NIAGARA FALLS, N.Y. (WIVB) – The former head of the Niagara Falls Housing Authority has pleaded guilty to stealing $6,000 from the government organization.
Stephanie W. Cowart, 58, of Grand Island, pleaded guilty to theft concerning programs receiving federal funds in U.S. District Court.
Cowart’s son and daughter in law, Allen and Fredia Cowart. both of Niagara Falls, pleaded guilty to charges of theft of government funds.
According to the assistant U.S. Attorney handling the case, Stephanie Cowart served as executive director for the NFHA between 1997 and July 21, 2016.
Between Oct. 2013 and Jan. 2015, Cowart stole $6,000 from the NFHA, aided by Allen and Fredia Cowart.
Allen and Fredia Cowart, on behalf of People and Possibilities, Inc., sought and obtained a $6,000 grant from the Niagara Area Foundation (NAF) with the assistance of Stephanie Cowart.
The money was to be used for “A Better Me,” a project that was to “teach children and youth the importance of proper etiquette, what bullying is and what they can do about it and to teach educational empowerment tools.”
The NAF grant proceeds for the “A Better Me” project were deposited directly into the NFHA’s operating account. The NFHA then paid Allen and Fredia Cowart for work purportedly done on the project. However, Allen and Fredia Cowart never actually conducted any presentations related to the “A Better Me” project.
Allen Cowart, 31, also defrauded the NFHA and the New York Office of Children and Family Services (NYOCFS) between Oct. 2013 and June 2014, when he falsely claimed he was performing the work of two teachers under the Advantage After School Program and was paid more than two times the normal hourly pay rate for one teacher position.
Allen Cowart was appointed to a temporary teacher position under the Advantage After School Program in Oct. 2013 for the duration of the school year, a position with a salary of $23/hour. However, Stephanie Cowart directed that effective Oct. 23, 2013, her son was to be paid an hourly rate of $50. During the time period that Allen Cowart was paid a $50 hourly pay rate, he received $11,583 more than he would have if he received the regular pay rate for the position.
The Advantage After School Program is funded in part through federal TANF funds.
Stephanie Cowart faces a maximum penalty of ten years in prison and a $250,000 fine for the charges.
Allen and Fredia Cowart face a maximum of one year in prison and a $100,000 fine.
They are scheduled to be sentenced April 5.