Investigative Group

EXCLUSIVE: No Explanation For Why Feds’ Hunt For Public Housing Fugitives Was Quietly Ended

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Ethan Barton Managing Editor

A federal law enforcement program that led to the arrest of nearly 9,000 fugitives living illegally in taxpayer-funded public housing and wanted for rape, murder and other serious crimes quietly ended about five years ago, The Daily Caller News Foundation’s Investigative Group has learned.

The Fugitive Felon Initiative – a partnership between the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s (HUD) Inspector General (IG), the U.S. Marshals Service and the National Crime Information Center (NCIC) – ended around 2012, TheDCNF found. The U.S. Marshals confirmed the initiative no longer existed in its original form but claimed the partnership that uncovered close to 9,000 fugitives illegally receiving government aid had evolved to “routine information sharing.”

“The original [document] outlining the ‘initiative’ laid the groundwork for formally sharing information,” U.S. Marshals spokesman Dave Oney told TheDCNF. “That has evolved over time to routine information sharing. It is continuing as part of normal business now and is therefore not a special separate initiative. The ‘initiative’ laid the groundwork for what successfully continues today.”

However, more than “information sharing,” the Fugitive Felon Initiative specifically targeted dangerous fugitives residing in public housing.

Nearly 9,000 Arrests, Then Sudden Silence

The Fugitive Felon Initiative was established after the Government Accountability Office (GAO) “questioned” the IG about its “lack of enforcement of” a 1996 federal law that allows wanted criminals to be immediately evicted from public housing, according to HUD’s 2004 budget justification to Congress.

The initiative placed “a strong emphasis on apprehending fugitive felons involved in gangs, homicides, sexual assaults, or crimes against the elderly and children,” one IG report said.

HUD estimated that 38,000 fugitives lived in federally-subsided homes in 2004 and predicted the figure could increase by 5,000 each month.

Eliminating “5,000 ineligible recipients per month … could help [HUD] avoid ineligible subsidies that could total up to $24 million annually,” the 2004 budget justification said.

The partnership promptly removed dangerous individuals from public housing.

Eleven people living in federally-funded housing in Cleveland were arrested for larceny, rape, probation and drug allegations in 2011, for example. Likewise, nine tenants in New Orleans who “allegedly failed to appear for court hearings involving rape, murder, assault, sexual assault, or assault of a child,” among other crimes were arrested in 2010.

The program led to nearly 9,000 apprehensions between 2002 and 2012 — the last year the IG published arrest data and information under the initiative before all references to the initiative disappeared from reports to Congress.

Oney did not know why the IG stopped reporting the arrests, and the IG did not respond to a request for comment.

The Initiative Ended, New Arrest Data Is Unknown

The “special separate initiative” was replaced with “routine information sharing,” Oney said, but evidence suggests fugitives living in HUD-funded homes aren’t being targeted as they were before the program’s termination.

The U.S. Marshals officers don’t seek out fugitives based on whether they live in HUD housing, and the IG couldn’t verify related data for any years since 2012. Conflicting reports also question how much the two agencies are now cooperating in identifying and removing such fugitives.

“It is important to note that the Marshals Service does not track fugitive cases due to any association with federally-subsidized housing, nor do we arrest fugitives based solely on their reported addresses,” Oney told TheDCNF.

The IG told Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Sen. Chuck Grassley twice in the last year that the U.S. Marshals haven’t requested assistance. Additionally, the U.S. Marshals couldn’t produce any records in response to a Freedom of Information Act request TheDCNF filed for communications regarding fugitives in HUD-funded homes between the two agencies from 2012 and 2016.

The “U.S. Marshals have not, to my knowledge, requested our presence during my tenure at this organization,” then-IG David Montoya wrote in a June 2016 letter to Grassley, noting that it would be “difficult” to support such a request because of other responsibilities. Grassley is an Iowa Republican.

The two agencies coordinate on regional and local levels and exchange information through the FBI Criminal Justice Information Services, which may explain why headquarters for the two groups were unaware of coordination, according to Oney.

“This might help explain why then-IG Montoya would not have seen any requests for assistance at his level,” he told TheDCNF. “We also have no record of any requests because we don’t track those local relationships, but that does not mean the agencies are not working together. We definitely are.”

Oney noted that the IG and the U.S. Marshals shared information as recently as this summer.

Montoya vacated his position without public notice soon after sending the letter to Grassley, which also included mischaracterizations and inaccuracies about TheDCNF’s reporting on the IG.

The IG discovered 1,300 fugitives living in taxpayer-funded homes in just one region, it wrote in a 2012 report that was never published due to concerns about the data’s accuracy, TheDCNF previously revealed.

The watchdog was able to verify some of that data in 2016, but it told Grassley that its investigators had been unable to match HUD data with the NCIC database since 2012 and that they had received no new requests from the U.S. Marshals.

Regardless, it’s impossible to tell how many fugitives living in HUD-funded homes has been arrested since the IG stopped publishing the data in 2012. The U.S. Marshals don’t report those figures.

“The [U.S. Marshals do] not maintain any data on the number of actual arrests made as a result of the information exchange” between the IG and the U.S. Marshals, Oney said.

GAO is investigating the extent of fugitive felons living in HUD-funded homes and the IG’s role in enforcing the federal law barring such tenants as a result of a request from Grassley.

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