CFO of Joliet Housing Authority accused of stealing funds at CHA
BY RUMMANA HUSSAIN, BECKY SCHLIKERMAN, FRAN SPIELMAN AND JANET LUNDQUIST Sun-Times Media August 7, 2013 10:32PM
Charlene Potts, the chief financial officer of the Joliet Housing Authority, was charged in a scheme that defrauded the Chicago Housing Authority of nearly $200,000.
Updated: September 9, 2013 3:04PM
A top Joliet Housing Authority official — accused of defrauding the Chicago Housing Authority of nearly $200,000 with her husband’s help — was deeply in debt and had filed for bankruptcy about the time she was hired by the Joliet agency, according to court records.
In 2010, Charlene Potts claimed that she owed more than $280,000, mostly on a mortgage for her house in Crete, according to her bankruptcy filings.
Potts, 42, now of Richton Park, and her estranged husband, Scott Washington, 48, of Park Forest, were charged Tuesday with embezzling funds from the CHA from 2005 to 2008. A Cook County judge set Potts’ bail at $50,000 and Washington’s at $25,000.
Potts is the chief financial officer of the Joliet Housing Authority and was arrested at work on Tuesday, authorities said.
Joliet Mayor Tom Giarrante said Michael Simelton, interim chief executive of the housing authority, has been conducting an audit of the agency and so far sees nothing erratic. ... So it seems like the Joliet Housing Authority is fine. This (criminal case) is all solely from the Chicago Housing Authority.”
Joliet Councilman Terry Morris said the Joliet Housing Authority will meet in a special session Thursday concerning the termination of an employee.
The housing authority in the past year fired its executive director, was put under tighter control by federal regulators and underwent a partial shake-up of its board as demanded by the mayor. The agency, which operates most federally subsidized housing in Joliet, also recently laid off employees because of cuts in federal funds.
Councilman Jim McFarland on Wednesday called for the resignation of all members of the authority’s board, which is appointed by Giarrrante, “so we can begin fresh and with integrity. I really think this action should have been taken a long time ago and is completely necessary if the (authority) is going to reform.”
McFarland serves on the city council’s new Housing Authority Oversight Committee and is skeptical about the future of the housing authority under its current leadership.
“I am not convinced this institution can turn the corner on its own,” he said.
Potts joined the Joliet agency in 2010 as a temporary employee to help new residents move into the Liberty Meadows apartment complex, city officials said. Potts was hired full-time later that year but did not start working with the finance department until August 2011, according to Morris, who said he was “very much surprised” to hear about her arrest Tuesday.
“She seemed to have been helping (the authority), I guess. Not that she came and was the savior ... but she seemed to work well with the board of commissioners,” Morris said.
Potts was working for a CHA contractor during the time of the alleged embezzlement, Cook County prosecutors said Wednesday. In that job, Potts processed CHA payments to various lenders, landlords and tenants and used her log-in information to issue 26 phony checks worth more than $170,000 to Washington, prosecutors said.