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Grand Jury Charges 12 With Cheating Housing Program

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The Richard E. Gerstein Justice Building was buzzing with snazzy dressed television reporters and shoe leather journalists yesterday. That’s because State Attorney Katharine Fernandez Rundle released the findings of the 2007 Spring Term Miami-Dade County Grand Jury. The report documents how twelve people got over on the man and beat the system. All of them have been charged with felonies, mostly grand theft and public assistance fraud.

Not that Rundle was impressed when she revealed the dastardly deeds flanked by Miami-Dade public corruption detectives and Inspector General special agents from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

“These people pushed the poor out of the way,” she intoned, “like robbing from a church’s poor box.”

So what about this fiendish, diabolical criminal conspiracy? Well it turns out eleven female government employees – including a public schools counselor, a children’s social worker, and a Jackson Memorial Hospital worker – plus one male public housing land lord were taking advantage of the a federal housing voucher program referred to as Section 8.

The way it works is that people who qualify for Section 8 find the place they want to live in. Local HUD officials inspect the premises and if it passes, HUD pays the landlord a significant portion of the low-income tenant’s rent. Part of the verification process calls for Section 8 applicants to provide information on their annual income, how many family members in the household, if anyone is elderly or disabled, and any assets. The accused scoundrels alleged lied during their initial interviews about their income.

For instance, Rundle singled out Catrina Brown, who failed to inform the Miami-Dade Housing Agency, which oversees the voucher program, that she has been employed for the past eight years, including her current job at Jackson Memorial Hospital. Brown has received section vouchers since 1998 by claiming her income consisted solely of nominal contributions from family members and assistance. Investigators pulled Brown’s payroll records and discovered she earned roughly $143,000 between 2002 and March of last year – which would have disqualified her for section 8.

It gets better. On May 7, 2004 Brown purchased a single family house in Opa Locka and moved in three days later. She still had her section 8 apartment under her name, which she subleased for almost two years. She charged her first tenant $450 a month and her second renter $500 a month.

She was charged with two counts of public assistance fraud and grand theft charges. Although in some circles, that’s considered market capitalism. During the Q&A bull session with the hacks in the room, reporter Gary Nelson from CBS4 – a wise sage in local journalism circles – asked the only question that mattered: “Isn’t this a system that anyone can play like a fiddle?”

Before the media dog and pony show was over, Rundle addressed the Spanish language television reporters. “Estamos aqui hoy para informar sobre las accciones del gran jurado,” she says. “Ellos comos mucho de nosotros estamos cansado de como nuestros pobres sigen siendo engañados.”

I must say there is just something sultry about the way Miami-Dade’s top prosecutor rolls her r’s. -- Francisco Alvarado

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