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CONTACT 13: Can Hardest Hit Fund recover from waste and abuse?

Posted at 6:00 PM, Sep 20, 2016
and last updated 2016-09-21 01:15:35-04

In the wake of a scathing federal audit finding widespread waste and abuse of Nevada's Hardest Hit Fund, help may be on the horizon for struggling homeowners. Contact 13 gets answers from the woman in charge of more than $80 million.

There are $85 million left in Nevada's Hardest Hit Fund. And four years to get it out to homeowners in need. 

All that has to be done while the feds try to track down more than $8 million they say was squandered.

When Verise Campbell took over the Nevada Affordable Housing Assistance Corporation, she walked into a massive mess. 

An ongoing audit by the Special Inspector General for the Troubled Asset Relief Program released Sept. 9 found malignant misuse of taxpayer money.  

Holiday parties, country club lunches, massages, employee gifts -- even a $500-per-month Mercedes Benz car allowance for the nonprofit agency's CEO. 

All while the number of distressed homeowners getting help dwindled down to nearly none.

"This is the most egregious that SIGTARP has found in the Hardest Hit Fund in terms of waste and abuse," said Special Inspector General Christy Goldsmith Romero.

"I don't think that my position is that I'm going to argue about it," said NAHAC Chief Operating Officer Verise Campbell. "It's simply -- I don't know, I'm still finding out what happened, what all was involved, who was involved?"

No names are mentioned in the audit. The former chief executive officer who was recently fired is a man named Michael Hanley. He hasn't surfaced to make any public comments since the report was released.

"The decision-makers, those who were in management, leadership, top management, they're all gone," Campbell says.

But to date, nothing's been done to hold anyone accountable. 

The Nevada Attorney General and the U.S. Treasury are still following up on the audit's findings.

"Like any homeowner, any taxpayer, any Nevadan, it didn't give me a good feeling and I was taken aback. I was really shocked," Campbell says.

Are any of those types of expenditures still occurring?

"Well, I can tell you that I'm looking at all the policies and procedures," Campbell says.

Part of that is a program that kicks off Wednesday.

"Going live on Wednesday, we're going to have a new system for our homeowners where we'll have someone on the phone who will actually walk them through and fill out that application for them."

She also says any homeowner who was rejected by NAHAC in the past can have their file reopened. 

Positive change the auditor says neither she nor anyone else at NAHAC should be able to implement.

"First and foremost, this organization needs to be fired from the program," Goldsmith Romero says.

So how do the department respond to the Inspector General saying it can't be trusted?  

"I think the best thing to do, Darcy, is to move forward and and continue to earn the trust back of the Nevadans, of Treasury, of the Division of Housing," Campbell says.

NAHAC's new, toll-free number that's going live Wednesday at 8 a.m. is 888-320-6526.