Housing fraud is revealed

State probe yields 6 arrests in Augusta

At least six people were arrested Wednesday on charges that they lied about their income to gain government housing subsidies.

 

The Augusta suspects were part of a larger statewide investigation that targeted 80 people accused of fraudulently obtaining federal funding for affordable housing.

Jake Oglesby, executive director of Augusta Public Housing, said his office had provided information to the Housing and Urban Development inspector general as part of the investigation.

The Augusta-area residents arrested, according to the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, were:

- Joyce Baker, 2400 block of Sedgefield Drive, Augusta

- Shanta Gilyard, 1000 block of Woodsedge Drive, Apt. H

- Artis Overstreet, 3600 block of Rolling Meadows Drive

- Katrina Smalley, 2500 block of Anthony Dejuan Parkway

- Tilvosiet Ryans, 3100 block of Norcom Lane

- Latonya Hunt, 3600 block of Elliott Boulevard

More arrests could be forthcoming.

Oglesby said he was notified of the pending arrests Wednesday morning.

"There are limited dollars to help people who need assistance and when people commit fraud" it takes that money away from people who need it, Oglesby said.

The Section 8 program offers subsidized rents for the elderly, disabled and destitute.

Renters in the program pay an amount equal to 30 percent of their income and the federal government covers the rest of the bill.

Wednesday's arrest warrants were aimed at people who qualified when they first entered the program but lied about their income or the number of people in their households when they re-qualified for rent subsidies, said Dennis Williams with the state Department of Community Affairs.

Most of the cases happened in 2009, but a few dated back to 2008. Richmond County had one of the highest number of people arrested, behind only Dougherty County in southwest Georgia, which had 18 arrests.

Oglesby said his participants in the Augusta program sign a release when accepting federal aid that allows all of their income information to be pooled in a central database. Anyone who violates the income terms or fails to report additional income is terminated from the program.

Not reporting extra income "is a federal offense, of course," Oglesby said.

Wednesday's sweep was a joint effort among the Georgia Department of Community Affairs, which distributes federal housing funds in 149 counties, the Georgia Bureau of Investigation and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, which administers the Section 8 Housing Choice Voucher program.

"What we did today was an impact sweep," said Herschell Harvell, special agent in charge with the HUD Office of the Inspector General. "It's to send a message to those violating the program."

Those arrested Wednesday face state charges of theft by taking or making a false statement to obtain federal funds. Federal charges also are possible, officials said.

"A person who receives benefits they are not entitled to steals taxpayer money," said Georgia Bureau of Investigation Director Vernon Keenan.

The problem is not new, said Edward Jennings, HUD's southeast regional administrator.

The agency is trying to be "more aggressive" now in finding those scamming the system.

"The public trust has been violated by those individuals," Jennings said. "You cannot take advantage of your neighbor."

Properties covered under Section 8 are privately owned and people who want to use the program must find qualified properties.

About 15,000 Georgians get Section 8 housing assistance and thousands more are on waiting lists.

Officials expect some people who have been acquiring illegal money to pull out of the program because of the sweep. They're also hoping some neighbors will report those they know are using illegal subsidies. Tips can be phoned to the agency's hotline, 1-800-347-3735, or e-mailed to hotline@hudoig.gov.

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