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Longtime employee stole millions from Pierce County Housing Authority, court filing says

An agency that provides affordable housing for low-income families in Pierce County has sued a former employee suspected of stealing millions in public funds, according to court records.

The Pierce County Housing Authority’s lawsuit alleges that longtime finance director Cova Campbell and her husband, Mark Campbell, diverted the money and used some of it to buy real estate.

“Though the full scope of the defendants’ thefts is presently unknown, it appears to exceed $4 million dollars,” one of the agency’s court filings says.

The Housing Authority filed the lawsuit in Pierce County Superior Court on Wednesday. It seeks to recoup the money and asks a judge to prevent the couple “from using, transferring, selling or otherwise disposing of the funds or any assets or property purchased with or related to the funds” in the meantime.

Attempts to reach the Campbells for comment Thursday were not successful. Court records did not list an attorney for them.

Campbell was fired from the Housing Authority on Aug. 8, the lawsuit says.

Housing Authority executive director Charlie Gray told The News Tribune on Thursday that the alleged theft was discovered as part of a routine state audit.

“We are prepared to take every action available to us to make sure that our programs and services remain available to those who need them,” Gray said. “... Landlords will continue to receive payment on time. We’re committed to continuing to fulfill our obligations under the program to both tenants and landlords.”

The agency will fully cooperate with the ongoing State Auditor’s Office investigation and with “any criminal investigation through law enforcement, including the FBI,” Gray said.

An FBI spokesperson contacted by The News Tribune declined to comment or verify whether the Campbells are being criminally investigated. It does not appear they have been criminally charged.

Asked how long Campbell worked for the Housing Authority, Gray referred The News Tribune to the lawsuit, which says “many years.”

The complaint gives this account of what happened:

The state audit revealed in July that the Campbells “planned and commenced a scheme to intercept or invade PCHA funds and direct them to their own accounts where they were used to make personal purchases of, among other things, real estate,” the lawsuit says.

They allegedly started diverting funds at least several years ago and tried to hide what they’d done, including by “falsifying accounts and account numbers, falsifying invoices, and routing PCHA funds to private accounts.”

One court filing alleges that they used $1.96 million of the stolen money to buy 310 acres of real estate in Oklahoma, and that the rest of the money is unaccounted for.

The court records say the Housing Authority put Cova Campbell on administrative leave when the alleged theft came to light and fired her after she didn’t show up for an interview.

The Housing Authority has an annual budget of $32 million, which it uses to help more than 4,000 people a year.

The state, federal and private funds “are used to support the Authority’s mission of assisting persons in need to obtain clean and healthy housing at a price that is reasonable and within their means,” the lawsuit says.

Alexis Krell covers local, state and federal court cases that affect Pierce County. She started covering courts in 2016. Before that she wrote about crime and breaking news for almost four years as The News Tribune’s night reporter.
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