ALBANY, GA (WALB) – Dozens of Georgians are arrested for housing fraud. The county with the most serious problem is Dougherty.
The GBI teamed up with the Department of Housing and Urban Development for 'Operation Clean House.' Investigators went looking for 80 people they say lied to get government help, keeping people who legitimately qualified for assistance off the housing list.
Eighteen of those suspects live in Dougherty County; twice as many as any other county. So far deputies helped round up 11 of those 18 suspected violators in Dougherty County including one from a house on Buck Lane. More than 2,500 Section 8 vouchers are handed out in southwest Georgia through the Department of Community Affairs and there's a waiting list 400 people long of those eligible and looking to get help.
The Department of Housing and Urban Development has zero tolerance for fraud. Investigators say 80 people fraudulently obtained federal money for affordable housing in Georgia. They used the GBI and local Sheriff's deputies to round up offenders in Dougherty and 11 other southwest Georgia counties.
"They asked us to take the warrants and then assist them in making the state arrests which is what ourselves and the Dougherty County Sheriff's office did," said GBI Special Agent Mike Lewis.
Warrants were issued in Operation Clean House in Colquitt, Decatur, Dougherty, Early, Lee, Lowndes, Miller, Mitchell, Randolph, Seminole, Terrell, and Thomas Counties.
"The allegations are these individuals have engaged in mortgage fraud. The general allegation being that they obtained HUD mortgages and that they had instances where they were getting additional income and never reported it," said Dougherty District Attorney Greg Edwards.
The fraud involved more than $1.1 million which is money that could be ordered to be repaid through the prosecution of those arrested. HUD officials say they have a responsibility to ensure that federal funds for the Section 8 program go to those truly in need.
"You're defrauding the government which is the taxpayers; you and I, and just as importantly taking advantage of relief someone else could get, that they're not able to get because you fraudulently got it yourself," said Lewis.
The housing choice voucher program is the federal government's major program for assisting very low income families, the elderly, and the disabled so they can afford decent safe housing in the private market.
Investigators told me they had a difficult time finding violators to arrest them today, some had several addresses, that deputies had to check before they could be arrested.
The GBI announced they have arrested 54 of the 80 suspects in the crackdown: