The waiting list for an apartment at a subsidized housing development in Roxbury could take up to five years, residents said. But federal prosecutors allege some prospective tenants knew a way to skip the line: pay a bribe.
Two former employees of the Roxse Homes, a federal housing complex on Tremont Street, allegedly accepted more than $30,000 in payments from multiple tenants in exchange for preferential treatment in the selection process, according to the office of US Attorney Carmen M. Ortiz.
Mathis Lemons, 41, an assistant property manager at the complex, and Ismael Morales, 35, a maintenance technician, were arrested on one count of conspiracy and seven counts of bribery.
Lemons was arraigned Thursday at the John Joseph Moakley Courthouse in South Boston and pleaded not guilty to all charges; Morales will be arraigned Friday, according to court documents. Both were released on $25,000 unsecured bond.
The bribery scheme was in operation from September 2014 through February, according to the indictment.
“It’s not fair, people wait a long time to get here,” said Yaira Shantell, a Roxse Homes resident for the past 12 years.
“One woman I know called the management company and they said she was 80th on the wait list. Then she called again and she was in the hundreds,” Shantell said. “The problem is the management.”
The Roxse Homes development is owned by Roxse Residences Limited Partnership, but managed by Cornerstone Corp., which previously employed both men.
According to the US attorney’s office, Lemons and Morales conspired to rent apartments to people who did not qualify for subsidized 364-unit complex, because they were not on the waiting list. Morales would recruit and accept payments from prospective tenants. Lemons would alter the computerized waiting list, dating some new applications as eight to 10 years old, which would allow the tenants to move into apartments almost immediately.
In one case, outlined in the federal indictment, prosecutors allege Lemons falsely added an applicant’s name to the waiting list on Nov. 6, 2014, and the applicant moved into a two-bedroom apartment about a month later.
Payments from tenants jumping the waiting list range from $800 to $7,000, according to court documents. The men allegedly received $34,800 total. The average payment from each tenant was about $4,950.
Roxse Homes closed its external waiting list in 2009, after interest outweighed availability.
Shantell called the news particularly upsetting, considering the management company is unresponsive to current residents.
“I call the city to help me now, because Cornerstone is so bad,” she said. “They’ll have apartments open and bring in families from outside, not the wait list. If the list is closed, why bring in people from outside?”
Cornerstone Corp. said they had no comment on the allegations.
The US Department of Housing and Urban Development, which owns the property, also could not be reached for comment.
The case is being prosecuted by the federal government’s public corruption unit. Roxse Homes is subsidized through Section 8 housing benefits, which provide housing vouchers for low-income families. The investigation was a coordinated effort between the US Attorney’s Office, Homeland Security Investigations, the Inspector General of Massachusetts, and the Boston Police Department.
Roberto Carrington has lived in the Roxse Homes for 39 years and served as a building representative and liaison with management.
“The residents have wanted to get rid of Cornerstone for a long time now,” Carrington said. “There are a lot of people on the waiting list” who have been there for many years.
If the allegations are true, Carrington said it would be another strike on a management company that failed to fix hallways, bathrooms, and public spaces.
Carrington said he has voiced these concerns with HUD officials.
“We should not have to live like this,” he said.
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