Gift cards snare popular Housing Authority manager

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Longtime Covington Housing Authority property manager Erica Morris resigned amid a federal investigation into thousands of dollars in missing tax money.

Receipts obtained by the FOX 5 I-Team showed Morris bought more than 200 VISA gift cards at a local Home Depot, often at denominations of $100. She also paid $5.95 to activate each card.

In September, Morris resigned following an open records request by a citizen who suspected wrongdoing. Her attorney sent the Authority a check for $28,000, but it was not accepted. She has yet to be charged with a crime and declined to speak to the FOX 5 I-Team when approached at her Covington home.

Morris worked at the Housing Authority for nearly 11 years. Residents said she sometimes let them pay rent late if they had a budget emergency.

"It hurt me so bad, I can't believe," resident Hope White reacted. "When I heard about it, when they said it was her I said no, it can't be her."

Executive director Greg Williams said the first he heard of possible financial wrongdoing came in September after Morris' sudden resignation. He said no one should have been buying gift cards like that. He couldn't explain why such wild spending wasn't spotted by Morris' bosses or auditors.

An outside forensic audit is almost finished. The inspector general for Housing and Urban Development is conducting its own investigation.

At the Alcovy housing complex where Morris was once in charge of 180 units, residents tried to imagine what $28,000 could have bought. That included the people who live near the neighborhood's aging basketball court.

"We ain't got no bleachers where kids can sit down," lamented resident Lisa White.

They also don't have a playground. Or swingsets.

"I can't hate her," resident Lisa White pointed out. "I can't be mad. I can just forgive her. I can't forget it."

Local accountant Barry McIntosh originally filed the open records request for Morris' spending. He did it as a private citizen, concerned about a practice that no one else seemed to notice.

"You've got entire invoices that are nothing but gift cards," he explained to Housing Authority board members at a recent meeting.

"I'm hoping that through all this there can be an open, frank, honest discussion about where the failure was that allowed this to happen."

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