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Ex-FHA director, under feds' scrutiny, fired from N.M. post

Updated 4:29 pm, Wednesday, December 12, 2012

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  • Elizabeth Gutierrez, former director of the Fairfield Housing Authortiy, is allegedly under investgation by federal agents. Photo: Contributed Photo / Fairfield Citizen
    Elizabeth Gutierrez, former director of the Fairfield Housing Authortiy, is allegedly under investgation by federal agents. Photo: Contributed Photo

 

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The Fairfield Housing Authority's former executive director, who left the post abruptly last year to take a similar job in Truth or Consequences, N.M., was terminated last month from that post.

Her tenure at the FHA is under investigation by agents from the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development for what has been described as "suspect transactions."

Truth or Consequences Housing Authority Board Chairman Greg D'Amour said Gutierrez was relieved of her duties because "she didn't meet the expectations of the authority," according to a story Tuesday in Truth or Consequences' local newpaper, The Herald, by reporter Kathleen Sloan. D'Amour told The Herald there were no financial problems at the agency, but as executive director Gutierrez had no direct access to the bookkeeping.

"She was let go because she didn't have ample engagement with her duties overall -- not enough to please the board," D'Amour said.

The story in The Herald quotes D'Amour as saying a background check was done on Gutierrez and "nothing showed up." She was dismissed from the New Mexico job five days before the story on the Fairfield investigation first appeared last week in the Fairfield Citizen.

Gutierrez was hired in Fairfield in August 2010, and left in December 2011 after first being granted a six-to-eight-week leave of absence. No reasons for the leave of absence were noted in the minutes of the FHA meeting where the leave was granted.

When the FHA's current director, Carol Martin, came on board in April, she discovered what she termed "suspect transactions" and reported the matter to the Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Marta Metelko, director of public affairs for HUD's Office of Inspector General, said she could neither confirm or deny any investigation.

The federal probe, however, became public knowledge when Board of Finance member and former Selectman James Walsh raised the issue at a finance board meeting last week.

Robert Mayer, the first selectman's chief of staff, said authorities are investigating "the person who allegedly absconded with some funds." Neither man mentioned Gutierrez by name, but Walsh said the employee under investigation had gotten a job with the Truth or Consequences Housing Authority.

The FHA is a quasi-independent agency and does not report to town officials.

First Selectman Michael Tetreau said he sat down with HUD representatives, the chairwoman of the FHA and remaining executive staff in the spring, shortly after Gutierrez left. "The investigation into the executive director was happening on a parallel path and we weren't directly involved in that investigation," he said.

The FHA owes the town $65,000 dating from when the town would process the payroll checks for the authority, which would then reimburse the town. That practice stopped in 2011.

At one point, the FHA owed the town $165,000, but $100,000 was repaid, leaving the current balance.

Because of improper payment of FHA expenses using HUD accounts over a period of years, the authority also owes HUD about $327,000.

Prior to coming to Fairfield, Gutierrez was the director of four New York statewide housing programs, and also spent 12 years with the housing authority in Danbury.

She also served on the Danbury Board of Education.

greilly@ctpost.com; 203-556-2771; http://twitter.com/GreillyPost