The former executive director of an affordable housing commission in Michigan admitted in court this week to stealing more than $336,000 in federal funds, including $162,000 that was meant for the Section 8 housing program.
According to the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Michigan, Lorena Loren, the former executive director of the St. Clair Housing Commission, pleaded guilty on Tuesday to conspiring to commit federal program fraud.
In pleading guilty, Loren admitted to conspiring with several family members to federal funds provided by the Department of Housing and Urban Development to the St. Clair commission.
In addition to stealing money that was meant for the HUD’s Housing Choice Voucher program, otherwise known as Section 8 housing, which allows low-income families to lease a rental property with help from the government, Loren also admitted to taking $166,000 from the commission’s operating budget.
According to court documents, Loren used the stolen money to buy adult and infant clothing, furniture, food, beauty supplies, medications, other household items, and alcoholic beverages for herself and her family members.
Court documents showed that between August 2008 and August 2016, Loren fraudulently entered into some Section 8 contracts that directly benefitted her and nearly all of her immediate family members.
Specifically, Loren falsified Section 8 housing contracts and lease agreements by using nominees for lease agreements for Loren’s son. Additionally, Loren and several relatives falsely claimed to own rental properties where former Section 8 tenants lived.
Then, Loren fraudulently issued Section 8 rental subsidy payments to those relatives, and in the names of former Section 8 tenants who were no longer in the program.
Loren also directed her family members to establish joint bank accounts to allow other family members to access to the stolen money.
Additionally, between 2010 and 2016, Loren used the commission’s two credit cards to make unauthorized purchases of personal items for herself and her relatives from Amazon, Walmart and Sam’s Club stores.
According to court documents, Loren had some of the unauthorized purchases, approximately $60,000 of the nearly $166,000 total, sent to some of the same relatives who were involved in the Section 8 housing scheme.
As executive director of the commission, Loren had control of its operating budget and used the budget to pay the credit card bills that contained her unauthorized purchases.
Loren also admitted to taking another $8,500 from the commission’s petty cash.
As part of her guilty plea, Loren agreed to pay $336,240.62 in restitution to HUD.
Loren also faces a maximum of five years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000 for her crimes.
“At such a critical time for the Department of Housing and Urban Development, with programs that are vital to the well-being of so many in our communities, it is critical that those entrusted to public service are completely dedicated to those in need,” Brad Gary, special agent in charge of HUD, said. “The HUD Office of Inspector General is committed to partnering with Federal prosecutors and fellow law enforcement to aggressively pursue those engaged in activities that harm HUD’s Public Housing programs.”