Detroit – The former head of the St. Clair Housing Commission, accused of embezzling more than $336,000 in low-income housing funds and spending the cash on booze, beauty products, bedroom furniture and homes for her family, struck a plea deal with federal prosecutors Tuesday.
Lorena Loren, 56, of Nicholls, Georgia, reached the plea deal less than a month after being charged in federal court with conspiracy to commit federal program fraud during an eight-year scheme that benefited and involved relatives, including her husband and son, according to federal court records.
The conspiracy plea suggests there could be more people charged in the case because Loren admitted committing the crime with at least one other person.
Loren, who is free on bond, agreed to pay $336,241 restitution to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. She will be sentenced Jan. 23.
The charge is punishable by up to five years in prison and a $250,000 fine, though sentencing guidelines, which are advisory, call for up to 37 months in federal prison.
“At such a critical time for the Department of Housing and Urban Development, with programs that are vital to the well-being of so many in our communities, it is critical that those entrusted to public service are completely dedicated to those in need,” Brad Gary, special agent in charge of HUD, said in a statement.
Defense lawyer Leon Weiss said the plea deal is fair to the government and his client, who he called a law-abiding citizen for the vast majority of her life.
“It’s not a total victory,” he said, “but that’s better than a total defeat. My client is ready to move forward with the sentencing and the rest of her life.”
Court records said the conspiracy involved many members of Loren’s family tree, including her father, brother, son, daughter-in-law and son-in-law.
Loren admitted conspiring with relatives to steal federal money intended to provide low-income housing. That included $162,000 that was supposed to help low-income families lease privately owned rental homes.
Since 2008, Loren fraudulently used the housing commission’s credit cards to make $166,000 worth of purchases at Amazon, Wal-Mart and Sam’s Club, falsified lease agreements for low-income housing and used the money to pay for her own relatives’ homes, the government alleged.
Loren was charged one year after she retired abruptly. She moved to southeast Georgia and bought a $325,000 custom-built house in October, according to public records.
The home is far from low-income housing. The five-bedroom, 2,858-square-foot home features a salt-water pool, 24-foot ceilings, walk-in closets, a game room and detached man cave.
Loren was appointed executive director in 2003 and started stealing from the poor five years later, prosecutors alleged.
She fraudulently obtained housing-assistance payments for properties in which she had a proprietary interest with family members or for the benefit of family members, according to court records.
She falsified lease agreements and money intended to help low-income residents afford apartments was used to rent a home for her son, Ryan Loren, prosecutors alleged.
Lorena Loren also told relatives to establish bank accounts so federal subsidy payments could be deposited and spent for their personal use, including to rent a home in Florida, according to court records.
She lied while claiming her son-in-law was the landlord of a rental property for low-income residents, prosecutors alleged. The property turned out to be Lorena Loren’s home in Port Austin, Michigan, according to court records.
Her son-in-law, Jaime Johnson, deposited the money into a bank account he controlled with Lorena Loren’s husband, Brian, the government alleged.
The $166,000 worth of credit card purchases included adult and infant clothing, furniture, appliances, mattresses, food, beauty supplies, medications and other household items, according to court records.
The money was supposed to maintain Palmer Park Manor, the commission’s low-income public housing facility, prosecutors alleged.