Former Executive Director of Taos County Housing Authority and Husband Plead Guilty to Federal Conspiracy Charge
ALBUQUERQUE – Carmella Martinez, 42, and her husband Paul G. Martinez, 44, both of Arroyo Seco, N.M., each pleaded guilty this morning to conspiracy to commit theft concerning programs receiving federal funds and to commit theft of government property. The guilty pleas were announced by U.S. Attorney Kenneth J. Gonzales, David A. Montoya, Inspector General, U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), and Carol K.O. Lee, Special Agent in Charge of the Albuquerque Division of the FBI.
Carmella and Paul Martinez were charged in Dec. 2012 in a 49-count federal indictment with conspiracy, theft from programs receiving federal funds, and theft of government property. According to the indictment, between Nov. 2003 and Dec. 2011, Carmella and Paul Martinez stole federal funds provided by HUD to the Taos County Housing Authority (TCHA) for a housing program that provides affordable housing for low-income Americans. During that time, Camella Martinez was employed by the TCHA, initially as a Financial Specialist and later as its Executive Director.
HUD is a federal agency whose core mission is to make quality, affordable housing accessible to all Americans. It oversees and funds programs designed to provide affordable housing to low-income Americans, including the Housing Choice Voucher Program which is commonly referred to as “Section 8.” Through the Section 8 Program, HUD pays rent subsidies known as “Housing Assistance Payments” (HAP) to approved property owners and landlords on behalf of eligible low-income beneficiaries. According to the indictment, the TCHA administers the Section 8 Program on behalf of HUD in Taos County and receives approximately $2.8 million in funds annually from HUD.
According to the indictment, while employed by the TCHA, Carmella Martinez was responsible for processing HAP checks to approved Section 8 property owners and landlords and providing preliminary approval of requests for rent subsidies to property owners and landlords under the Section 8 Program. She abused her position with TCHA by conspiring with her husband to engage in the theft of Section 8 housing funds. Carmella Martinez stole the money by issuing fraudulent HAP checks for Section 8 housing assistance to payees, including to Paul Martinez and to bank accounts held by her and Paul Martinez. Carmella and Paul Martinez then presented the fraudulent checks for payment at various locations.
During today’s proceedings, Camella and Paul Martinez each pleaded guilty to Count 1 of the indictment, charging them with conspiracy to commit theft concerning programs receiving federal funds and to commit theft of government property, and generally admitted the allegations in the indictment.
In her plea agreement, Camella Martinez admitted that she began issuing fraudulent, duplicate Section 8 HAP checks for the benefit of herself and her husband in 2000. She further admitted that in 2003, Paul Martinez began conspiring with her to steal federal funds by engaging in a scheme to issue and to present fraudulent HAP checks for their mutual benefit. Carmella Martinez admitted that she and her husband engaged in their unlawful scheme until Dec. 2011, when they learned they were the subjects of a criminal investigation. Carmella Martinez acknowledged that she and her husband stole at least $786,014.04 in federal funds through their unlawful scheme.
In his plea agreement, Paul Martinez admitted that he began conspiring with his wife to steal funds from TCHA, a program that receives federal funds, in 2003, and that their scheme continued until Dec. 2011, when they learned about the criminal investigation that led to the indictment against them.
At their sentencing hearings, which have yet to be scheduled, Camella and Paul Martinez each face a maximum penalty of five years in federal prison and a $250,000 fine. Under the terms of their plea agreements, the couple will be required to pay at least $786,014.04 in restitution to the victims of their criminal activities. The United States will move to dismiss the remaining 48 counts of the indictment after Camella and Paul Martinez have been sentenced.
This case was investigated by the HUD Office of Inspector General and the Albuquerque Division of the FBI, and is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Shana B. Long.