AJC Watchdog: First Alert

Keeping watch on those who hold the public trust and money

Georgia woman admits stealing money intended for low-income housing

Half the population in Nicholls, Georgia, resides in the Coffee County Correctional Facility, at least according to census counts. The city is also known for horse shows at Wiregrass Arena. Now, one of its newest residents is a focus of federal attention.

Lorena Loren owns a custom-built, 2,858 square foot Nicholls home, with salt water pool, 24-foot ceilings and a detached man cave, we've learned courtesy of the Detroit News. Footing the bill for the home were federal taxpayers -- whose money was supposed to go to provide low-income housing in Michigan.

Tuesday, Loren agreed to plead guilty to conspiracy to commit federal program fraud, a crime for which the maximum sentence is 5 years in prison.

Loren was executive director of the St. Clair, Mich., Housing Commission, from 2003 through August 2016, running low-income housing programs funded by HUD. But from 2008 through August 2016, in various ways, "she did embezzle, steal, obtain by fraud, convert to her own use and intentionally misapplied federal funds..." her plea agreement says.

Other records show her son and daughter had homes in Georgia.

In 2016, Loren abruptly retired and moved to the Nicholls home.

Court records don't show how the fraud came to light.

The plea deal requires her to forfeit assets to repay $336,240, the approximate amount she unlawfully took. She also must cooperate with the ongoing federal investigation of the conspiracy. Loren, who is 56, is to be sentenced in January.

Read the Detroit News story by clicking here: http://www.detroitnews.com/story/news/local/michigan/2017/08/29/booze-buying-thieving-st-clair-housing-official-pleads-guilty/105092712/

HUD has struggled for years with oversight of spending for housing programs. This month alone, according to news reports, an Ohio housing agency is reportedly under investigation for misappropriation of funds;  the HUD inspector general reported that a Kentucky housing authority can't account for more than $2.7 millionanother audit raised questions about more than $2 million in spending by a Rhode Island housing authority; and yet another audit found inconsistencies in spending by a California city.

Read about these and other concerns at the website of the HUD inspector general: https://www.hudoig.gov/newsroom/news

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About the Author

Lois Norder is Senior Editor for Investigations in the newsroom at The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.