3 women charged in schemes on housing

They are accused of lying about needs, jobs to get more aid

August 06, 1999|By Del Quentin Wilber | Del Quentin Wilber,SUN STAFF

Howard County authorities said yesterday they are prosecuting three Columbia women on charges they received more than $53,000 in subsidized housing aid after lying about their eligibility.

"If you're going to be in [our] programs, you have to abide by the rules," said Leonard S. Vaughan, executive director of the Howard County Housing Commission.

Katrina M. Anderson, 29; Rhonda R. Bratcher, 28; and Wanda G. Lilly, 38, were charged with several counts of theft.

They are alleged to have received benefits by "using false or fraudulent information," authorities said.

The three women were indicted by a Howard County grand jury July 15; the indictments were sealed, and warrants were issued for their arrests.

The final arrest, of Anderson, took place July 30. The three were released on bond.

Bratcher is accused of receiving about $30,000 more in aid than she should have; she applied for aid as a single woman, but was married and received financial support from her husband, officials said.

Lilly is accused of having jobs she didn't report, officials said.

Anderson is also accused of failing to disclose her employment, officials said.

"These cases involved citizens of Howard County who misrepresented and provided false information regarding their household employment, income and assets in order to qualify for the Howard County housing programs," according to the Housing Commission and state's attorney's office.

Officials did not disclose exactly how much money was involved in the Anderson and Lilly cases.

Disputing charges

At least one of the defendants and her attorney dispute the charges.

Bratcher, a flight attendant for a major U.S. airline, said the charges arose from a misunderstanding.

"It's not all they made it out to be," said Bratcher, of Owen Brown. "I'm not a thief."

Bratcher said she has been trying to divorce her husband, Rodney, who lives somewhere else.

He used her address to help with their children's health insurance and reduce his car insurance payments, Bratcher said.

"They can't prove that he was here with his income," she said.

Her attorney, Warren A. Brown, said authorities went overboard by indicting her and having an arrest warrant issued.

"They treated it like a huge racketeering case," Brown said.

Authorities said they are pursuing these cases to send a message that they take housing fraud seriously because it eventually affects taxpayers.

"I don't like to see citizens being taken advantage of," said Assistant State's Attorney Lara C. Weathersbee.

"That's why these cases are important."

Similar indictments

The most recent indictments are similar to previous prosecutions, authorities said.

In June 1998, two county residents were indicted on similar charges.

Under a plea agreement reached in October, Danielle Evans of the 3600 block of Mount Ida Drive in Ellicott City pleaded guilty to a theft charge, received three years of probation and was ordered to complete 200 hours of community service.

That month, Nicole D. Gilliam of the 9600 block of White Acre Road in Columbia pleaded guilty to a theft scheme charge, received five years of probation and was ordered to pay $10,000 in restitution. She also had to do 1,197 hours of community service.

Neither could be reached for comment yesterday.

Court papers show the fraud was well-planned.

Gilliam gave housing officials a false Social Security number in 1990, court records show, and said her only income was generated from welfare checks and baby-sitting during her recertification process, court records show.

In 1992, Gilliam began working for a bank and under-reported her income by $21,972 between 1993 and 1996, court records show.

"Had the [housing] commission [known] of this employment, it would not have subsidized rental payments to the extent that it did," according to the plea agreement.

Evans did not report income from six employers from early 1994 through 1998, nor that she received unemployment benefits and bought a $10,525 truck in 1995, court records show.

She also owned a home and 2.5 acres in Marriottsville, court records show, and borrowed $23,978 against the property in 1995.

She used that address for her mortgage payments, truck payments and license and vehicle registration.

In all, she received $23,529 extra in housing assistance, court records show.

In public housing programs, rent is based on a sliding scale linked to household income. About 1,000 households receive federal Section 8 housing benefits through the Howard County Housing Commission.

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