Housing authority director admits embezzling federal funds

Alesia Watson pleaded guilty to robbing federal housing funds while earning a $100,000 taxpayer funded salary.

The executive director of the Ocean City, New Jersey, Housing Authority (OCHA) admitted embezzling funds received from the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), marking the fourth time the highly paid government official was convicted for stealing money.

Alesia Watson, 54, of Galloway Township, pleaded guilty before U.S. Magistrate Judge Karen M. Williams in Camden federal court to one count of embezzling federal funds received from HUD and administered by OCHA to which she was not entitled.

According to public records, Watson earned a base salary of $100,000 plus $30,000 worth of health, pension and other benefits.

According to U.S. Attorney William E. Fitzpatrick and documents filed in the case and statements made in court, Watson had access to two credit cards maintained by OCHA.

From December 2013 through March 2015, Watson used the two credit cards to purchase 69 MasterCard gift cards, which she used for personal expenses not associated with OCHA or provided them to friends and family members.

Watson then used federal funds received from HUD and administered by OCHA to pay the credit card bills associated with the purchase of the gift cards.

According to the plea agreement, the loss associated with the embezzlement was more than $6,500 but less than $15,000.

The embezzlement charge carries a maximum penalty of one year in prison and a $100,000 fine, or twice the gain or loss from the offense. Sentencing is scheduled for Aug. 15, 2017.

Watson, who was also part time executive director of the Brick Township Housing Authority, had to step down from a similar position in Atlantic City after a newspaper revealed criminal convictions in her past.

Watson was known as Alesia Humphrey in 2006, when she was subject of a front-page story in the Press of Atlantic City that detailed criminal convictions dating back to 1992 for theft and credit card fraud, which led to her resignation as executive director of the Atlantic City Housing Authority.

According to the original Press of Atlantic City report, she was charged with two counts of credit card theft, three counts of unlawful use, and theft by deception in 1992. She was indicted by a Somerset County grand jury and pleaded guilty to a single count of theft by deception, for which she received a sentence of probation.

She was charged with forgery, theft by deception and credit card theft in 1994, then in 2000 faced charges of credit card theft, fraudulent use of credit cards and forgery.

All of the charges culminated in plea deals; Watson served a total of 31 days in jail and served probation. Her legal troubles ended in 2003, with a probation violation, for which she was sentenced to 131 days in jail, but given credit for time served, according to the 2006 newspaper report.

Fitzpatrick credited special agents of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, Office of the Inspector General, under the direction of Special Agent in Charge Christina Scaringi, and special agents of the U.S. Secret Service, Newark Field Office, under the direction of Special Agent in Charge Mark McKevitt, with the investigation leading to today’s guilty plea.

The government is represented by Deputy Attorney-in-Charge Matthew J. Skahill of the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Camden.

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