To see video from the live stream of the press conference, click here.
Operation Clean House Arrests
Barrow County, 1
Bartow County, 2
Burke County, 1
Carroll County, 2
Catoosa County, 1
Clarke County, 2
Colquitt County, 1
Coweta County, 1
Decatur County, 1
Dekalb County, 1
Dougherty County, 18
Early County, 1
Emanuel County, 1
Fayette County, 3
Henry County, 2
Houston County, 4
Jefferson County, 1
Lee County, 3
Lowndes County, 5
Miller County, 1
Mitchell County, 6
Newton County, 3
Paulding County, 1
Randolph County, 1
Richmond County, 9
Rockdale County, 3
Seminole County, 2
Spalding County, 2
Terrell County, 2
Thomas County, 2
Walton County, 1
Anyone with information on Section 8 fraud or suspected fraud is asked to contact the US HUD Office of Inspector General at 1-800-347-3735 or firstname.lastname@example.org
State and federal authorities sent a strong signal on Wednesday to fraudulent Section 8 housing voucher users in a massive sweep of arrests connected to about $1.2 million worth of fraud.
Authorities announced they were arresting 80 individuals throughout 31 counties - including three in Rockdale County - as part of "Operation Clean House," conducted by the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, with assistance from the Georgia Department of Community Affairs, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
About 48 people were arrested as of Tuesday 2 p.m. Officials advised more individuals might be charged as investigators continued to examine cases, most of which occurred within the last year, although a few date from 2008, said GBI Director Vernon Keenan.
There are reportedly about 238 families in Rockdale County about 440 families in neighboring Newton County that currently receive Section 8 vouchers, which subsidize a large portion - more than three fourths - of the cost of housing or rent.
"It is important particularly in times of economic stress, but in all times, that tax payer dollars are used in a way in which they were appropriated," said U.S. Housing and Urban Development Southeast Regional Administrator Ed Jennings. He said the administration had zero-tolerance on such abuse. "That is a big issue."
The amount of fraud involved in the cases totals approximately $1.2 million. Convicted suspects could be ordered to return the money to the program, according to a HUD statement. A Section 8 voucher subsidizes a large portion of the cost of housing or rent.
Among those arrested were individuals who lied on forms about the total income they received or did not list additional people living in the house that contributed to the total income. The arrested suspects face charges of theft by taking and/or false statements.
When questioned about the application or screening process, Herschell Harvell, special agent in charge with the HUD Office of the Inspector General, said "There's layers of quality assurance that we have to do," referring to intake workers and counselors that work directly with applicants. "They verify the information as best they can. We're the final layer of quality assurance and at that point, we're looking at arresting people and sending them to jail."
The discrepancies are largely found through the yearly recertification process, said Dennis Williams, the Georgia Department of Community Affairs assistant commissioner of the Rental Assistance Division. The GBI obtained their warrants on evidence uncovered by the DCA, which distributes housing funds in 149 of Georgia's 159 counties and the HUD Office of the Inspector General.
The Conyers Housing Authority, like many housing authorities, does not accept Section 8 vouchers, said CHA director Gary Erwin. The funding for public housing and for Section 8 vouchers come from the same HUD source, he explained, but Section 8 vouchers allow families to choose where to live from a list of approved landlords whereas public housing locations are fixed. The CHA also does yearly inspections and examinations of tenants, checking on criminal history and reported income, to "make sure they're within the guidelines of program assistance."
Authorities hope Monday's sweep will inspire people still committing those crimes to stop as well as bring out any whistle blowers. According to special agent in charge with the HUD Office of the Inspector General, Herschell Harvell, a similar sweep in 2008 in Los Angeles resulted in 150 arrests and reportedly led to people coming forward following the sweep.
There was a similar, smaller operation in Georgia last year that netted about 34 individuals.
Anyone who has information on fraudulent use of Section 8 vouchers can call 1-800-347-3735.
"Those persons who are violating and abusing Section 8 will be aggressively investigated by HUD IOG and we will seek federal and state prosecutions," Harvell said. "We will also seek those persons to remove them from receiving further housing subsidies." The 80 people who were under warrant for arrest are among a program of 15,000 participants of HUD in the Georgia Department of Community Affairs, and among 2.2 million nationwide.
Those people receive both state and federal monies, and the purpose of Wednesday's sweep was to ensure that money ends up in the right hands.
"A person who receives housing benefits which they are not entitled to under the law steals taxpayer money," Keenan said.
Michelle Kim contributed to this article.