COSHOCTON — The former executive director and chief financial officer of the Coshocton Metropolitan Housing Authority has pleaded guilty in a federal public corruption case.

Gregory J. Darr, 64, of Coshocton, pleaded guilty in U.S. District Court Tuesday to embezzling more than $431,000 from the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Benjamin C. Glassman, United States Attorney for the Southern District of Ohio; Brad Geary, Special Agent in Charge, U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development Office of Inspector General; Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine; Tommy D. Coke, Inspector in Charge, U.S. Postal Inspection Service; Coshocton County Sheriff Timothy L. Rogers, Richmond County (Georgia) Sheriff Richard Roundtree and Kimberly Cheatle, Special Agent in Charge, U.S. Secret Service, Atlanta; announced the plea entered into before Chief U.S. District Judge Edmund A. Sargus, Jr.

According to court documents, the Coshocton housing authority received federal HUD money each year to provide housing to low-income households. Money was provided for traditional public housing programs like Section 8 vouchers, as well as for certain "tenant participation activities" like a resident council — an organization of tenants that represents other public housing residents and puts on programming to support them.

Darr served as the executive director of the CMHA Resident Council, even though he had also been serving as the executive director and chief financial officer of CMHA since 2001. Federal regulations prohibited him from serving in the resident council leadership capacity or from benefiting financially from the council.

"Over time, Darr consolidated power and authority over both CMHA and the resident council. Abuse of these positions of public trust enabled him to embezzle and convert federal funds and to conceal his crimes from others," U.S. Attorney Glassman said.

Beginning in January 2012 and continuing through September 2017, Darr repeatedly embezzled money from both the CMHA and the Resident Council operating accounts for his own personal gain and for the gain of co-defendant Eric L. Blackwell, 54, of Coshocton.

Darr used the money for, among other things, restaurant bills, out-of-state expenses made in connection with real-estate ventures he co-owned with Blackwell, home improvements made to properties that he or Blackwell owned, and a marina slip and lot rental at Spend-a-Day Marina on Indian Lake, where he and Blackwell maintained a boat and mobile home.

While on the clock with CMHA, Darr routinely traveled to Georgia to manage his investment properties, all while being paid by CMHA to manage the agency’s day-to-day operations in Coshocton. He and Blackwell also improperly used CMHA office space and supplies to operate their joint business ventures.

In August 2017, Darr learned of a federal investigation into his unlawful activities when agents with the HUD Office of Inspector General executed search warrants at CMHA. He thereafter took steps to willfully obstruct and impede the investigation, by falsifying resident council meeting notes and attempting to conceal records relevant to the investigation.

Relatedly, Darr and Blackwell falsified claims to obtain monthly housing assistance payments on behalf of purported tenants who never actually resided in a housing project managed by the two defendants in Augusta, Ga.

Darr pleaded guilty to conspiring to embezzle money from the United States, a crime punishable by up to five years in prison. As part of his plea, Darr has agreed to pay restitution to HUD in the amount of $431,668.45.

Blackwell has also been charged with and has agreed to plead guilty to conspiring to embezzle money from the United States.

"The charges disclosed today prove our continuing resolve to root out fraud and corruption in all forms, particularly when the programs involved should have been used to help our neediest families," said HUD OIG Special Agent in Charge Geary. "It is our continuing core mission to work with our law enforcement partners and the United States Attorney’s Office to protect the integrity of our housing programs and to take strong action against those who seek to personally benefit from them."

"Greg Darr violated the public trust and stole from the people he was supposed to serve," Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine said. "My office’s Economic Crimes Unit, acting on information received from the Coshocton County Sheriff’s Office, launched an investigation that uncovered a pattern of theft and abuse at the Coshocton Metropolitan Housing Authority. I sincerely appreciate the hard work our local and federal partners put into pursuing the case and holding this man accountable. Together we will continue to root out public corruption."