Covington Housing Authority former manager won't fight federal theft charge

- A longtime supervisor at the Covington Housing Authority appeared in federal court wearing handcuffs, charged for her role in thousands of misspent tax dollars.

The move came following a FOX 5 I-Team investigation in January involving administrative manager Erica Morris. The 34-year-old Newton County resident drove away without answering our questions then. Today she was in federal court waiving indictment, the first step to putting this scandal in her rear view mirror.

A criminal complaint accused Morris of "diverting money earmarked for the low-income families for which the Covington Housing Authority provides housing into her own pocket," according to U.S. Attorney John Horn.

Morris was in charge of collecting rent money, paying bills and reconciling the Authority bank statements. But in February, an outside auditor discovered more than $34,000 in questionable spending at Home Depot, including dozens and dozens of pre-paid VISA gift cards.

Local resident Barry McIntosh said a friend told him she had witnessed Morris using gift cards on vacation.

"I didn't want to just call up and say this person's doing something wrong," McIntosh told us in February. "I wanted to verify what I had been told."

But days after McIntosh filed an Open Records Request asking for her spending, Erica Morris would resign. She offered to repay the Covington Housing Authority with a $28,000 personal check. But according to the federal complaint against her, that number was low.

She is accused of stealing $35,000 using a credit card issued to her by the Housing Authority, making at least 60 unauthorized personal purchases.

According to the complaint, Erica Morris used tax money to buy an iPhone for a family member, buy supplies for her home and camper, even pay her husband's child support costs. Defense attorney John Strauss says Erica Morris will plead guilty.

The investigation already cost Morris' boss his job, too. Greg Williams resigned after the audit, saying he made a mistake by trusting Morris with complete control of the housing project finances.

"I wish I had caught it, but do I think I should have caught it? I can't say that," Williams told us in February.

Morris could get as much as 10 years in prison. Her attorney says Morris will be back in a few weeks to plead guilty. She remains free on bond.

Housing and Urban Development Inspector General Nadine Gurley said in a statement "the actions taken today should serve as a strong notice of our continuing commitment to root out all forms of fraud, especially as it relates to federal housing resources directed to assist less fortunate American familes."

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