Queens Couple Charged with Stealing COVID Rental Relief Funds

Queens District Attorney Melinda Katz recently announced that a couple from Jamaica, Queens, have been charged with grand larceny in the third degree, criminal possession of stolen property in the third degree, falsifying business records in the first degree, and offering a false instrument for filing in the first degree.

The pair, who are tenants, allegedly filed for and received COVID-19 Residential Rent Relief funds that are earmarked to help those negatively impacted by the coronavirus pandemic. As specified in the Emergency Rental Relief Act of 2020 and signed into law on May 25, 2020, all rental assistance payments are to go directly to the property owners only.

The backdrop: According to the charges, around July 27, 2020, one of the defendants filled out and submitted an online application to have rent relief sent to the owner. She falsely claimed she was the only person residing in the residence and directed the payment be sent to an address in Brooklyn. The DHCR emailed a letter and other documents to be filled out by the presumed property owner, listed on the application with her partner's name. The required paperwork was submitted to the DHCR and a check was issued in the amount of $3,480 with the co-defendant as the payee.

According to the complaint, the tenants moved into the rental unit in early 2019 and had not paid rent since mid-2019. The property owner secured an eviction order, but the COVID eviction moratorium prevented him from removing the pair from the unit.

The defendant was contacted by the DCHR and told to either give the $3,480 to the property owner or return the money to the state. The co-defendants allegedly did neither. Instead, the defendant called the actual landlord and allegedly threatened to shoot him for reporting the incident to authorities.

District Attorney Katz said, "As alleged, these two defendants took advantage of a NYS Department of Housing and Community Renewal (DHCR) program that was created to keep people in their homes by paying their rent directly to property owners. Even after they were caught allegedly pocketing the money from the Covid-19 Residential Rent Relief Program, the tenants refused to return the funds and are now facing serious charges. We will not stand for this in Queens County."

What's next: The two were ordered to return to court on Dec. 10, 2021. If convicted, the defendants face up to seven years in prison.