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Niagara Falls Housing Authority's executive director answers questions raised by audit

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Buffalo: Niagara Falls Housing Authority's executive director answers questions raised by audit
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The state comptroller's office says the Niagara Falls Housing Authority's executive director used thousands of dollars and vacation time improperly. As YNN's Antoinette DelBel reports, the executive director says she didn't do anything wrong.

NIAGARA FALLS, N.Y. — The executive director for the Niagara Falls Housing Authority, Stephanie Cowart, came under fire after an audit by the state Comptroller found more than $6,000 of "improper" stipends over a two-year period.

According to the Comptroller's office, the Housing Authority's board said the money was part of Cowart's mileage stipend; however, it was not written into her contract.

"The Board is saying that they've agreed to these payments. There's no proper financial documentation that was provided to our auditors during their examination to show that these were proper payments," said Brian Butry, the spokesperson for Comptroller Tom Dinapoli.

The audit looked at activities between January 1, 2010 and July 31, 2012.

Cowart, however, said every payment was accounted for.

"All payments that I received were appropriate," she said. "They were earned. They were approved, supported, accurate and authorized."

Butry said state auditors determined Cowart received $16,000 in reimbursement stipends during the two-year period. She's allowed a monthly stipend of $500 per month, or $12,000 over a two-year period.

Butry said there was no documentation to prove if the money was being used for personal or business expenses.

"The majority of our audit did not uncover any financial wrongdoing," said Butry. "It's a matter of ensuring that proper controls are in place."

YNN asked Cowart if her job was on the line.

"Absolutely not," she said. "There's no wrongdoing."

Butry said findings also showed in 2012, Cowart carried over 20 days of unused vacation leave without Board approval. Her contract states a maximum of five days can be carried over per year with the approval of the Board.

However, Cowart said all vacation time was approved by the Board.

"We intend to use the audit results as recommendations and resources," said Cowart.

Meanwhile, Butry said the Authority Board has 90 days after the review to submit a corrective action plan. He said that's to ensure future public funds won't be misused inadvertently.

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