Local landlord pleads guilty in federal rental assistance fraud case

A local landlord accused of defrauding a federally funded emergency rental assistance program pleaded guilty in federal court this morning to one count of wire fraud.

Antoine Draines entered a guilty plea as part of a plea agreement with the U.S. Attorney’s Office. The agreement recommends a prison term of no more than 27 months, supervised release and unspecified fines and restitution.

The charge carries a maximum penalty of up to 20 years in prison and $250,000 in fines.

A sentencing hearing before Judge Thomas Rose is scheduled for July 12.

“There are mitigating circumstances that will be presented at the next hearing,” Draines’ attorney, James P. Fleisher, said when asked for comment after Tuesday’s plea hearing.

A Dayton Daily News investigation revealed that Draines ― through his company, Freedom for Living Property Management — collected rent assistance payments on behalf of tenants without their knowledge, including some whose rent was covered by public assistance programs such as Section 8.

Freedom for Living was paid $410,568 through a federal CARES Act program created by Montgomery County and administered by Miami Valley Community Action Partnership to help people stay in their homes amid the pandemic.

Federal charging documents allege Draines in 2020 created fraudulent applications for rental assistance with MVCAP, sometimes lying about the identity of tenants or not reporting that he was already collecting rent from other sources.

“In basic terms, Draines lied to MVCAP so he could collect money that was not needed or was not used to cover rental obligations for tenants,” said Assistant U.S. Attorney George Painter reading the charges into the record in federal court.

The charges to which Draines pleaded guilty say he fraudulently received at least $150,000.

As part of its investigation, the Dayton Daily News spoke to multiple Freedom for Living tenants — many in Butler Twp. — who said they didn’t know Freedom for Living received rent assistance at their property and that they or some agency paid all or some of their rent for the same months the company billed MVCAP.

Amid the newspaper’s investigation, Greater Dayton Premier Management removed Freedom for Living from the Section 8 program for suspected fraud, and Montgomery County and other agencies announced measures to better protect against fraud in pandemic relief programs.

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