Former Victoria Housing Authority commissioner arrested on theft, fraud charges

Jessica Priest By Jessica Priest

Feb. 24, 2014 at 9:01 p.m.
Updated Feb. 23, 2014 at 8:24 p.m.

A former Victoria Housing Authority commissioner is charged with stealing from the government for more than 15 years.

An indictment naming Raquel Garcia, 37, was unsealed Monday in the federal court in Corpus Christi.

She was arrested Thursday.

Federal prosecutors allege Garcia received nearly $175,000 in rent reductions she was not entitled to from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, or HUD.

She is also accused of fraudulently receiving nearly $110,000 in income from the Social Security Administration for her son and herself.

Garcia was living at an apartment on Fillmore Street from 1998 until last July and hid that her husband was living with her and his income, according to court documents.

Garcia was on the Victoria Housing Authority board for two consecutive two-year terms from 2006 to 2010.

HUD requires a resident to be on every housing authority's board of commissioners that are allowed to serve two, two-year terms, Victoria Housing Authority Director Debbie Gillespie said.

"We unfortunately don't have tenants who want to participate in the resident advisory board, so we kind of pulled staff to come up with a model tenant to turn in a name to the mayor to be appointed to that position," Gillespie said. "That's how she served on our board of commissioners."

The other board members are selected by and appointed by the mayor, she said.

"She was a model renter at the time. ... We also have two Victoria County Sheriff's Office deputies on our staff that we get recommendations from as well because they are the ones out working with our tenants," Gillespie said.

Garcia was living in one of the 321 public housing apartments in Victoria, where each person's rent depends on their total family composition and income.

A family of one must make between $11,400 or $30,350 a year to qualify for public housing while a family of two must make between $13,000 and $34,700 to qualify.

The Housing Authority has apartments on Crestwood Drive, Fillmore Street, Lova Drive, Cameron Street, South Depot Street, East Street and Leary Lane, Gillespie said.

The Housing Authority runs a criminal background check, a sex offender background check and a credit history report on prospective tenants.

In its rules, the Housing Authority requires tenants to notify it of any change in the number of apartment occupants within 10 days or face eviction.

The Victoria Housing Authority opened in 1950, she said.

A sheriff's deputy started the investigation on Garcia, but Gillespie declined to go into detail about what made him notice things were awry.

When contacted Monday afternoon, Bill Ruddock, who is on the Victoria Housing Authority's board of commissioners, said he has worked with Garcia before but declined to comment further.

If convicted, Garcia faces up to 10 years in federal prison for the one count of theft of HUD government funds and up to five years on each of the two SSA fraud charges. All charges also carry a possible $250,000 fine.

Garcia appeared before U.S. Magistrate Judge B. Janice Ellington in Corpus Christi on Monday afternoon, where she requested appointed counsel.

Her bond was set at $20,000, and she is scheduled to be arraigned at 9 a.m. Thursday.

The Office of Inspector General for HUD and the Social Security Administration investigated.

Assistant United States attorneys Jeffrey D. Preston and Hugo R. Martinez are prosecuting the case.



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