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Former Bradenton Housing Authority director Wenston DeSue scheduled for May 28 court date

BRADENTON -- Wenston DeSue, the Bradenton Housing Authority's former executive director who the federal government says stole more than $276,000 in unearned salary and bonuses, will make his first court appearance on a federal theft charge at 11 a.m. May 28 at the federal courthouse in Tampa.

A federal investigation launched a year prior to federal agents raiding the BHA offices in September 2013 led to theft charges being filed earlier this year against DeSue and his wife and former projects director Stephany West.

West pleaded guilty in federal court in March as part of a plea deal that would not bring additional charges, a recommendation of no prison time and her agreeing to pay back more than $104,000 that West admitted to illegally taking for hours she claimed to work when she did not.

DeSue signed a similar plea deal May 6 immediately following the federal government filing a charge of theft of federal funds against him. DeSue's amount of stolen salary exceeds West's in that he was making nearly $180,000 in salary and board approved bonuses.

Board members have long claimed they were taking advantage of and were kept in the dark about DeSue's activities.

In 2012, BHA Finance Director Darcy Branch contacted the Department of Housing and Urban Development field office in Miami about DeSue's activities. For a year, Branch worked with officials investigating the BHA.

In both West's and DeSue's court documents, federal investigators said both defendants were "significantly absent from the BHA, engaged in non-BHA activities during work hours and failed to take annual or sick leave for absences."

DeSue, who was married to another woman at the time of the investigation, was romantically involved with West during the time they are charged with stealing public funds. The investigation revealed that the pair spent personal time together during BHA work days including movies, massages, personal errands and day trips to Busch Gardens. The pair "frequently" arrived to work late, left early for drinks and took lengthy lunches.

In his plea deal, DeSue admitted that he missed work 60 percent of the time from 2012-13, but collected salary, cashed in unearned sick and vacation time and took bonuses on self-evaluated job performances.

DeSue will appear before Judge Anthony Porcelli, who also presided over West's first appearance. Porcelli will only determine if DeSue understands his plea before making a recommendation to another judge to accept his plea. West, who still faces up to 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine despite the plea agreement, will have her plea accepted and be sentenced June 30.

Mark Young, Herald urban affairs reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7041 or follow him on Twitter@urbanmark2014.

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