In a notoriously expensive city, people will do anything to get a break on housing costs. They might hide a relative, change their name or suggest they earn less than they really do.
But six women went too far and were arrested in a particularly imaginative scheme for seeking the government’s help with rent payments, officials said on Tuesday.
The women have been charged with submitting fraudulent documents — including forged police reports and court orders — to portray themselves as victims of domestic violence in an apparent attempt to jump to the front of a long waiting list for government subsidized apartments, said Rose Gill Hearn, the commissioner of the city’s Department of Investigation.
Since she took her position in 2002, Ms. Gill Hearn has seen hundreds of housing fraud cases a year “of different permutations,” she said. “But this is the first time that D.O.I. has investigated and uncovered individuals who are engaging in housing fraud by posing as victims of domestic violence.”
The desire for lucrative government subsidies is deep.
As of Sept. 22, there were 127,764 families on the New York City Housing Authority’s waiting list for Section 8 vouchers, said Howard Marder, a spokesman for the agency.
The voucher program can be worth thousands of dollars a year; tenants who qualify for the subsidy must pay 30 percent of their adjusted gross income toward the rent, while the remainder is taken care of with federal money passed through the authority to a landlord.
The city Housing Authority is accepting Section 8 applications from only three groups of people: victims of domestic violence; those referred by prosecutors who are deemed intimidated witnesses in criminal cases; and certain people referred by the city’s Administration for Children’s Services.
It was similarities in some police reports and other documents — picked out by a Housing Authority manager — that drew attention to the six women in the current series of cases, officials said. The manager reported the irregularities, and the Department of Investigation began an inquiry in May.
On July 1, three people were arrested: Barbara Goss, 52, of Manhattan; Chevelle Richardson, 38; and Ms. Richardson’s daughter, Chandera Richardson, 20, officials said. The elder Ms. Richardson filed an application for Section 8 housing on Jan. 29 claiming that her daughter had been the victim of domestic violence, the officials said.
The application, and a similar one from Ms. Goss, included a court-issued temporary order of protection, a domestic incident report from the Police Department and a letter from Safe Horizon, an agency that works with domestic violence victims. All of the documents were forged, officials said.
On July 15, Shanelle Reed, 28, of Queens, was arrested and on Tuesday, Neri Garces, 44, of Yonkers, was arrested, officials said. The sixth woman, Deshanna Graham, 29, is in custody in Pennsylvania, officials said.
All of the cases are being prosecuted by the office of Robert M. Morgenthau, the Manhattan district attorney. The women face charges including criminal possession of a forged instrument in the second degree and third degree, and offering a false instrument for filing.
It was not immediately clear if the six women collaborated. Asked about the cluster of cases arising at once, Ms. Gill Hearn said that the women were charged separately, but that the investigation was continuing.
A call to the Legal Aid Society, which has represented some of the women, was not immediately returned. Enrico Demarco, a lawyer appointed by the court to represent Ms. Garces, said after her arraignment on Tuesday that “at this point she is denying the allegations and has entered a plea of not guilty.”
Copyright 2009 The New York Times Company