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Twenty-nine arrested in welfare fraud sting in county

by Mark Vasto
Landmark reporter

Federal and state officials delivered a serious message to welfare recipients on Thursday: steal from the government and you'll be taken down.
A sting spearheaded by the U.S Housing and Urban Development (HUD) netted 29 arrests at the Englewood Apartments on Nov. 6.

According to Platte County Prosecutor Eric Zahnd, the 29 residents of the apartment complex, located near I-29 and Waukomis Drive in Platte County, were involved in serious food stamp, Section 8 housing assistance and other types of welfare fraud.

In court papers filed by the prosecution, HUD investigators allege that residents of the Englewood Apartments engaged in a pattern of falsifying income statements so that they could receive larger living subsidies. One of the defendants allegedly defrauding the government of $5,260, a class C felony that could result in a seven year prison sentence.

The investigation began when Englewood Apartment owners, AIMCO Capital, contacted authorities with a suspected Section 8 fraud claim. Agents from HUD and the Missouri Department of Social Services then interviewed residents at 43 apartments on July 15, which ultimately culminated in the 29 arrests.

In addition to the fraud arrests, nine others were arrested on outstanding warrants on unrelated charges.

Zahnd called the operation a "tremendous, tremendous success," and said the estimated savings based on just the fraud losses alone exceeded $87,000.

"If you multiply that out over the years they were likely to have been there, the amount we're going to be saving will be many fold," Zahnd said.

Kenneth Donohue, inspector general for HUD, told The Landmark he personally observed the operation and intended to use the Platte County case as a model for similar efforts around the nation. Donohue, appointed to the position by President Bush in July 2001, said the federal government loses more than $2 billion per year in Section 8 fraud.

"President Bush has made this a focal point of his domestic presidential agenda," Donohue said, later adding that it was "important for people to know that we will investigate, and refer for prosecution, any person involved in rental assistance fraud.”

Zahnd told reporters that his office was eager to handle such prosecutions.

"In these times of tight state and federal budgets, those who legitimately qualify for public assistance deserve to continue receiving it," Zahnd said. "But those who try to defraud the government steal from all taxpayers and make it more difficult to provide assistance for those who are truly in need.”

Other agencies involved in the sting included the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the U.S. Social Security Administration, the Missouri Division of Legal Services, the Missouri Highway Patrol, the Kansas City, Missouri Police Department, the Platte County Sheriff's Department and Zahnd's office.

In total, more than 60 agents from the federal and state level were involved in the operation.