Laura J. Feldman, public affairs official with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development Region V, said in an email that housing authorities with only the housing choice voucher program that are considered “troubled” are required to submit various reports to HUD. She added that audits are not required under the Single Audit Act for agencies which have expenditures of federal funds of less than $500,000 annually.
“Sellersburg Housing Authority does not meet this threshold and therefore does not have independent public accountant audits,” Feldman said in the email. “A review is conducted by the local field office when a housing authority becomes troubled and when the agency appears to have recovered from troubled status.”
Barry McLaughlin, special agent in charge of Region V, which includes Indiana, said the allegations are being looked into, but “at this point I can’t go into any further detail.”
The alleged theft and forgery is the first instance of any wrongdoing related to the Sellersburg Housing Authority in the 25 years that Trester has been a part of the organization, she said.
“You felt betrayed because this was somebody you trusted,” Trester said. “We trusted her.”
Messages left with Downes were not returned as of press time.
Downes had been serving as the executive director, which is a part-time position, for more than five years.
“We’ve always had people we can trust,” Trester said. “It’s a good program ... I just think it’s a shame people take advantage [of it].”
When the board was made aware of the alleged check forgery, there was a general reaction of shock and disappointment.
“It’s kind of a bombshell to everybody,” said Board Member David Crum. “Everybody on the board, we had a lot of people that didn’t pick up on this. We were totally shocked.”
In addition to the six-member board, an accountant for the authority was also checking the housing authority invoices and did not pick up on the additional checks being written.
“I don’t know how she could have done this ... it’s a situation that she got away with too far for too long,” Walker said.
He added that when the alleged forgery was discovered, Downes “just didn’t show up anymore.” The last time he saw Downes was in February, he said.
As a result of Downes removal as executive director the authority — which is located in Sellersburg Town Hall but is not under the control of the town government — the office has closed.