50 accused of rent fraud - WALB.com, South Georgia News, Weather, Sports

50 accused of rent fraud

August 9, 2006

Albany --  Dougherty Countians accused of defrauding the state are given a chance to settle up. These people are given the chance to pay back the state instead of facing criminal charges. People accused of rent subsidy fraud were called to a Dougherty County courtroom today.   

They were given the chance to admit to abusing the state's assistance program, and paying back the money, or possibly facing criminal charges. Most of the accused took the state's offer.

The Georgia Department of Community Affairs called 50 people accused of rental assistance fraud to the Courthouse.  About 35 showed up, because they were warned that this was their chance to avoid criminal charges.

Assistant District Attorney Victoria Darrisaw said "If they agree they owe the money, just repay it, and then we don't have to get the criminal involvement."

Many of the people tried to hide their faces from the camera, but most signed papers admitting to defrauding the rental assistance program, and signed agreements to pay the money back.

Department of Community Affairs Regional Compliance Officer Antonio Qualls said "We don't want to prosecute.  We don't want to go through the civil and legal things. We want to try to work with our tenants."

D.C.A. officials say millions of dollars are taken by people not qualified to receive rental assistance in Georgia each year.  They estimate that five percent of Dougherty County's 3,200 voucher recipients are in violation of their agreement, and the state wants the fraud stopped.

"We hope that we don't have a big problem, and we want to nip it in the bud before it gets big. And that's another reason for today," Qualls said.

Qualls says most of the violations admitted to by these people were failure to report increased income, or having other people move into the household.  The people who signed the fraud agreements are booted out of the state's program, and can not receive rent or utility subsidies again. 

 If they are prosecuted, they could be charged with theft by deception, and face a ten year prison sentence if convicted.

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