Former low-income housing executive sentenced to prison for embezzling nearly $7 million
Pierce County Housing Authority finance executive used public funds for gambling and lavish lifestyle
Tacoma – A former Pierce County Housing Authority executive was sentenced today in U.S. District Court in Tacoma to 51 months in prison for wire fraud in connection with her scheme to steal nearly $7 million, announced Acting U.S. Attorney Tessa M. Gorman. Cova Campbell pleaded guilty in January 2021, admitting that between March 2016 and July 2019, she used a variety of schemes to divert $6.9 million in public money to her own bank accounts. At the sentencing hearing U.S. District Judge Robert J. Bryan ordered Campbell into custody immediately, and said “There is a substantial question about your remorse… On one level you were a highly competent public servant, but you had a dark side that allowed you to lose your moral compass.”
“At a time when housing resources in our community are in historically high demand, this defendant stole from the poor and vulnerable who most needed assistance,” said U.S. Attorney’s Office Criminal Chief Sarah Vogel. “Her greed meant there were less resources for the elderly, the disabled, the veterans, and the children in Pierce County who count on the Housing Authority to provide safe and secure shelter.”
According to records filed in the case, Campbell was a 20-year trusted employee of the Pierce County Housing Authority, and repeatedly betrayed that trust over a 3-year period. Campbell initiated wire transfers of as much as $500,000 from Pierce County Housing Authority accounts to her own bank accounts. One of the transfers was in connection with the purchase of land in Oklahoma. Campbell also prepared and submitted false invoices to PCHA and made them appear they were from an outside vendor. PCHA paid the invoices, and the money went into Campbell’s bank accounts. Campbell covered up her fraud by labeling these fraudulent charges as “investments,” “insurance,” or “maintenance” in the PCHA accounting records.
According to the plea agreement, Campbell used the money to pay for land and improvements to that property in Oklahoma, for improvements to her home in Lakewood, Washington, and for travel including trips to Las Vegas and the chartering of a private jet. She used some of the money for the purchase of two cars. She also diverted large amounts of the money for gambling and internet gaming.
The Washington State Auditor’s Office uncovered the financial irregularities, and Campbell’s employment was terminated by the Housing Authority on August 8, 2019.
Campbell was arrested in March 2020 in Redbird, Oklahoma.
In asking for a 5-year prison sentence, prosecutors noted that Campbell had abused her position of trust, and even brought her co-workers under suspicion. “Then, once it became clear that Ms. Campbell acted alone, the employees felt blame and shame for failing to stop their boss’s criminal acts…. This money was intended to expand and improve housing options in our community.… The crime was a devastating theft from vulnerable residents of Pierce County based on greed,” Assistant United States Attorney Brian Werner wrote in his sentencing memo.
One of the Commissioners of the Housing Authority Board spoke at the hearing saying, “The fraud limits the ability of the authority to assist the community.” Commissioner Mark Martinez also said Campbell had not explained what happened to about 60 percent of the stolen money and had turned over few assets voluntarily, forcing the Housing Authority to spend time and money trying to get those assets via civil litigation.
Due to some of the amounts recovered in the civil litigation, the amount of restitution Campbell still owes is $5,299,976.
The case was investigated by the FBI and HUD-OIG. The case was prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney Brian Werner.