BIRMINGHAM – The former executive director of the Jefferson County Committee for Economic Opportunity (JCCEO) entered a guilty plea on Tuesday to the theft of close to $500,000 from the nonprofit organization, announced U.S. Attorney Joyce White Vance and FBI Special Agent in Charge Richard D. Schwein Jr.
Ruth Gayle Cunningham, 63, entered the guilty plea before United States District Judge L. Scott Coogler. Sentencing was set for January 22, 2014. She faces a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.
Cunningham’s daughter, Kelli E. Caulfield, 31, was charged with conspiracy in the scheme to defraud JCCEO and is set to enter a guilty plea on September 30, 2013.
In a related case, mortgage broker Brad A. Bozeman, 34, of Hoover, also entered a guilty plea to a charge of conspiracy to defraud a federally insured financial institution by either making or transmitting false statements and reports intended to influence a financial institution in connection with the sale of residential properties. Bozeman made false statements on loan applications by including false income or not revealing all debts and liabilities of the purchasers, and transmitting that information as true and accurate. He faces a maximum penalty of five years in prison and a $250,000 fine.
Cunningham was executive director of JCCEO for more than 20 years before resigning the job in March. The organization employed Caulfield from May 2009 to January 2013. JCCEO is a community action agency that administers programs, including Head Start, for low-income and disadvantaged residents.
Cunningham acknowledged in her plea agreement that, between March 2009 and April 2010, she used JCCEO funds to make monthly mortgage payments on at least three residential properties she owned, and at least five residential properties her daughter owned, in Jefferson and Shelby counties. Cunningham also used JCCEO funds to pay property taxes on one of those properties, a house in Chelsea that she bought in 2007 with a mortgage loan of more than $1 million.
Cunningham also paid $293,413 in JCCEO funds to companies owned by her daughter, and to other contractors, for claimed repairs or renovations to the women’s properties, according to their plea agreements.
The FBI discovered the fraud at JCCEO while it was investigating allegations of a mortgage fraud scheme. That investigation led to federal prosecutors’ charges against Cunningham and Caulfield, as well as to charges of conspiracy to defraud federally insured financial institutions against a real estate investor now living in Atlanta, and mortgage broker Bozeman. Cunningham and Caulfield bought most of the properties that later became part of their scheme to defraud JCCEO from the Atlanta investor.
The FBI investigated the cases, which Assistant U.S. Attorney Robin Beardsley Mark is prosecuting.