Multnomah County Increases Rent Assistance Fraud Prevention


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A grand jury returned an indictment last month accusing a Portland man of illegally obtaining Multnomah County COVID-19 rent assistance funds intended for struggling renters. The total amount of fraud, according to prosecutors, was approximately $260,000. The stolen funds came from Multnomah County’s General Fund. 

The suspected fraud was discovered by an alert Multnomah County employee who recognized false information in an emergency rent assistance application. The case was quickly reported to law enforcement and referred to the Multnomah County District Attorney’s Office.

“We commend the vigilance of the Multnomah County employee who uncovered this suspected fraud,” said Department of County Human Services Director Mohammad Bader. “As a result of this case, we are taking further steps to strengthen our processes and further improve our safeguards.” 

Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, state, local and federal governments have observed an increase in fraudulent activity related to emergency relief. The federal government alone has distributed $46 billion in housing stability funds throughout the pandemic. While the vast majority of that funding went to legitimate causes, it also opened the door to fraudsters. To date, the U.S. Justice Department has seized more than $1.4 billion in stolen federal COVID-19 relief funds from at least 3,000 defendants. 

Over the past four years, Multnomah County and a network of public and nonprofit organizations have distributed more than $230 million in general housing assistance funds and COVID-19 emergency rent assistance. The County has discovered four fraudulent claims including applicants presenting false identifications and other information that appears on the surface to be truthful. When fraud is discovered, the County takes immediate legal action by notifying law enforcement and undergoes an immediate analysis resulting in long term and sustained quality improvement. 

An internal analysis found that the County has numerous checks in place to confirm the validity of landlords, property managers and tenants. The County is continuing to develop system improvements to further detect and prevent applicants who submit false information from receiving aid. Among the improvements being implemented are:

  • In person site visits to verify some application and vendor information.
  • Lists of providers/vendors that have been fully vetted for case managers to reference during the review process.
  • Improved review of multi-tenant situations to ensure that all application material is valid.
  • Frequent supervisory review of all applications prior to approving them for payment.
  • Further codifying “red flags” for case managers to look for when gathering application information from the tenant and landlord/property manager.

The County’s steps are designed to reduce long-term risk from bad actors.

“This case sends a clear message that Multnomah County takes every instance of rent assistance fraud seriously,” Bader said. “We’ll continue working tirelessly to prevent and identify fraud and ensure those who engage in this illegal activity are detected and held accountable.”

A grand jury returned a true bill of indictment on Friday, Nov. 17 for 28 charges, including 21 counts of Aggravated Identity Theft, three counts of Theft in the First Degree, and one count of Laundering Monetary Instrument. The defendant was arraigned on the charges on Monday, Nov. 20. A charging instrument is only an accusation of a crime, and the defendant is innocent unless and until proven guilty.  

Source: Multnomah County

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