Alesia R. Watson, the part-time executive director of the Brick Township Housing Authority, has admitted embezzling federal funds.
Watson, 54, of Galloway Township, pleaded guilty before U.S. Magistrate Judge Karen M. Williams in Camden federal court Monday to a charge of one count of embezzling federal funds received from HUD, and administered by the Ocean City Housing Authority, to which she was not entitled.
Watson serves as executive director of both the Brick and Ocean City housing authorities. The criminal charges made no mention of her role in Brick. According to meeting minutes, the Brick authority’s board discussed, in private session, the agreement with Ocean City on April 17. Watson was present at that meeting.
Watson, when she was first appointed to the Brick position, granted Shorebeat an interview in which she admitted financial crimes in her past and said she had turned over a new leaf. Her background once cost her a job as executive director of the Atlantic City Housing Authority following a newspaper investigation.
“I made some mistakes in my life, and I’ve cleaned myself up and turned myself around,” Watson said in the interview. “I went back to college and turned everything around. You learn from your mistakes, and you change and move on.”
According to documents filed in the case and statements made in court:
As executive director in Ocean City, Watson had access to two credit cards maintained by OCHA. From December 2013 through March 2015, Watson allegedly purchased 69 MasterCard gift cards using these two OCHA credit cards and used the gift cards for personal expenses not associated with OCHA, or provided them to friends and family members.
Watson then used federal funds received from HUD and administered by OCHA to pay the credit card bills associated with the purchase of the gift cards. According to the plea agreement, the loss associated with the embezzlement was more than $6,500 but less than $15,000.
The embezzlement charge carries a maximum penalty of one year in prison and a $100,000 fine, or twice the gain or loss from the offense. Sentencing is scheduled for Aug. 15, 2017.
As federal prosecutors issued a statement on the case late Monday, it was unclear as to Watson’s present employment status at the Brick authority. Watson was still listed as its executive director, according to the authority’s website. Records show Watson earned a $95,830 salary in 2016.