Former director of JCCEO sentenced to 2 years in prison for stealing money from non-profit

Ruth Gayle Cunningham, the former executive director of JCCEO, was sentenced to two years in prison for stealing money from the non-profit organization. (

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. -- The former executive director of the Jefferson County Committee for Economic Opportunity was sentenced Wednesday to prison for stealing nearly $500,000 from the non-profit organization, US Attorney Joyce White Vance said.Ruth Gayle Cunningham, who resigned from her position with the agency in March 2013 after over 20 years at the helm, pleaded guilty last year to theft from a government program and paid $492,195 in restitution to JCCEO as part of her plea agreement. Today, US District Court Judge Scott Coogler handed down the two-year sentence and she is expected to report to prison April 28.Cunningham's daughter, Kelli E. Caufield, also pleaded guilty in connection with the case after she was accused of conspiring with her mother to defraud JCCEO."Gayle Cunningham was able to steal money intended to help some of the most vulnerable members of our community because she traded on her long tenure at JCCEO to receive broad discretionary powers from its board," Vance said. "She and her daughter exploited that authority to steal nearly a half million dollars from the agency. As a result, training programs lagged, Head Start buses were not replaced, and classroom computers were running on obsolete, unsupported operating systems," she said. "Prison is deserved for this type of abuse of trust and misuse of federal funds."{} Beginning in late 2008 and through April 2010, Cunningham and her daughter used fake invoices through the community action agency to obtain funds to pay for the mortgages of their personal investment properties. During this time, Cunningham was receiving a salary of around $150,000, as well as bonuses, benefits and retirement contributions.{}"At the same time Cunningham was being showered with accolades, benefits, and praise for her work at the JCCEO, she was stealing funds which could have been used for community programs," the government said in its sentencing memorandum.