BROOKSVILLE — Prosecutors have decided to drop their case against a woman accused of cheating the Brooksville Housing Authority out of thousands of dollars in rent money.
Brenda Yvette Colondres, 31, was arrested in November and charged with welfare fraud and grand theft. Since then, what started as a strong case against Colondres has collapsed, said Assistant State Attorney Matt Pila, who made the decision to abandon the case a few days before Colondres' Aug. 20 trial date.
"It wasn't a case I could prove beyond a reasonable doubt," Pila said.
Colondres, who was serving as resident member of the housing authority board at the time of her arrest, was charged after her on-again, off-again boyfriend, Tekova Castillo, told Brooksville police he had lived for years in Colondres' government-subsidized apartment in Hillside Estates. Colondres has a young son with Castillo.
Colondres should have amended her lease application if Castillo lived there because monthly rents are based on household income. Castillo has worked since 2006 as an elections specialist at the Hernando County Supervisor of Elections Office, so Colondres paid about $14,000 less than she should have over the course of about three years, investigators said.
The first major blow came when Castillo recanted his statement. At that time, Pila said he would move forward because other neighbors planned to testify that they saw Castillo routinely come and go from the three-bedroom apartment.
Brooksville police Chief George Turner has said he was confident Castillo's original statement was truthful because detectives, working with investigators from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, accumulated other evidence, such as financial records, that indicated Castillo lived there for least two years.
Then Pila learned that Castillo was planning to testify on Colondres' behalf.
"Anytime your star witness becomes a witness for the other side, it's kind of a problem," Pila said.
A few days before the trial date, Pila found out that Colondres had been approved for continued federal housing assistance, despite her pending charges. The fact could have been used to her advantage in court, Pila said.
"That just flabbergasted me," he said. "It was the final nail in the coffin."
It was unclear why Colondres was approved for more assistance, given her legal case. Tommy Brooks, executive director for the city authority, did not return a call. A spokeswoman for HUD did not respond to an email query by the Tampa Bay Times on Wednesday.
Colondres has steadfastly maintained her innocence. In a previous interview with the Times, she said Castillo was only visiting her and, more recently, their young son. When the couple had a falling out, Colondres said, Castillo tried to retaliate against her by going to police with accusations that she was defrauding the housing authority
Her attorney, Jimmy Brown, has said Castillo was angry and told investigators what they wanted to hear. He recanted after he realized the consequences that his story could have for the mother of his child, Brown said.
Castillo has declined to comment and did not return a message left Wednesday at the elections office.
Pila and his office made the right decision, Brown said Wednesday.
"It would not have been, especially at this stage, a good use of taxpayer money for going after someone for misusing taxpayer money," Brown said.
Colondres had rejected a plea deal that would have required her to pay restitution and serve probation, but avoid jail time. If convicted, she faced a maximum of five years in prison and a $5,000 fine.
Had Colondres been convicted, Pila and Brown said, a judge likely would have sentenced her to probation and ordered her to pay restitution because she does not have a lengthy criminal record. She was convicted in March on a misdemeanor retail theft charge, county records show.
The Brooksville City Council appointed Colondres to the housing board in May 2011 and removed her from the volunteer position after her arrest.
She currently is enrolled in technical school and is not with Castillo, Brown said.
Tony Marrero can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (352) 848-1431.