Woman Pleads Guilty To Theft Concerning Programs Receiving Federal Funds

Thursday, July 27, 2017

SAN JUAN, P.R. – Zoraida Velázquez-Bracero plead guilty to an information charging her with theft concerning programs receiving federal funds, announced Rosa Emilia Rodríguez-Vélez, United States Attorney for the District of Puerto Rico. The U.S. Department of Education, Office of Inspector General was in charge of the investigation.

From June 2005 until July, 2015, Velázquez-Bracero was the Purchasing Director at Pontifical Catholic University of Puerto Rico, an entity that receives in excess of $10,000.00 in federal funding in a one year period. In this position, Defendant was issued a University corporate credit card for purchasing goods and supplies for the University as well as arranging official travel for University professors. However, in 2008 Defendant started using this corporate credit card for personal expenses not authorized by the University.

Through direct charges and cash advances, Velázquez-Bracero used this corporate credit card to pay for school tuition, household utility bills and other items, and vacations to Disney World, New York City, Atlanta, Indianapolis, Canada, and France. Defendant concealed the use of this corporate credit card by altering and/or creating fictitious credit card statements wherein she hid the charges by increasing the amounts of other legitimate charges to the card, or by deleting the charges altogether before submitting the statement to the finance department for payment.

Although the original limit on this corporate credit card was $80,000.00, Velázquez-Bracero obtained numerous credit limit increases by forging her supervisor’s signature on letters to the credit card company requesting said increases. Defendant knew that she was affecting federal grants when she illegally used this corporate credit card. The total amount of unauthorized charges by Velázquez-Bracero was $655,432.00.

“The defendant misappropriated funds intended to aid University students, for her illegal personal gain,” said US Attorney Rosa Emilia Rodríguez-Vélez. “At the U.S. Attorney’s Office we will continue to aggressively investigate and prosecute financial crimes. This arrest should discourage those who get involved in these types of schemes before it’s too late, because we will continue investigating and prosecuting these offenses.”

“Federal education funds exist to provide students with educational opportunities and help students make their dreams of higher education a reality, it’s not a personal slush fund,” said Yessyka Santana, Special Agent in Charge of the U.S. Department of Education Office of Inspector General Southeast Regional Office. “I’m proud of the work of OIG special agents, our law enforcement partners, and the PCUPR staff for holding Ms. Velázquez accountable for her alleged criminal actions.”

As a result of the guilty plea, the defendant may be sentenced to a term of eight to fourteen months in prison, a fine not to exceed two hundred fifty thousand dollars ($250,000.00), and/or a term of supervised release of not more than three (3) years. Assistant United States Attorney Scott H. Anderson is in charge of the prosecution of the case.

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Former Worksource DeKalb Supervisor Charged with Bribery

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

ATLANTA – Roderick L. Wyatt, 61, of Stone Mountain, Ga., has been charged with accepting bribe payments in exchange for approving the enrollment of almost 20 students to a local college, through a federal workforce program in DeKalb County. The federal indictment alleges that Wyatt agreed to accept payments from the college president for each student sent to the college through Worksource DeKalb, a federally funded program.

“Wyatt allegedly sold his supervisory position with WorkSource DeKalb for cash. In doing so, he allegedly accepted a “bounty” for each student sent to a specific college,” said U. S. Attorney John A. Horn.

“An important mission of the Office of Inspector General is to investigate allegations of fraud relating to Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act grants issued by the U.S. Department of Labor. We will continue to work with our law enforcement partners to investigate these types of allegations,” said Rafiq Ahmad, Special Agent in Charge, Atlanta Region, U.S. Department of Labor, Office of Inspector General.

Public corruption is the FBI’s top criminal investigative priority because it takes a significant toll on the public’s pocketbooks by siphoning off tax dollars,” said FBI Special Agent in Charge David J. LeValley. “This case is another example of our commitment to combat corruption by investigating public officials who choose to abuse federally funded programs.”

According to United States Attorney Horn, the charges, and other information presented in court: the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act is a federal public law designed to improve and modernize America’s workforce development system by providing dislocated and low-income individuals with the skills and education needed to obtain employment and by providing employers with trained and qualified workers to fill employment vacancies.

WorkSource DeKalb (formerly DeKalb Workforce Development) was a DeKalb County department funded exclusively by the federal Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act. WorkSource DeKalb (“WSD”) served the unemployed and underemployed citizens of DeKalb County by providing work readiness programs, services, and activities necessary to obtain sustainable wages. Using federal funds, WSD paid the cost for unemployed and underemployed individuals to attend pre-screened schools or programs where the individuals gained the technical or vocational skills needed to obtain employment in fields such as nursing, truck driving, or welding. After reviewing the unemployed individuals’ career aspirations and educational interests, WSD staff members recommended the individuals to particular pre-screened schools or programs.

From 2013 to April 2017, Wyatt served as a WSD Employment and Training Supervisor. As a supervisor, Wyatt reviewed and approved the school/program recommendations made by WSD staff members.

In 2014, the president and founder of a pre-screened school that offered its students nursing assistant and medical technician certifications approached Wyatt and offered to pay him for each individual that WSD referred to the College. In 2014 and 2015, Wyatt approved the enrollment of approximately 19 students to the College. The College’s president paid Wyatt $100 for each student approved to attend his school. In total, the College received approximately $82,000 in federal funds under the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act. The name of the college has not been identified in the Information or any of the court pleadings.

This case is being investigated by the Department of Labor – Office of the Inspector General and Federal Bureau of Investigation.

Assistant United States Attorney Jeffrey W. Davis and Special Assistant United States Attorney Tyler Man prosecuting the case.

For further information please contact the U.S. Attorney’s Public Affairs Office at USAGAN.PressEmails@usdoj.gov or (404) 581-6016. The Internet address for the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of Georgia is http://www.justice.gov/usao-ndga.

Georgia Real Estate Investor Convicted of Bid Rigging and Bank Fraud at Public Foreclosure Auctions

Friday, June 16, 2017

A federal jury convicted a real estate investor of bid rigging and bank fraud related to public foreclosure auctions held in Georgia, the Department of Justice announced today.

Douglas L. Purdy was convicted today following a two-week trial before the Honorable Richard W. Story in Gainesville, Georgia.  The jury convicted Purdy on one count of bid rigging and two counts of bank fraud for participating in the charged conspiracy and scheme at Forsyth County, Georgia, foreclosure auctions from 2008 to 2011.

The evidence at trial showed that Purdy and his co-conspirators agreed not to compete for real estate at foreclosure auctions in Forsyth County and defrauded lender banks and homeowners.  Among other methods, the conspirators held secret “second auctions” of properties they had obtained through rigged bids, dividing among themselves the auction proceeds that should have gone to pay off debts against the properties and, in some cases, to homeowners.

A federal grand jury in the Northern District of Georgia returned an indictment against Purdy on Feb. 3, 2016.  Including Purdy’s conviction, 23 real estate investors have either pleaded guilty or been convicted after trial as a result of the Department’s ongoing antitrust investigations into bid rigging at public foreclosure auctions in the Atlanta area.

The Antitrust Division’s Washington Criminal II Section and the FBI’s Atlanta Division conducted the investigation, with assistance from the U.S. Attorney’s Office of the Northern District of Georgia.  Anyone with information concerning bid rigging or fraud related to real estate foreclosure auctions should contact the Washington Criminal II Section of the Antitrust Division at 202-598-4000 or call the FBI tip line at 415-553-7400.