(L-R) Gayle Cunningham and her daughter Kelli Caulfield.
BIRMINGHAM, AL (WBRC) -
The former executive director of the Jefferson County Committee for Economic Opportunity and her daughter have been accused of stealing nearly $500,000 from the non-profit organization.
Gayle Cunningham, 63, is accused of using JCCEO funds to pay property taxes on three pieces of property she owned and five pieces of property her daughter Kelli Caulfield owned.
Cunningham is charged with theft from a government program that had received more than $10,000 in federal funding or assistance.
The JCCEO is an organization founded in the 1960's that helps low-income residents with Headstart and other programs. Cunningham was executive director of the JCCEO for more than 20 years before resigning from her position on March 19.
Cunningham's daughter Caulfield, who also worked at the JCCEO for a time, is charged with conspiracy to defraud the JCCEO.
"Caulfield would generate these invoices for repair or improvement work on those private properties and make payable to companies primary owned by Caulfield," U.S. Attorney Joyce White Vance said.
As executive director, Cunningham had the authority to sign checks for amounts up to $5,000. All of the invoices prepared by Caulfield were below $5,000 and therefore did not require a second signature from a JCCEO board member.
The FBI discovered the women's involvement during an investigation into mortgage fraud involving an investor and a mortgage broker.
"Cunningham abused the trust and discretion she was given to use this money wisely to benefit those in our community who are struggling," Vance said in a release.
"She used the agency's government funds as a personal piggy bank so that she and her daughter could line their pockets with hundreds of thousands of dollars intended to lift others out of poverty," the U.S. Attorney added.
Cunningham and her daughter are expected to pay back $492,195 of the stolen money from the JCCEO. Both women could face prison time.
Vance says her office will recommend Cunningham serves 30 months in federal prison. A sentencing date has not yet been set.
A new executive director of the JCCEO, Dr. Marquita Furness Davis, began her job on June 3.