09/13/13 — Two face prison time in fraud

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Two face prison time in fraud

By From staff reports
Published in News on September 13, 2013 1:46 PM

Two former Goldsboro Housing Authority employees are facing up to 10 years in prison and fines of up to $250,000 following their guilty pleas Wednesday in federal district court in Raleigh to the unlawful conversion of federal funds.

Gene Dexter Thomas, 60, of Goldsboro, the Authority's former executive director, and Robert Gerald Coggins, 59, of Knoxville, Tenn., the former assistant executive director, falsified documents to give the appearance that the Authority had a licensed general contractor on its payroll when it did not.

Sentencing has been scheduled for January.

A third former Goldsboro Housing Authority employee, Jimmie Lewis Farmer, 61, of Goldsboro, has been sentenced in federal court in New Bern in a separate case.

Farmer, who was director of development and safety, was sentenced on Aug. 7 to two years of probation and fined $1,000. Farmer pleaded guilty on May 23, 2012, to making material false statements. The offense carries a maximum punishment of five years in prison and a $250,000 fine.

The charges against Thomas and Coggins allege that Thomas hired Coggins as the Authority's assistant director prior to August 2002.

The Authority is required to maintain a general contractor's license from the North Carolina Board for General Contractors because it is regularly involved in the construction of dwellings for low-income people in Goldsboro.

Court documents note that among other standards, to maintain annual eligibility as a general contractor, the North Carolina Board for General Contractors mandates that entities like the Goldsboro Housing Authority employ an individual known as a "qualifier," who has passed the board's licensing examination.

Coggins' responsibilities included oversight of the Authority's finances. He also acted as the Authority's qualifier.

The board's rules require that the qualifier be a "responsible managing employee" of the Authority. It also requires that the qualifier work a minimum of 20 hours a week for the Authority as an employee -- not as a contractor.

Coggins resigned from the Goldsboro Housing Authority on Aug. 30, 2002, which left it without a qualifier. Court documents show that the board did not authorize the Authority to "rent" or "borrow" the license of a qualifier for a fee.

The charges allege that approximately three months after Coggins resigned that he and Thomas created a plan to use Coggins as the Authority's qualifier even though Coggins was no longer an Authority employee.

To carry out the plan, the two men allegedly backdated a contract between Coggins and the Authority to make it appear as though Coggins had never left.

Thomas and Coggins also allegedly backdated semi-monthly time sheets to make it appear that Coggins had been working 20 hours per week since the time of his retirement.

The charges allege that from December 2002 through June 2012, that Thomas, Coggins and other Goldsboro Housing Authority employees routinely falsified time sheets reflecting that Coggins worked 20 hours a week for the Authority.

The charges indicate that the two men unlawfully converted to Coggins approximately $10,000 worth of Goldsboro Housing Authority assets per year for almost 11 years.

In Farmer's case, he allegedly falsely certified a Goldsboro Housing Authority conflict of interest questionnaire.

On one question, in response to the statement, "I have an ownership or investment interest, either directly or indirectly, in the following businesses, firms, or corporations with which the GHA has entered into a transaction or arrangement."

Farmer falsely answered, "None."

However, Farmer was directly involved in the solicitation and the administration of various arrangements between the Goldsboro Housing Authority and Progress Energy from as early as 2006.

Farmer owned more than 1,000 shares of Progress Energy stock during the time of these arrangements and at the time of his conflict of interest certifications.

The investigation of these cases was conducted by the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development's Office of the Inspector General, the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Wayne County Sheriff's Office.