The case of the former Fairfield Housing Authority executive director who took a leave of absence, suddenly resigned and then turned up in a similar post in New Mexico took another twist last week when she was charged by federal authorities with embezzling at least $30,000 from the FHA.

Elizabeth Jo Gutierrez, 47, of Ridgefield, who oversaw the Fairfield Housing Authority for 19 months, pleaded not guilty Thursday at U.S. District Court in Hartford to a charge of theft from a program receiving federal funds. The charge carries a maximum 10-year sentence.

Before accepting the Fairfield job on Aug. 1, 2010, Gutierrez previously spent a dozen years employed at the Danbury Housing Authority. She also served on the Danbury Board of Education.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Donna Martinez granted Assistant U.S. Public Defender Paul Thomas' request to release Gutierrez on $50,000 bond, pending a trial before U.S. District Judge Robert Chatigny.

The single-count indictment obtained from a grand jury by Special Assistant U.S. Attorney Sean Beaty alleges that in July 2011, Gutierrez requested a quote for a data-entry project from an unidentified business. That business, however, was never actually hired, according to the indictment.

Gutierrez is accused of then issuing two Fairfield Housing Authority checks for $15,000 each made payable to the unidentified company, but depositing them into her own account instead.

"The town will be following this case closely," Fairfield First Selectman Michael Tetreau said.

Tetreau pointed out that the Fairfield Housing Authority, which helps low-income families, the disabled and senior citizens find apartments, is not part of town government, but a quasi-federal agency.

However, town officials said that as of December, the FHA still owed the town $65,000 out of what was a $165,000 shortfall in payroll processing. The other $100,000 had been repaid.

The authority, which manages 68 rental units in its Pine Tree Lane and Trefoil Court housing complexes, also has a $327,000 federal deficit, according to Fairfield officials.

Carol Martin, who succeeded Gutierrez, provided information to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development last spring about "some suspect transactions" at the Fairfield Housing Authority, which prompted an investigation.

Gutierrez took a leave of absence for six to eight weeks from her Fairfield post in December 2011 and then submitted a letter of resignation on Dec. 31, 2011.

Shortly afterward, she surfaced in Truth or Consequences, N.M., as the executive director of that community's housing authority.

However, Gutierrez was terminated from that job in November after Truth or Consequences Housing Authority Board Chairman Greg D'Amour said, "She didn't meet the expectations of the authority."

Prior to coming to Fairfield, Gutierrez also had been the director of four New York statewide housing programs. Gutierrez took the post in August 2010. She succeeded Marilyn McNee, who was hired to replace Charles Feld, and held the job three years.