A Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) employee was given subsidized housing project units in two states to occupy simultaneously, even as thousands of other impoverished citizens languish for years on long waiting lists, The Daily Caller News Foundation has learned.
Immediately after federal officials caught the offending employee, HUD promoted her to manage the awarding of millions of tax dollars in grants, even though she lied to criminal investigators about double-dipping in the benefit programs her department administers.
What follows is the tale of Markquonda, Markquasha, Macretia, and Marquisha, all drawing paychecks, benefits or both from HUD and participating in or enabling fraud against taxpayers.
Markquonda Mathis, the HUD employee, sublet the second government-funded apartment to her sister Markquasha, who used it as a place to park her Lexus SUV. The sisters readily discussed the arrangement with housing project managers but they simply looked the other way.
The saga began in February 2012 when Mathis applied to the District of Columbia Housing Authority (DCHA) for space in a subsidized project, citing her HUD salary of $31,000. Just two months later, she signed a lease for a unit of the Gregory Apartments in Southeast D.C.
She was whisked in even though DCHA’s website says “the waitlist is currently closed to new applicants. There is no scheduled time to re-open the waitlist. There are many families and individuals who have applied for housing assistance and are on the waitlist for the public housing.”
Mathis also got a second unit in July 2013 in a housing project in Alexandria, Virginia, and moved there, while keeping the D.C. unit for her sister.
Macretia Tyree, manager of the Gregory Apartments public housing complex and two other employees there knew that Mathis had moved out and allowed someone else to move in, but they did nothing. The subsidized housing complex is managed by a contractor, Vesta Corp.
Meanwhile, Marquisha Dean, regional manager of the Alexandria housing authority, approved that Mathis move into that project, despite the fact that neither the city’s public housing complexes nor its Section 8 program even permit others to apply for help because the waiting list is so long.
A quick check of the federal subsidized housing database would have flagged that Mathis was double-dipping, investigators said. Either D.C. housing officials never entered her information correctly into the system or Alexandria officials did not do the check they claimed to have done.
When HUD’s inspector general eventually caught her, investigators wanted to charge Mathis with grand larceny, but Virginia prosecutors said the housing assistance application forms didn’t ask anti-fraud questions that would set scofflaws up for prosecution.
HUD officials told the IG that Mathis would receive severe disciplinary action at work, and on March 11, 2014, she was informed of a “proposed indefinite suspension” because “the department has reasonable cause to believe that you committed a crime … The investigation concerns the allegation that you are receiving two simultaneously [sic] housing assistance subsidies in the District of Columbia and Alexandria VA [sic].”
But instead of being severely disciplined, Mathis was hastily promoted to a position in charge of giving out millions of tax dollars in federal grants.
For example, on a December 2014 federal grant to Roanoke, Virginia, for lead abatement, Mathis is listed as the administrator in charge of the $2.1 million grant. HUD’s directory lists her as now working in the Grants Services division. A HUD spokesman said that although Mathis is a grants officer, her boss must sign off on final grants she processes.
HUD officials said it was up to DCHA to use civil remedies to recover the stolen money from Mathis, but there is no evidence that was ever done.
A HUD spokesman claimed that federal officials took corrective action in the case by deploying an internal ad campaign for the department’s employees, using the expensive trademarked slogan “if you see something, say something.” The spokesman said simply that HUD has conducted “ethics training” classes for its employees when asked about the Virginia prosecutor’s observation that housing project paperwork didn’t ask key questions required to prosecute those charged with stealing housing benefits.
The spokesman said “the behavior cited in this OIG report is disturbing, disappointing, and in no way reflective of the hard work or values of thousands of HUD employees,” even though all of the HUD grantees and employees involved helped the Mathis fraud occur and none received significant punishment.
The spokesman also said HUD Secretary Julian Castro has “advised HUD employees to work with the IG’s staff to eliminate waste and mismanagement.” Yet the employee who lied to the IG about her own fraud was promoted.
Investigators wrote, “Mathis initially stated her daughter’s grandmother, Yolanda Brown, paid the rent and utilities at The Gregory after Mathis moved to Alexandria, Virginia. Later in the interview, Mathis admitted that her sister, Markquasha Mathis, lived at Penn Place in Landover, Maryland, but sometimes stayed in Mathis’ unit at The Gregory. Mathis could not explain why Brown would pay the rent and maintain the utilities for the unit if no one was living in it.”
A janitor told investigators that “Mathis’ sister told him that Mathis was residing in Virginia. After that, he began to see the sister in and around the complex every day. [He] told agents that Mathis’ sister drove a blue Lexus truck that he always saw parked at the rear of [the] complex…. Mathis’ sister also paid the rent. [He] verbally reported everything to the former property manager, Macretia Tyree.”
Both housing authorities told the IG they would terminate the Mathis lease, but local officials knew of the Markquasha problem for more than a year without moving to eviction. Markquasha tried to negotiate new terms of the lease with building managers, but they refused, saying such an agreement wouldn’t be binding since she was trying to sign Markquonda’s name.
Neither the D.C. nor Alexandria housing authorities would tell TheDCNF if Mathis was ever actually evicted or explain how she got the two units so quickly.
In a statement, the District of Columbia Housing Authority acknowledged the suspicious circumstances surrounding Mathis getting a unit in only two months, without bothering to explain them. “DCHA provides housing and rental assistance to roughly 22,000 District families while another 41,000 families are actively seeking our assistance,” it acknowledged.
It refused to say why it took no action after Mathis admitted to D.C. officials in writing that she was illegally subletting the apartment on year prior, saying that — even though this investigation is complete and fraud was substantiated — “Once an investigation is underway, especially if criminal activity is alleged, publically [sic] commenting directly or indirectly would be inappropriate.”
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