BRADENTON -- Almost two years after federal agents raided the Bradenton Housing Authority's offices and he was fired, former Executive Director Wenston DeSue will learn Wednesday morning if his immediate future includes time in prison.
DeSue faces up to 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine on top of paying $276,300 in restitution after pleading guilty in May to one count of felony theft of federal funds.
The plea was part of an agreement with prosecutors no more charges would be filed against DeSue, who along with a former BHA projects manager -- and now DeSue's wife -- Stephany West, bilked taxpayers for hours worked while on personal business.
The investigation by the FBI and U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development involved video surveillance and tracking the couple's movements through a GPS device agents placed on their BHA vehicles. Federal agents discovered the couple charged the BHA while taking a trip to Jamaica and day trips to Busch Gardens, going to the movies, getting massages, having drinks, taking lengthy lunches and running personal errands.
In the final year of the investigation, prosecutors say the couple missed work in excess of 50 percent of the time and yet filed payroll documents stating they were at work. DeSue would fraudulently submit their hours and then cash in unearned leave and sick time at the end of the year when it should have been used for missed work.
Prosecutors will recommend a reduced sentence based on DeSue accepting responsibility for his actions. U.S. District Judge Susan Bucklew must first decide whether to accept DeSue's plea.
West also has pleaded guilty in the case. She will be sentenced Sept. 9.
BHA Executive Director Ellis Mitchell Jr., hired a little more than a year after the raid, has declined comment until after sentencing. Mitchell's background with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development includes compliance investigations. He has previously stated the best message to send to curb corruption is to prosecute to the fullest extent of the law.
The number BHA Board members duped by DeSue during his tenure continues to dwindle. Board members Lois Gerber and Rigo Rivera recently resigned and Charlie Grace has announced he will not seek reappointment when his term expires in December.
Mark Young, Herald urban affairs reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7041 or follow him on Twitter@urbanmark2014.