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Audit shows DHA director overpaid herself $32,000

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The executive director of Decatur Housing Authority allegedly overpaid herself nearly $32,000 over 38 months, according to a recent state audit.

The Nebraska State Auditor’s Office on Nov. 1 released its findings about Nicole Small, who worked as head of the DHA until March of this year, for possible criminal prosecution.

According to the audit, Small’s salary was based on how many units of the authority’s 24-unit Maple Villa Apartments were occupied each month. Her pay was about six to seven times higher, per unit, for occupied apartments as opposed to unoccupied ones.

The auditor’s report said that between January of 2019 and March of 2022, Small had paid herself a gross salary of $90,650, when it should have been $58,760 based on the occupancy of the apartment building — a difference of $31,890.

In his report, Deputy Auditor Craig Kubicek said it also appeared that some checks issued to Small may have contained forged signatures of the authority’s board chairwoman, Susan Houck, who is also Small’s mother.

Her mother, Houck, told the Nebraska Examiner she had talked to her daughter, who told her she didn’t understand that she had done anything wrong.

The audit said the authority board’s minutes indicated there were vacant apartment units for at least 24 months of the 38 months reviewed, yet Small paid herself for a fully occupied facility for those months.

She had also paid herself the higher 2022 rates in 2021 for fully occupied apartments, which was $75 per unit per month instead of $70, the audit said. Her pay for unoccupied units was $13 and $10 per month, respectively, per unit, for those two years.

The audit also questioned spending of $190 on a Christmas party for tenants and staff, and $102 for Easter hams for tenants.

Houck said the housing authority’s board of directors has a meeting coming up to decide how to proceed.

The audit recommended that the Decatur Housing Authority provide additional oversight of finances so that one person alone is not able “to perpetrate and to conceal financial errors or irregularities, including fraud.”

Other possible violations of law identified in the audit were forgery, theft by deception and official misconduct.

The findings of the audit have been sent to the Nebraska State Patrol, Nebraska Attorney General’s Office, Nebraska Accountability and Disclosure Commission and the Burt County Attorney’s Office for their review.

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