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Pierce County Housing Authority lagging in financial control fix, state says

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(The Center Square) – A new audit on the Pierce County Housing Authority finds that the agency is still unable to fully implement internal controls of oversight of its financial activities since a previous audit in 2020.

In the prior audit, it was determined that the Pierce County Housing Authority’s former Finance Director Cova Campbell misappropriated nearly $7 million between March 18, 2016 and July 17, 2019. Since then progress has been limited to address internal controls within the agency.

Campbell was sentenced to 51 months in prison for wire fraud in connection with her scheme to steal the money. According to the U.S. Attorney’s Office Western District of Washington, Campbell used a variety of schemes to divert $6.9 million in public money to her own bank accounts between March 2016 and July 2019.

The latest audit finds that the housing authority staff is reviewing automated clearing house payment amounts, but they are still developing controls to ensure amounts transferred to the intended accounts are valid and appropriate.

The automated clearing house is the primary system that agencies use to transfer electronic funds.

Additionally, the housing authority still has more reports that it plans to provide to make the financial information more complete.

“Establishing strong financial controls must be the housing authority’s highest priority,” Washington State Auditor Pat McCarthy said in the audit. “Without such controls, the risk of loss of public funds remains too high.”

The audit recommends the agency’s management and board continue to prioritize resources to fully implement the new controls over its financial operations. To do so, the audit encourages the agency to strengthen its monitoring of automated clearing house payments to ensure all transactions are transferred to the intended accounts, and finish implementing and establishing internal controls over its new enterprise resource planning system in a timely manner.

Digging deeper into the details of the audit, the agency was found not to have verified or retained audit evidence that the reconciliation from the old legacy system to the new system was complete and accurate. Instead, the Pierce County Housing Authority relied solely on external consultants for the system conversion.

“The Authority agrees with the audit findings and continues to put in place the controls necessary to protect the resources we have to serve the public,” the Pierce County Housing Authority said in response to the audit.

The agency added that it is currently formalizing monitoring of automated clearing house payments. It intends to provide financial activity and position by April 2024.

The Pierce County Housing Authority provides housing to low-income households in the county. It owned and managed nine apartment complexes consisting of 841 total units, according to the audit.

The Pierce County Housing Authority also provides housing assistance through the Low-Income Public Housing and Housing Choice Voucher programs for residents of Pierce County.

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