By Chuck Strouse
By Scott Fishman
By Terrence McCoy
By Ryan Yousefi
By Ciara LaVelle, Kat Bein, Carolina Del Busto, and Liz Tracy
By Pepe Billete
By Ryan Yousefi
By Kyle Swenson
Like so many other Americans these days, Delma Mercado let her mortgage get the best of her. Unlike most other estados-unidenses, she dreamed up a seemingly rock-solid solution to her financial woes.
One problem: It involved stealing rent from the poorest tenants in Hialeah.
As media across the county reported last week, the 54-year-old Puerto Rican got nailed for forging her signature on 40 Hialeah Housing Authority checks and pocketing almost $14,000 in poor residents' rent payments.
What nobody has reported is the reason: Mercado divorced her husband in March 2007, inheriting the mortgage on their $161,000 home near Miami's Sewell Park, public records show. Her bills weren't adding up, apparently, because the bank moved to foreclose on the house in June.
Even in adversity, she found opportunity. Mercado's job involved collecting rent checks from poor and elderly Hialeahans. Sometime before March, Mercado began scratching her name onto the checks, taking them to a check-cashing shop, and keeping the change. The residents, in turn, were entered into the system as having missed a rent payment.
Desafortunamente (hey, it's Hialeah) the housing authority's crack accountants soon noticed the rent payments weren't adding up. "We started asking questions early, so no one was evicted and no one lost housing over this," HHA chief Alex Morales says. "But yes, this potentially could have really hurt some low-income families out there."
As for Mercado, she now has bigger issues than a faulty mortgage, to the tune of 82 counts of forgery, fraud, and grand theft.