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HUD arrests continue

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By Jennifer Emert - bio | email

ALBANY, GA (WALB) –  More southwest Georgians are arrested in a statewide crackdown on housing fraud.

Thirteen people in Dougherty County have been jailed charged with theft by taking or making false statements for illegally securing Section 8 housing vouchers. All of the suspects have already been kicked out of the program.

When you realize the Albany regional Department of Community Affairs office has more than 500 people on a closed waiting list to get Section 8 housing vouchers you can see just how prized of a commodity they are.

Sherita Thornton, an Autry State Prison Corrections officer from Albany, Porshia Wright, a former secretary at Albany's Law Enforcement Center, Ernestine Burden an Equity Group employee, along with Misty Martin and Stephanie Ammons in Lee County, just some of the 43 faces in southwest Georgia charged with fraud in HUD's crackdown.

"They are felony charges, these are felony charges under the current status of the law to fail to properly report income or to not comply with the regulations," said Dougherty District Attorney Greg Edwards.

Dan McCarthy with Albany's Housing Authority is familiar with the program because the authority runs their own Section 8 voucher program. No one in their program is charged. Since the voucher's value goes down when additional income is reported, many fail to do so.

"With the Section 8 program the rent that the tenant pays is based on the income they have and they report their income and housing authorities verify that," said Dan McCarthy, Albany's Housing Authority Director.

There's not much turnover in the programs. People often remain in Section 8 housing for years. Signs in the regional Department of Community Affairs office and the city's office clearly warn the consequences of fraud, but the waiting lists may explain more about why people cheat.

"We haven't opened our waiting list since 2003 and last year we didn't have anybody give up their voucher so, we didn't have any turn over from the voucher," said McCarthy.

Same for the regional office who wouldn't talk with us on camera. Both offices say the program isn't growing, no new funding is being added making those already enrolled in the program, more desperate to hold on to the assistance they're getting.

Dan McCarthy told us he's glad the federal government is pursuing criminal charges for the fraud. He hopes it will make others think twice about trying to get away with not reporting additional income.

HUD encourages anyone who has knowledge of fraud in the Section 8 rental assistance program to contact the HUD Inspector General's office at 1-800-347-3735 or email hotline@hudoig.gov.


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