BOSTON – A Holyoke landlord, Carmen Manix, has agreed to pay a $15,000 settlement for submitting false claims to the government after receiving illegal utility payments from a low-income tenant while participating in a federal housing subsidy program.
The Federal Housing Choice Voucher Program, commonly referred to as “Section 8,” provides federal funding to low-income individuals to help them secure safe and affordable housing. The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) provides this funding through local public housing agencies, which establish the total monthly rent, including certain utilities, due to landlords of Section 8 tenants. HUD pays the housing subsidy directly to landlords. In return, landlords agree to comply with certain program requirements, including that they will not charge Section 8 tenants rent or utilities in excess of the amount set by the public housing agency.
Despite this restriction, from September 2000 to August 2017, Carmen Manix demanded and received monthly utility payments from a Section 8 tenant, who brought a lawsuit against Manix under the whistleblower provisions of the False Claims Act. As part of today’s settlement, Manix admits to demanding and receiving utility payments from the Section 8 tenant in violation of her agreements with HUD.
“The Section 8 program provides critical assistance to low-income families in need of safe and affordable housing,” said United States Attorney Rachael S. Rollins. “This case should be a warning that landlords who exploit low-income housing-insecure people to line their own pocket will be called out and held accountable. We use the False Claims Act every day to recover millions of dollars from companies that commit health care fraud. We will also use it to vindicate the rights of everyday citizens who rely on the government programs being followed with integrity. Any Section 8 tenant who has been forced to pay excess rent or utilities in violation of the terms of his or her lease is encouraged to bring their concerns to our Office’s attention.”
“This settlement represents HUD OIG’s priority in protecting HUD beneficiaries from bad actors who prey on their vulnerability for self-enrichment,” said Christina Scaringi, Special Agent in Charge of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, Office of Inspector General, Northeast Region. “HUD OIG will continue to pursue and bring to justice landlords who fraudulently overcharge HUD- assisted tenants in violation of Federal law.”
The False Claims Act allows private citizens with knowledge of fraud to bring civil actions on behalf of the government. The settlement agreement requires the defendant to pay $15,000 to the United States, and the whistleblower will share in that recovery.
U.S. Attorney Rollins and HUD OIG SAC Scaringi made the announcement today. Assistant U.S. Attorneys Diane C. Seol and Alexandra Brazier of Rollins’ Affirmative Civil Enforcement Unit handled the matter.