For years, Manuel Duran did well by doing good, making $268,000 a year running Massachusetts’ only homeless shelter with an almost entirely Spanish-speaking staff. Casa Nueva Vida not only provided beds for 150 families from Boston to Lawrence, it made Duran a prominent citizen who was photographed at events with the mayor of Boston and other political figures.
But, prosecutors say, that wasn’t enough for Duran. They allege he stole at least $1.5 million from the nonprofit in an elaborate scheme in which he secretly rented his own properties to Casa Nueva Vida for shelters. He charged exorbitant rents, prosecutors say, while using the lease agreements to obtain massive bank loans to expand his real estate holdings.
Now Duran is charged with perjury — for allegedly lying about his property holdings on documents submitted to the state to obtain funding — and an array of other charges. He also faces a separate civil suit alleging he filed false information in documents required to obtain state housing funds.
“Duran abused his position as the head of a non-profit homeless shelter to steal from the organization and improperly funnel state funds to himself,” Attorney General Maura Healey, who brought the charges, said in a statement. She promised “to hold him accountable for allegedly lining his pockets with millions of dollars in state funding meant for the shelter and the families it serves.”
Duran, 69, of West Roxbury, who served as a top official at Casa Nueva Vida from 2003 until earlier this year, is scheduled to be arraigned on Oct. 20 and faces the possibility of serious prison time. Perjury convictions alone can result in up to 20 years in prison for each count. He faces four perjury counts.
Duran’s lawyer, Thomas E. Dwyer Jr., called the indictment “a sad day for my client and his family.”
“Mr. Duran has dedicated his entire life to rehousing homeless families in Greater Boston. He has supervised the placement of thousands of families seeking shelter,” Dwyer said, noting that Duran built Casa Nueva Vida from a shelter housing four families in a church basement to a collection of 14 shelters in Boston and Lawrence that specialize in helping homeless Latina mothers and their children.
Casa Nueva Vida’s interim executive director Lisa Morales said in a statement that the organization “was deeply saddened to learn of the alleged wrongdoing of its former president and executive director. Casa Nueva Vida has fully cooperated during the investigation and remains committed to its mission of providing shelter for those in need.”
Healey’s office is actually running two ongoing investigations — one seeking criminal penalties, the other seeking repayment of allegedly stolen money plus damages, fees, and penalties. Both investigations grew directly out of an anonymous tip to the state inspector general in 2020.
“Casa Nueva Vida received these public funds to house, feed, and stabilize homeless families with children. Instead, these public dollars allegedly enriched Duran at the expense of our state’s most vulnerable residents,” said Inspector General Glenn Cunha.
As Casa Nueva Vida’s executive director in recent years, Duran essentially had complete control of its $7 million budget, most of which came from the state.
Over a seven-year period ending in 2020, Casa Nueva Vida received more than $33 million from the state for shelter and transitional housing services. It is unclear whether Duran used any of those funds to buy properties, but officials say their investigations are ongoing.
Duran also had broad control over contract negotiations, and he repeatedly signed leases on the group’s behalf for properties owned by shell companies he owned.
Prosecutors say Duran clearly profited at the homeless shelter’s expense. In one scheme, Duran allegedly leased a shelter at 133 Essex St. in Lawrence from relatives for $12,000 a month. He then allegedly rented it to Casa Nueva Vida for $25,000 a month. Duran, prosecutors say, pocketed more than $1 million in profit over several years from that property alone.
Investigators also allege that between 2012 and 2020, Duran created fraudulent invoices and contracts to cash checks made out to vendors for work they never performed. The vendors — who he claimed did renovations, lead or asbestos removal — cashed the checks with Duran present, and gave him the money, prosecutors said. Duran allegedly stole $242,012 from Casa Nueva Vida through these fraudulent vendor payments, the prosecutors said.
The attorney general also alleges that Duran stole approximately $140,831 by depositing directly into his own bank account via paychecks issued to a seasonal maintenance employee who was in Puerto Rico when the paychecks were issued and didn’t perform any work.
During the period he ran the shelters, Duran bought more than 20 properties. By 2019, according to court records, he owned property with an estimated value of $22 million.
Duran left the organization in April. It is unclear whether he resigned or was terminated.
The civil suit filed by Healey’s office alleges that Duran never disclosed that he had personal financial interests in properties that Casa Nueva Vida was leasing. A judge has ordered a $2 million attachment on Duran’s bank accounts.
Prosecutors say Duran frequently charged Casa Nueva Vida substantially more in rent than it would have paid on the open market. In some cases Duran had the shelter pay to improve the properties.
In one 2018 case, prosecutors say, Casa Nueva Vida leased a Roxbury property from a front company controlled by Duran for $9,200 a month for three years. The organization also paid to renovate the property. In all, Casa Nueva Vida spent $480,000 on the property — but it was never used as a shelter.
Duran last listed the property for sale for $1.2 million. Some of the features included in the listing, such as new bathrooms, were paid for by the shelter, the civil suit alleges.
Two Casa Nueva Vida employees, Oscar Vega and Jose Martinez, have filed separate suits against the organization and Duran, alleging that he required them to work at some of his properties but never paid them for the extra hours.
They are each owed around $150,000, their lawyer John Koury said.
“Manuel Duran chose to take advantage of people who placed trust in him,” said Koury in a statement. “He took advantage of the citizens of Massachusetts who trusted him to run a nonprofit. He also took advantage of Mr. Vega and Mr. Martinez by withholding from them hundreds of thousands of dollars in hard-earned wages.”