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$60,000 in Legal Fees Owed to the Ashtabula Metropolitan Housing Authority
For Immediate Release
Columbus – Auditor of State Keith Faber’s Office released the 2020 financial audit of the Ashtabula Metropolitan Housing Authority (AMHA) in Ashtabula County. The audit included a finding for recovery totaling $60,000 toward legal fees as part of a settlement agreement.
James Noyes served as the Executive Director of the AMHA from December 1994 until his departure in June 2020. In May 2017, a tip was received that Mr. Noyes had purchased personal items using state and federal funds dating back to June 2014 and the issue was eventually referred to the Ohio Auditor of State’s Special Investigative Unit (“SIU”). The SIU proceeded to conduct an investigation into the propriety of the expenditures identified in the complaint.
As the investigation began, the AMHA passed a resolution on July 26, 2017 to pay the legal expenses Mr. Noyes incurred as a result of the investigation. The SIU’s investigation of Mr. Noyes occurred between 2017 and 2019. During the course of the investigation, Mr. Noyes incurred legal fees while being represented by Friedman & Nemecek, LLC. On October 21, 2019, SIU conducted an interview with the AMHA’s Board of Commissioners and presented the Board with a list containing 84 questionable credit card purchases Mr. Noyes made with the AMHA’s credit card. These purchases were for audio equipment, recording software, microphones, audio interfacing, speakers, and cabling totaling $21,483.94.
Shortly thereafter, Mr. Noyes was placed on paid administrative leave. Following Mr. Noyes’ suspension, the AMHA’s Board of Commissioners rescinded their resolution to pay legal fees and Mr. Noyes then threatened to file litigation against the AMHA. As a result of the threatened litigation, the AMHA and Mr. Noyes entered into a settlement agreement by which Mr. Noyes would release AMHA of any claims he may have had against it and resign as Executive Director, if the AMHA paid $60,000.00 in attorneys’ fees which Mr. Noyes incurred as a result of the SIU investigation. The AMHA approved the settlement agreement and immediately resigned on June 22, 2020.
The AMHA remitted payment directly to Mr. Noyes’ attorneys per the terms of the settlement agreement via check dated November 20, 2020 for $60,000.00. In December 2020, Mr. Noyes was indicted for Attempted Theft in Office and Falsification in a Theft Offense. Mr. Noyes pled guilty to the offenses on January 6, 2021.
Ohio law does not allow public entities to pay for an employee’s legal costs unless there is a reasonable and sound basis to conclude that the conduct necessitating legal representation was undertaken as part of a good faith, well intended attempt to perform or fulfill official duties or responsibilities on behalf of a public employer. At the time that Mr. Noyes’ attorney’s fees were paid there was evidence that Mr. Noyes had not acted in good faith and as part of a well-intended attempt to perform official duties when he used public moneys to purchase sound equipment for his personal use. Such conduct necessitated the SIU investigation and Mr. Noyes’ accrual of attorney’s fees. Therefore, Mr. Noyes was not entitled to legal counsel paid at public expense.
A finding for recovery was issued against Mr. James Noyes in the amount of $60,000, in favor of the AMHA General Fund.
The full report is available on the AOS website using Audit Search.
The Auditor of State’s office, one of five independently elected statewide offices in Ohio is responsible for auditing more than 6,000 state and local government agencies. Under the direction of Auditor Keith Faber, the office also provides financial services to local governments, investigates and prevents fraud in public agencies, and promotes transparency in government.