After a scathing state audit and ongoing police investigation for the past two years, Kimberly Bunton, the former director of the city’s Department of Housing and Family Services, has been indicted on two charges of theft by unlawful taking of over $300. The felony charges were handed out Monday and are punishable with a fine up to $10,000 and five years in prison, according to the Commonwealth’s Attorney office.
In August 2008, Bunton resigned after The Courier-Journal discovered more than $2,000 in low-income assistance from the department had been given to Vickie Smallwood, who happens to be Bunton’s mother. That amount included $500 from a taxpayer-funded account dedicated to assisting poor children. The prosecutor’s office confirmed Smallwood was also indicted on two counts of theft earlier this week.
Upon her resignation, Bunton reimbursed the city with three separate checks including $1,350 on her mother’s behalf while maintaining that Smallwood qualified for the city loan. The letter also included $500 for the poor kids and $45 for the time two Metro employees moved a bookcase from her office to her home.
Still, the controversy ballooned months after Bunton left. In February 2009, State Auditor Crit Luallen’s office released a report confirming allegations of gross mismanagement of funds beyond the initial scandal. The state found a general lack of oversight that left one of city’s largest departments in disarray.
“It’s unusual for any large government agency to have this many audit findings, and especially audit findings of this serious nature,” auditor Crit Luallen told LEO at the time. “Overall, there is a total lack of accountability on the part of the management of the department.”
It was discovered that the city had left millions of dollars in federal housing funds unspent and unaccounted for. The audit also revealed hundreds of thousands of dollars lost due to bad accounting, a failure to match finance systems within Metro government and a general inability to correspond reporting procedures to what the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development requires.
At the time of her resignation, Mayor Jerry Abramson called Bunton a “change agent”, saying she was charged with updating a swamped department and had exercised poor judgment. After Bunton’s departure, the mayor appointed Tina Heavrin, his general counsel at the time, to be interim director of the embattled department and the Mayor’s Office has maintained it has improved the situation in the housing department.
Since Bunton’s resignation, the Metro Police Department’s Public Integrity Unit has been investigating the housing scandal, and last month turned over its findings to the prosecutor. Bunton and her mother are scheduled to be arraigned Monday.
“Kimberly Bunton made some poor decisions and violated my trust,” Mayor Abramson said in a statement. “Now, the judicial system will decide whether she violated the law.”