Dayton-area landlord at center of rental aid investigation facing federal fraud charges

A Dayton-area landlord applied for federal COVID rental assistance funds for properties where the rent was already paid by Section 8, according to a recently filed bill of information in federal court.

Court records allege Antoine Draines, through his company Freedom for Living Property Management, committed wire fraud by lying on applications for rental assistance through Miami Valley Community Action Partnership in 2020.

The Dayton Daily News previously revealed the FBI was investigating Freedom for Living after a newspaper investigation found the landlord received rental assistance for months for which tenants say they or another agency paid their rent.

A message left with Draines’ attorney, James Fleisher of Dayton, was not immediately returned Wednesday.

MVCAP’s program was funded with $5 million the agency received from Montgomery County through the federal CARES Act to help keep renters in their homes amid the pandemic.

Court records allege Draines submitted landlord statements falsely stating tenants weren’t receiving rent assistance, inflated back-due rent amounts and applied for funds in the names of people who didn’t live at the properties.

“Through this scheme, Draines, acting with intent to defraud, was effectively able to collect illicit excess rent on certain properties that were owned or managed by Freedom for Living, thereby diverting funds from MVCAP that could have been used to support renters facing housing insecurity as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic,” says the bill of information filed by the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

A Dayton Daily News investigation first revealed that renters who said their rent was paid by Section 8 — or who paid the rent themselves — added that they were unaware Freedom for Living received rent assistance on their behalf.

ExploreDayton Daily News investigates: Landlord received thousands in questionable rental aid

The newspaper’s investigation found Freedom for Living received $410,568 from MVCAP in 2020, the most of any landlord. A reporter visited all the company’s properties that received money through the program and found multiple people who said they or another agency paid their rent for the months MVCAP also covered.

This includes Tammy Smith, who said she paid a portion of her rent and GDPM covered the rest for months when Freedom for Living received $8,400 from MVCAP in someone else’s name at her address.

Smith said she was glad to hear that charges were filed.

“You shouldn’t be allowed to get away with things he was trying to do,” she said.

Greater Dayton Premier Management, the local housing authority that administers the Section 8 program, would not identify how many Freedom for Living properties may have been overpaid through MVCAP, citing privacy laws.

Freedom for Living and its related companies received $368,520 from GDPM in Section 8 vouchers in 2020.

Following the newspaper’s investigation, GDPM looked into Freedom for Living’s activities in the Section 8 program, and based on its findings prohibited the company from receiving any more Section 8 funds.

This investigation — and another in which the newspaper found rental assistance going to uninhabitable properties — caused Montgomery County and MVCAP to tighten their application process in future assistance programs.

MVCAP President Lisa Stempler said her agency “vehemently supports” the investigation into Draines and his company, as well as any investigations of fraud in aid programs.

“MVCAP acknowledges that while the vast majority of people applying for our assistance are submitting legitimate applications, a small percentage of our applications are submitted by bad actors,” she said. “MVCAP has established guardrails in all our programs to help us identify discrepancies and fraud. We continue to work closely with our funding agencies and law enforcement to ensure that MVCAP is a good steward of taxpayer resources.”

Dayton Daily News Investigates

A Dayton Daily News investigation first revealed concerns that the property management company receiving the most money from a local, federally funded rental assistance program appeared to receive aid for apartments already covered by public housing vouchers or for months when the listed tenants didn’t live there. Your subscription makes this work possible.

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