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Cecilia Chavez pleads guilty to federal charge

Cecilia Chavez, former executive director of the Levelland Housing Authority, submitted a plea of guilt November 28 in the Northern District Court of Texas for theft of government funds of more than $1,000.

According to court documents, she faces a maximum sentence of imprisonment not to exceed 10 years, a fine not to exceed $250,000, or twice any pecuniary gain to the defendant or loss to the victims; a term of supervised release of not more than three years, a mandatory special assessment of $100, restitution to victims or to the community, which is mandatory under the law; costs of incarceration and supervision, and forfeiture of property.

The purpose of the Levelland Housing Authority is to address housing needs of low-income families within the City of Levelland. It provides 58 units of public housing and is managed by an executive direct and monitored by a board of directors.

Chavez was employed as the executive director beginning in February 2007. After being federally indicted, Chavez was placed on unpaid administrative leave by the board of directors for a period of 90 days. Rick Osburn, Levelland City Manager, was named the interim director.

Court documents say as the executive director of the Levelland Housing Authority, Chavez was issued a credit card through City Bank of Levelland for the housing authority. The card was to be used only for official housing authority purchases.

However, agents with the Department of Housing and Urban Development, office of the inspector general, received a complain that Chavez was using housing authority funds to pay for fuel for personal vehicles, according to court documents.

Court documents further indicate that based on this complaint, agents opened an investigation that revealed Chavez was using the housing authority credit card to make non-authorized purchases for her own benefit, including purchases for food, entertainment, groceries and retail. A review of the credit card transactions revealed numerous unauthorized transactions, with a total value of approximately $39,000.

Immediately following the federal indictment charging Chavez with two counts of theft of federal funds, (theft concerning programs receiving federal funds and theft of government funds more than $1,000) the housing authority board of directors met in an emergency meeting to discuss Chavez’ future role at the housing authority.

At that meeting, it was decided that Rick Osburn would be named the interim executive director on a “strictly temporary” basis. He also confirmed that members of the housing authority board of directors are appointed by the Levelland City Council. However, the program does not utilize city funds in any way, he said.

City staff said it was not aware of an ongoing investigation at the Levelland Housing Authority until it learned of Chavez’ federal indictment.

In October, the housing authority board of directors voted to pursue a contract for a period of six months with South Plains Community Action Association for outsourcing of management, operations and procedures at the Levelland Housing Authority.

At that meeting, representatives from SPCAA presented a financial statement that showed what it would cost for SPCAA to assume some kind of management duties at the housing authority.

The new financial statements with SPCAA involved showed that the housing authority would lose approximately $3,179.79 a month, or $38,157.48 a year. The salaries included by SPCAA showed a “significant decrease” in the current salaries of employees at the housing authority, Osburn said.

The vote was 3-1 with Stanley Durham dissenting the vote, in favor of pursuing a six-month agreement with SPCAA.

Erik Rejino, assistant city manager, confirmed that the housing authority is still working with SPCAA to reach an agreement for outsourcing management for the program.

Rejino also said that Chavez submitted her formal resignation to Osburn earlier this week.

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