Prosecutor Says Former Housing Head Abused Power

By JOE MILICIA, Associated Press Writer

CLEVELAND (AP) - A federal prosecutor accused a former housing official Tuesday of abusing her power by using thousands of public dollars for personal use.

Former Cuyahoga Metropolitan Housing Authority executive director Claire Freeman, 58, faces charges of mail fraud, theft of public funds and false statements regarding a loan in U.S. District Court.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Tom Getz said Freeman diverted money to a special fund, then used it for her own purposes in the early 1990s, including $52,000 in payments on her Alexandria, Va., townhouse and $62,000 in mortgage payments.

Freeman's attorney, James Willis, said when the CMHA board hired her in 1990 to run the troubled agency, it ensured her she would not lose money on the recently purchased townhouse.

Willis said the CMHA board approved of Freeman's actions.

Freeman previously worked for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development in Washington as an assistant secretary.

In early 1998, accusations surfaced that she and top deputy Ronnie Davis stole money. She was suspended in May 1998 and was fired from CMHA four months later.

Prosecutors dismissed felony charges against Davis in a plea deal. He was accused of illegally converting sick, vacation and compensatory time into $121,000 in cash.

Davis pleaded guilty to keeping a $5,500 overpayment in his final CMHA paycheck and could be called to testify against Freeman.

He will be sentenced Feb. 26 on the misdemeanor and faces up to six months in federal prison, but could receive probation.

Freeman could be sentenced to 50 years in prison if convicted.

(Copyright 2002 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)