Trio charged with grand theft, embezzlement after allegedly stealing public funds meant to help homeless in L.A.
Three people have been charged with multiple counts of fraud and embezzlement in connection with an alleged scam to steal hundreds of thousands of dollars in public funds meant to help the unhoused, California’s attorney general announced Thursday.
Two of the three women worked for the Los Angeles-based nonprofit People Assisting the Homeless, known as PATH, which in 2016 received a contract from the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority to help transition unhoused people and families into affordable housing.
But Atty. Gen. Rob Bonta alleges that the trio, rather than helping the neediest, pocketed hundreds of thousands of dollars for themselves in 2017 using an elaborate scheme that involved funneling money to supposedly homeless people who actually had homes.“By helping families secure a roof over their heads, taxpayer-funded programs like PATH provide Californians in need with an invaluable resource, ” Bonta said in a statement announcing the charges.
“When these programs are taken advantage of or stolen from, the individuals and families who depend on them are the most harmed. ”After what it said was an extensive Los Angeles Police Department investigation, Bonta’s office last month charged Latoi Pledger, 45, Sareena Stevenson, 44, and Valencia Stevenson, 40, with 56 felonies allegedly committed in 2017, including grand theft and embezzlement, as well as a special allegation of aggravated white-collar crime with loss of more than $100, 000. The Stevensons are related, according to authorities.
The three were arrested in late September and early October. All have entered not-guilty pleas in Los Angeles Superior Court and are due back in court next month. PATH reported the alleged malfeasance to the police and cooperated in the investigation.“As an organization dedicated to ending homelessness for individuals, families, and communities, we are appalled that people would take away valuable resources from vulnerable, unhoused people, ” the organization said in a statement issued by Tyler Renner, its media director. Renner said that about $400, 000 was taken. He said PATH reimbursed LAHSA for the lost funds and the nonprofit’s insurance company covered some of the loss. After PATH secured the LAHSA contract, the women allegedly exploited a system meant to pay for housing for homeless people. Prosecutors say the women submitted fraudulent referrals and financial assistance requests to PATH for clients who were not homeless and ineligible to receive money. Those fake clients included their “associates, friends, and families, whose identities they manipulated through forged and falsified materials, such as leases and income documents so that they appeared eligible for PATH assistance, ” prosecutors allege.“This was a very lengthy and complex investigation, ” said LAPD Capt. Lillian Carranza. “The victims of these crimes deserve justice and due process.