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Wenston DeSue, former Bradenton Housing Authority director, pleads guilty to felony theft

TAMPA -- Wenston DeSue, the former executive director of the Bradenton Housing Authority, pleaded guilty Thursday to one count of theft of federal funds in connection to financial improprieties at the BHA.

DeSue, sitting in the same chair his wife, Stephany West, sat in at her plea hearing in March for the same charge, was stoic in a black suit throughout the hearing. It was a contrast to West, former BHA projects manager, who at one point had to excuse herself from her hearing, unable to stop crying

as the seriousness of her situation became clear.

DeSue's fingers were clasped tightly in front of him, as he listened to Judge Anthony Porcelli explain the charges against him. DeSue, at one point, was visibly shaken and Porcelli had to ask if he was able to continue.

DeSue said he was able and the proceedings continued with Porcelli explaining DeSue's bond conditions. DeSue agreed to a $20,000 signature bond, meaning he does not have to put any money toward a bond unless he violates the conditions. As conditions of his bond, DeSue cannot move from his existing residence in East Bradenton and he must surrender his passport.

Porcelli's responsibility was to determine whether DeSue was mentally capable of entering a plea. When the judge asked DeSue if he had taken any drugs, DeSue asked, "Other than sleeping pills?" which he said he had taken the night before. He said the pills were not obstructing his ability to understand the proceedings or the charge against him.

As part of the plea agreement with the U.S. Attorney's Office, DeSue admitted to stealing $276,300 in unearned salary and bonuses from September 2010 through September 2013 when federal agents raided the BHA's offices and escorted West and DeSue from the premises.

The pair were fired a short time later by a board of directors.

In court, Assistant U.S. Attorney Jennifer Peresie outlined the government's case, citing examples of when DeSue and West were absent from work, but did not report the hours as leave time.

For example, the couple took a vacation to Jamaica in March of 2013, but billed the BHA for hours worked. In April and August, the pair did the same for two day trips to Busch Gardens and July 17, the couple went to see the movie "World War Z" and ran personal errands.

DeSue never went to work at all that day and when an employee inquired as to his whereabouts, he texted, "Need a break," but claimed on his payroll report that both he and West worked that day. Peresie said DeSue missed work about a third of the time in 2012 and 60 percent of the time in 2013, "but initialed payroll reports for himself and West he knew to be false."

Peresie said DeSue collected $204,756 in unearned salary and cashed in more than $71,000 of sick time that should have been used toward the days he missed work.

"The total loss was $276,300," said Peresie.

DeSue agreed to pay full restitution as part of his plea agreement.

While the plea agreement states the U.S. Attorney's Office will recommend DeSue's sentencing be reduced for accepting responsibility for his actions, Porcelli cautioned that the plea agreement was like a contract between DeSue and the U.S. Attorney's Office, "and is not binding to a third party, including the court."

West is scheduled to be sentenced on June 30 for one count of theft of federal funds. DeSue's sentencing date will be scheduled later, but should be within the next 70-90 days, according to Porcelli.

Both face up to 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine. Both will be sentenced by Judge Susan Bucklew.

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

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