ST. CLAIR, MICH. - Lorena Loren was supposed to help poor people obtain affordable housing.
Instead, prosecutors say, she was stealing from the poor to buy booze, makeup, clothes and homes for her relatives.
But after years of scheming, authorities say, the government caught on.
In a public corruption case that surfaced in federal court today, Loren, the former executive director of the St. Clair Housing Commission, was charged with embezzling more than $300,000 in low-income housing funds and spending the money on herself and family.
According to a charging document filed in U.S. District Court, Loren's scheme ran between 2008-2016 and benefited many family members, including her husband, son and son-in-law.
Prosecutors say Loren's criminal activity started in 2008 — five years after she was appointed executive director of the St. Clair Housing Commission, which administers federally funded low-income housing programs in St. Clair County.
According to court records, Loren used her job in many nefarious ways, including:
- She fraudulently used the housing commission's two credit cards to buy personal items for herself and relatives, including nearly $135,000 in online purchases from Amazon.com; $14,364 in purchases from Sam's Club in Port Huron, and $16,460 in purchases from various Walmart stores. The purchases included, among other things, adult and infant clothing, furniture, food, beauty supplies, medications and alcoholic beverages.
- Her unauthorized Amazon.com purchases included $60,000 worth of bedroom furniture, mattresses, appliances and other household items for family members. The items were shipped to Loren's relatives in Georgia and Florida.
- She embezzled $24,600 in commission funds to pay for her son's rental unit.
- She lied on four government housing contracts by claiming that her son-in-law was the landlord of a rental property for low-income residents in Michigan, when it was really her home in Port Austin.
- She falsified lease agreements and stole public housing money that was supposed to help poor people to rent a home for her son.
- She "directed members of her family to establish bank accounts" so that federal rental subsidy payments could be deposited into those accounts. The relatives then used the money for their own personal use, including rent for their Florida residences.
Loren, who now lives in Georgia, could not be reached for comment. No attorney of record has yet been assigned to the case or appeared on the court document.
Loren is charged in what is known as an information, which typically means she is working on a deal with the government. She is charged with conspiracy to commit federal program fraud. If convicted, she faces up to five years in prison.
►Make it easy to keep up to date with more stories like this. Download the WZZM 13 app now.
© 2017 Detroit Free Press