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Brooksville Housing Authority's facts don't add up, yet, about any possible rent fraud

There's actually some encouraging news about the Brooksville Housing Authority:

Board member and resident Brenda Colondres, who has been accused of defrauding the authority, agreed to resign from the board last week.

And there's some even better news: When asked about reports that Colondres had cheated the authority out of about $13,000, board member Gary Schraut told the Times that executive director Tommy Brooks also had some explaining to do.

"I'm going to have questions for my director, because he's the guy on the ground," Schraut said.

Though the rest of the board didn't discuss this brewing mess at the advice of its attorney at last Tuesday's meeting, I hope they feel the same way.

Please ask questions. Lots of them.

Brooks, it's true, looks good compared to his predecessors, especially Betty Trent, the flat-out crook who ran the place for 26 years. In 2007, she was convicted in federal court of stealing about $40,000 intended to refurbish the authority's apartment complexes, Summit Villas and Hillside Estates.

With Brooks in charge, maintenance has improved. There are fewer signs of drug dealing and more kids playing peacefully on the street.

The federal Department of Housing and Urban Development, which removed the authority's "troubled" label last month, found its records are in order, apartments no longer sit empty for long periods and rent is collected on time.

Okay, but look closer at Colondres' case. She lived at Hillside quite openly with a boyfriend who had a full-time job but was not on the lease, said Brooksville Police Chief George Turner.

When this boyfriend, Tekova Castillo, asked police to accompany him as he moved out in September, Turner said, officers could see that "everything he owned was there."

Castillo had enough money, receipts show, to buy most of the apartment's furniture, Turner said. Meanwhile, Colondres paid as little as $15 a month in rent.

More disturbing, Colondres produced a letter from the authority stating that Castillo was not a resident.

Brooks, who hung up the phone when I tried to ask him about this, told Turner in a private conversation he knew about the letter. When Turner later brought it up at an authority board meeting, Brooks said it was the first he'd heard of it, Turner said.

"I think I told him, 'You are being dishonest, and I am out of here,' " Turner said.

One case like Colondres' is bad enough. Brooksville Police and HUD are investigating several more, Turner said, and have produced evidence such as monthly cable and electric bills paid by people who supposedly don't live in the apartment complexes.

What's the big deal? Well, people who take rent breaks they don't deserve are basically stealing federal money.

Worse, they are taking an apartment from a family that really needs it. And in Hernando, goodness knows, there are plenty that do.

So ask Brooks about Colondres. And if the investigation finds more accused rent cheats, ask Brooks about them, too.

As Schraut pointed out, Brooks is the one who spends his days there. He should have some answers.

That is the board's job: making sure executive directors do theirs. And it is exactly what earlier boards failed to do when confronted with many signs of Trent's corruption.

Of course, there's no indication that the problems now compare with the ones in Trent's times.

As HUD says, the authority is no longer troubled. But what Turner is finding there sure is troubling.

Brooksville Housing Authority's facts don't add up, yet, about any possible rent fraud 11/19/11 [Last modified: Saturday, November 19, 2011 12:09pm]
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