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Office of Inspector General Worked with CHS to Save Taxpayers from $1.3 Million in Fraudulent Grant Applications

The Clerk’s Office of Inspector General (OIG) recently conducted training for approximately 45 members of the Board of County Commissioner’s Community and Human Services (CHS) staff and the Clerk’s Finance staff, to review the results of the OIG investigations into grant applications referred to the OIG by departments. The grant applicants were requesting financial assistance under the federal Emergency Rental Assistance program, which makes funding available to assist households that are unable to pay rent or utilities as a result of COVID-19. 

These grant requests were initially flagged by the CHS staff and referred to the OIG starting in April 2022. To date, 76 grant applications were referred, totaling $1,373,792.91Only one application for $3,200 was subsequently cleared for payment by the OIG. 

Of the applications submitted, the OIG discovered that the identities of three Collier County residents and one Miami-Dade County resident were stolen and utilized on two Collier ERAP applications. Two individuals were turned over to law enforcement and subsequently arrested on this case. 

The remaining grant applications were not cleared for payment, due to apparently fraudulent information identified. Staff were alerted to several indicators of fraud in these grant requests including: 

  • Counterfeit driver’s licenses or state identifications 
  • Inconsistent supporting documentation  
  • Supporting documents that appeared to be “created” or altered  
  • Counterfeit documents created to justify the required COVID-19 Impact justification of loss or reduction of hours of employment 
  • “Created” templates used for lease/rental agreements and rental ledgers
  • Past due rent requested which was inconsistent with the value of the property (such as $1,900 in monthly rent requested for a home valued at $12.6 million)     
  • Unusual contact information provided for landlords or property managers  
  • Incomplete, inaccurate and altered IRS tax returns  
  • Inconsistencies with notaries used to attest to documents filed 

OIG Senior Investigator Ramos reviewed samples of these instances of fraud in his presentation, and he provided specific recommendations for staff to assist them in identifying potentially fraudulent claims in the future. Staff were encouraged to continue to seek assistance from the OIG if they questioned specific requests, or if they determined the applications to be fraudulent.   

The OIG continues to collect information about potentially fraudulent filings to review for commonalities, and to determine if there is enough evidence to refer to law enforcement. Additionally, the OIG has discussed our findings with other inspectors general throughout the state, and assembled action items to help identify and deter future fraudulent submissions. 

If you witness fraud, waste, abuse, mismanagement or misconduct in Collier County government processes, you are encouraged to report it online here.