general, and to government entities such as the Internal Revenue Service and workmen’s compensation.
And, as importantly, he brought the policies and practices of the authority in line with federal housing rules and safe practices. Repair of units were stepped up, as well as improvements to maintenance, weatherization and installation of new electrical and plumbing fixtures to cut down on what had been excessive costs of water and sewer. Trees were trimmed and units were inspected, Mills said, and adjustments were made to ensure the size of family units best fit the available space, to eliminate what is known as “overhousing.”
Mills retired earlier this year, and was replaced by Steve Lanier, an Apalachicola native and former comptroller at Weems Memorial Hospital. Lanier completed a Navy career a few years ago in Key West.
Noblit is scheduled for trial on August 5, 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.