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Arrested Hernando housing board member and resident denies fraud charges

BROOKSVILLE — In the booking photo snapped after her arrest Wednesday, tears stream down the cheeks of Brenda Yvette Colondres.

But by Thursday evening, a day after Colondres was released from jail on bail, the sadness had turned to anger.

"I follow the laws," Colondres told the Times in a phone interview. "I haven't done anything wrong."

Colondres, who was appointed by the Brooksville City Council in May to serve as a resident member of the Brooksville Housing Authority board, adamantly denies accusations she allowed her on-again, off-again boyfriend to live in her subsidized apartment in Hillside Estates or that she falsified information on her lease so her rent would remain low.

She was arrested Wednesday and charged with one count of grand theft and one count of public assistance housing fraud. The charges were the result of a joint investigation between the Brooksville Police Department and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Colondres contends she is the victim of retaliation by her estranged boyfriend, Tekova Castillo, 31, with whom she has a 1-year-old son, and that she has been treated unfairly by the police. She maintains that Castillo lives with his mother in Brooksville and would stay at the apartment occasionally to visit her and the baby.

Castillo could not be reached Friday for comment. He has not been charged because his name was not on the housing application.

Colondres, who currently works as a cashier for a KFC restaurant, acknowledges that relatives have stayed in her subsidized apartment in Hillside Estates, but said she notified the housing authority office, and that she has always submitted pay stubs to verify her income.

"Yes, I've had some family who have fallen on the ground and I had to help pick them up," she said.

Investigators confirmed Colondres shared the three-bedroom apartment with Castillo for at least two years, Police Chief George Turner said Wednesday after issuing a press release on the arrest. Castillo has a full-time job, so the rent could have been as high as $450 a month, Turner said. Instead, Colondres paid an average of $25 a month.

The Police Department brought in HUD investigators to help search payroll records and credit card receipts and talk to neighbors. There was at least one month when Colondres did pay more when someone else lived there, Turner said. Had Colondres been completely forthright, however, she would have paid an estimated $13,000 more in rent over three years, investigators said.

The investigation has now expanded to other residents who may be defrauding the authority, and more arrests are pending.

Investigators started looking into Colondres after a Sept. 10 incident at the Continental Drive apartment. Castillo asked for officers to be present at the apartment that day as he gathered belongings.

A Brooksville Police report gives this account:

Officers knocked on the door, and Colondres' 14-year-old daughter let them in. Colondres arrived a short time later and started shouting when she saw Castillo trying to take a computer. The officers explained that they could not allow him to take contested property, so Castillo snapped photos of some items and left with some bags of belongings. Colondres calmed down and apologized to the officers before they left.

Colondres now says the officers pushed open the door without permission from her daughter. She said Castillo took other property, including a television and a video game console. She later brought to the Police Department a letter from the property manager, Nickie Braz, stating that Castillo did not live there. Colondres demanded that Castillo be arrested.

Turner then called housing authority director Tommy Brooks. During that conversation, Turner recalled, Brooks said he was aware of the letter, that Castillo did not live in the apartment and had no right to be inside taking items, and that the Police Department had mishandled the matter.

"We knew for a fact he did live there, no matter what their paperwork said," Turner said. "Our guys don't just go and help people break into houses."

Ten days after the incident, Turner came to the housing authority board meeting at the invitation of board member Gary Schraut. Both Turner and Schraut were unaware that the woman involved was Colondres and sitting behind the dais. As Turner addressed the board, Colondres shook her head and blurted out that Castillo did not live in the apartment, Schraut and Turner recalled.

The board attorney immediately halted the discussion.

Reached Friday, Turner declined to comment on Colondres' statements.

"She has some serious felonies that she's facing, and she needs to tell her stories to her lawyer," Turner said. "Our facts stand for themselves. All that will be forwarded to the prosecutor's office.

Brooks also declined to comment to the Times, citing the ongoing investigation.

Colondres already had pending legal troubles. She was detained on Oct. 17 at Bealls Outlet in Brooksville after an employee saw her placing several pieces of costume jewelry in her purse, records show. She was given a notice to appear in court for retail theft.

The board will likely recommend to the City Council that Colondres be removed, housing authority board Chairman Randy Woodruff said. The council will consider Colondres' status soon, Mayor Frankie Burnett said.

Colondres said she started volunteering at the housing authority office in Hillside Estates, just around the corner from her apartment, to satisfy the eight hours of monthly community service required by HUD. She then decided to seek appointment to the housing board, which is required to have resident representation.

"That's all I wanted to do," she said, "was make a difference in the community."

Tony Marrero can be reached at (352) 848-1431 or tmarrero@sptimes.com.

Arrested Hernando housing board member and resident denies fraud charges 11/11/11 [Last modified: Saturday, November 12, 2011 10:48am]
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