Taos County officials may soon seek legal action to recover $45,000 in federal housing funds that cannot be accounted for.
Deputy county manager Rick Bellis told the county commission Tuesday that the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) believes part of a $383,000 grant for capital improvements on public housing is missing or was misappropriated. Bellis said HUD is holding the county responsible for that money.
As part of an investigation into fraud at the agency, Bellis said it appears that part of the grant was used to pay for materials that cannot be found, while portions went to contractors who were paid for work that was never done. In some cases, Bellis said the agency has “no idea” where the money went.
In total, $45,000 is unaccounted for, Bellis said.
Bellis said HUD is now asking the county to pay back what it can’t track down. He said the reason for the request is likely because the county has done nothing to recover the lost funds or punish those who inappropriately received or diverted the money.
Bellis said the housing authority’s former capital funds manager would likely be among the people who would be implicated in the fraud. The former manager was one a handful of housing staff who were let go in the wake of the embezzlement investigation.
Bellis took over as interim director at the housing authority following allegations that the former director had been embezzling funds for a decade.
Former director Carmella Martínez and her husband, Paul G. Martínez, are awaiting trial on 49 counts related to the alleged embezzlement.
The county has since hired a permanent director for the housing authority.
Following Bellis’ presentation, the commissioners agreed to let staff look into pursuing charges against those who may have been part of the fraud, as well as seeking a claim with the county’s insurer.