Former housing director gets probation, severance after pill-stealing case

By: Joshua Gordon | Woodward Talk | Published March 10, 2015

 Deborah Wilson

Deborah Wilson

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FERNDALE — Oakland County Circuit Court Judge Denise Langford-Morris sentenced former Ferndale Housing Commission Director Deborah Wilson to three years of probation Feb. 26 after Wilson pleaded no contest to charges that she stole prescription pills from tenants of Housing Commission apartments.


In January, Wilson pleaded no contest to two counts of second-degree felony home invasion and one count of possession of a controlled substance. Along with the three years of probation, Wilson was sentenced to serve one day in jail, which she already has served.


In November of last year, an Oakland County Sheriff’s Office Narcotics Enforcement Team investigator received information that Wilson had been stealing prescription narcotics from tenants of the Withington West Apartments, which is owned by the Housing Commission.


Investigators observed Wilson exiting a tenant’s apartment Nov. 3 and later confronted her. They obtained a search warrant for her office and found 21 Percocet tablets and, according to police, Wilson had been replacing tenants’ medications with generic Tylenol.


The 52-year-old Clinton Township resident had served as Ferndale Housing Commission director for 27 years before her arrest in November. The Housing Commission held a meeting four days after her arrest and appointed a new acting manager, Emily Vickey.


The Ferndale Housing Commission, located at 415 Withington St., provides housing opportunities for lower-income residents. The commission administers 125 units for the elderly and disabled in two high-rise apartments. It also administers 43 family houses throughout Ferndale.


The commission receives funding through the Department of Housing and Urban Development for a Section 8 rental-assistance program.


Wilson’s lawyer, Jack Jaffe, declined to comment on the sentencing and the no contest plea.


A week prior to the sentencing, the Housing Commission accepted an agreement to pay Wilson $130,000 in severance, which commission attorney Justin Smith negotiated. Wilson will be paid over six months for a settlement that includes six months’ salary and 75 percent of her accrued vacation and sick days.


Smith said Wilson’s contract included a one-year severance clause, but did not include a clause that would forfeit the severance pay based on any kind of misconduct. Smith was able to negotiate the one-year severance down to six months with Wilson’s lawyer, as well as paying out 75 percent of the paid vacation and sick days, which were supposed to be paid in full.


“I know to the board it is unpalatable, and I am sure it is unpalatable to a lot of people,” Smith said. “It was worked into the contract that there was a severance clause, and I discussed with the board that if we ended up in litigation, that may exceed any amount of money that we would have paid through getting her waivers to the right to sue, so there is some value in that.


“(The board) might not love it, the public might not love it, but it is what it is. I don’t like it, frankly.”


Because of the severance payment, Smith said the commission will not be hiring a permanent director for at least six months, and Vickey will continue in her current role.


Housing Commissioner Paul Stuart said the incidents that occurred involving Wilson were regrettable, but he said she did a commendable job for nearly 30 years in helping the Housing Commission to thrive.


“(Wilson) was well-known and recognized as being a darn good (director),” he said. “There is a little astonishment, and whatever happened here, I feel very bad about this. But, we always got high grades from HUD on everything. We are a high performer.”


Smith said that while paying the severance is regrettable, in the end he anticipates the settlement to save the Housing Commission money.


“Certainly legal fees get very expensive in this type of litigation, and I don’t think Deborah Wilson wanted her legal fees to build up, and the board had to consider that for themselves,” he said. “We had to analyze what is the practical cost (of) not offering anything at all. The board had to up the ante and pay for me and the people I use, and that is taking away from the people (they serve). That could have continued.”

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