Longtime Zapata resident indicted on multiple charges in fraud scheme
For Immediate Release
U.S. Attorney's Office, Southern District of Texas
LAREDO, Texas – A 45-year-old resident of Zapata is now in custody for defrauding financial institutions as well as state and federal welfare programs, lying to federal authorities and using someone else’s identity, announced U.S. Attorney Alamdar S. Hamdani.
Authorities arrested Mirza Lydia Rodriguez today. She is expected to appear before U.S. Magistrate Judge Diana Song Quiroga March 27 at 9:30 a.m.
A federal grand jury returned 13-count indictment March 21, which was unsealed upon her arrest.
According to the charges, Rodriguez submitted fraudulent applications to the Laredo Housing Authority’s (LHA) Housing Choice Voucher Program (HCVP).
The HCVP is the federal government’s major program for assisting very low-income families, the elderly and disabled to afford decent, safe and sanitary housing in the private market. Public housing agencies administer the housing choice vouchers who receive the finds from Housing and Urban Development (HUD). The LHA is the local agency responsible for the administration of the HCVP.
When submitting applications to the LHA, Rodriguez allegedly omitted material information relevant to considering whether she qualified for housing assistance. The charges allege she submitted paperwork to LHA under the guise that someone else was the property owner and landlord of where she was living, when this was not true. She then submitted a direct deposit authorization using this same falsified information for the property’s landlord, but included banking information allegedly belonging to herself, according to the indictment.
Falcon International Bank was responsible for maintaining LHA’s funds, according to the indictment. The bank would allegedly disburse housing and utility assistance payments, which are, under the HCVP, meant for the property’s landlord. However, the charges allege the funds were directly deposited into Rodriguez’s account.
According to the indictment, Rodriguez allegedly received more than $30,000 over the course of five years.
Rodriguez is also charged with three counts of wire fraud in connection with applications to the Texas Workforce Commission (TWC). The TWC is the state agency tasked with administering Texas’ unemployment insurance program.
Rodriguez allegedly represented herself as a tax preparer and would collect the personal identifying information for her clients when preparing returns. She would then tell people she could assist in obtaining unemployment benefits, according to the indictment. As part of the application process, Rodriguez allegedly used the personal information of others, but included a bank account associated with her. As a result of the scheme and in addition to the funds fraudulent acquired from HUD, Rodriguez allegedly obtained over $30,000 in unemployment benefits.
Rodriguez is further charged with one count of aggravated identity theft in connection with one of the fraudulent applications to the TWC, three counts of defrauding HUD and five counts of lying to a federal agency.
If convicted, Rodriguez faces up to 30 years for the bank fraud, 20 years for each count of wire fraud, up to two years for each count of HUD fraud and up to five years for each count of lying to authorities. She will also receive a mandatory two years for the identity theft, upon conviction, which must be served consecutively to any other prison term imposed.
The FBI, Texas Department of Public Safety-Texas Rangers, Zapata County Sheriff’s Office and Housing and Urban Development-Office of Inspector General conducted the investigation with assistance from the Drug Enforcement Administration, Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, Texas Workforce Commission and the LHA. Assistant U.S. Attorney Brian Bajew is prosecuting the case.
An indictment is a formal accusation of criminal conduct, not evidence. A defendant is presumed innocent unless convicted through due process of law.
Updated March 24, 2023