News and Press Releases

Former Bessemer Housing Authority Bookkeeper Sentenced to 30 Months in Prison

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
January 29, 2013

BIRMINGHAM – A federal judge today sentenced a former bookkeeper for the Bessemer Housing Authority to 30 months in prison and six months home detention for stealing nearly $200,000 from the agency with forged checks, announced U.S. Attorney Joyce White Vance and Housing and Urban Development Inspector General David A. Montoya.

U.S. District Judge L. Scott Coogler sentenced LAWANA R. LAWRENCE, 50, of Jasper, to six months in prison and six months of home detention for theft of government property, plus two years in prison for aggravated identity theft. Lawrence pleaded guilty to the charges in August. Lawrence also must forfeit $198,700 to the government as proceeds of illegal activity and pay the same amount in restitution.

She is scheduled to report to prison April 8.

“This defendant worked for a government agency whose mission is to help low-income families find affordable rental housing. She undercut that mission and took advantage of her position to steal from the program and the tax payers who support it,” Vance said. “Her abuse of the public trust warrants this sentence.”

HUD governs the rental assistance program and annually provides money to the Bessemer Housing Authority to support it.

Lawrence worked as a bookkeeper for the Bessemer Housing Authority in 2010. From June through September that year, she wrote 28 checks to herself or to the person she was living with and affixed electronic signatures of the Housing Authority’s executive director and its board chairman to the checks, according to Lawrence’s plea agreement with the government. She had access to the signatures on her work computer, but placed them on the checks without authorization.

Between July 6, 2010, and Sept. 13, 2010, Lawrence deposited the checks into a bank account assigned to Lawana R. Lawrence, doing business as Woni’s Bookshelf. Lawrence owned Woni’s, a bookstore in Sumiton, according to the plea agreement. Housing Authority checks deposited into that account totaled $198,700.

The HUD Office of Inspector General, in cooperation with the Bessemer Police Department and the Jefferson County District Attorney’s Office in Bessemer, investigated the case, and it is being prosecuted by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of Alabama.

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