New details emerge about Multnomah County worker accused of routing rental assistance funds to her own account

By April Ehrlich (OPB)
April 14, 2023 11:21 p.m.

A Multnomah County employee who oversaw a housing assistance program diverted thousands of rental assistance dollars to her own bank account, according to county documents.

Stephanie Simmons — while employed with a program overseeing the Multnomah Stability Initiative — diverted $10,000 of government funds to her personal bank account by using her brother to apply for rental assistance in 2021, according to a memo from District Attorney Mike Schmidt’s office.


Simmons subsequently had her brother, Isaac Watson, apply for another $10,000 through the same program in 2022. A county auditor’s report released Thursday says the county didn’t approve that application, despite internal pressure from Simmons. She never disclosed the conflict of interest to county employees, the report says.

At the time, Simmons was a manager overseeing the Multnomah Stability Initiative, a county program charged with helping homeless and low-income families through housing assistance, early childhood programs and case management.

As of Friday afternoon, Simmons was still listed as the primary contact for the Multnomah Stability Initiative, though on Thursday, a report from the county auditor’s office said she “no longer works at the county.”

A county spokesperson on Saturday said Simmons was terminated from her job as Housing Stability Team Manager on March 1. Her annual salary was $109,688.

Applications for rental assistance are initially handled by nonprofit partner agencies, but they need final approval from the county. Both of Watson’s rental assistance applications went through the nonprofit Native American Youth and Family Center. Watson listed Simmons as his landlord, so when NAYA and the county approved his first application, those funds went directly to Simmons.


During a second attempt in 2022 to access rental assistance, a county employee noted that Watson’s income was too high to receive the aid — applicants needed to be at or below 125% of the area’s poverty line. According to a Jan. 17 memo from the prosecutor’s office, Simmons then changed the new cut-off to be 200% at or above the poverty line. She also advocated for Watson when another employee tried to disenroll him from the program due to discrepancies in his application, including multiple addresses.

That employee notified the auditor’s office once they noticed that Simmons was listed as the landlord on Watson’s application. The auditor’s office then turned to the Multnomah County Sheriff’s Office, which conducted its own investigation.

The sheriff’s office sought three charges against Simmons: first-degree attempted theft, first-degree official misconduct and first-degree attempted official misconduct.

Deputy District Attorney Austin Buhl declined to prosecute those charges because he didn’t believe his office could “prove them beyond a reasonable doubt” at trial, the Jan. 17 memo says. Even so, it says there remains probable cause to arrest Simmons, since that “only requires that it is more likely than not that the person has committed a criminal offense.”

During the district attorney’s investigation, detectives learned Simmons also pushed the county to hire Watson in the Juvenile Justice Department. According to the memo, Simmons sent an email to Rebecca Stavenjord, Commissioner Lori Stegmann’s chief of staff, noting that his application for the job was turned down. She listed his qualifications and asked, “How can we get this young man, Isaac Watson, the job he deserves[?]”

During interviews with detectives, Simmons justified her pushing for Watson’s job application by saying she would “do that for everybody in our community.” When detectives asked her if she has advocated for anyone else’s job applications, she said she is “always advocating for barrier removals.”

During interviews with detectives, Simmons said she used part of the money to replace the brakes and tires on her car, and that she didn’t give any of it to Watson or to other county employees who helped approve the application.

In its report, the auditor’s office recommends the county add additional questions to its Code of Ethics Disclosure form to “help determine with greater reliability whether an employee has a conflict of interest.” It says the office made a similar recommendation in 2020.

Editor’s Note: The county auditor clarified that Simmons received $10,000 through her brother’s 2021 rental assistance application, conflicting with the district attorney’s January report. This article has been updated with the auditor’s more current figure.