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Ex-L.A. housing official sentenced to 51 months in fraud scheme

October 16, 2012 | 12:06 pm

A former construction official with the Los Angeles housing authority has been sentenced to 51 months in federal prison for conspiring with his two brothers to steal more than $500,000 from the city agency.

Victor Taracena, 41, was sentenced Monday after pleading guilty earlier this year to conspiracy in steering $527,000 to four dummy companies created by his two brothers, Diego and Bennett Taracena.

The latter two Burbank brothers, who pleaded guilty and were each sentenced to 21 months imprisonment in June, paid kickbacks of nearly $107,000 to Victor Taracena. At least $30,000 of that money was wired to a bank account in Guatemala and some was used to buy property there, according to the U.S. attorney’s office.

Victor Taracena worked at the housing authority from 2003 to 2007, managing the construction program for public housing units for disabled residents. The money steered to his brothers was supposed to go toward the installation of ramps and railings for low-income wheelchair users, but no work was actually performed, federal officials said.

Housing authority officials said Tuesday the economic recession appears to have made their program a more tempting target for fraudsters. Tips about potential fraud have increased over the last year or so, and the authority has increased its number of investigators, according to Annie Kim, housing authority spokeswoman.

Earlier this month, the housing authority filed a civil suit against Rita Aleksanyan and Sarkis Mkhitaryan for fraud, seeking to recover at least $35,320 in housing assistance and more than $185,000 in damages and penalties.

Aleksanyan was arrested in May and subsequently pleaded guilty to criminal charges of attempting to bribe a housing authority official to approve clients for Section 8 vouchers without meeting the required criteria. She was sentenced to six days in jail, three years of probation, 300 hours of community service and ordered to pay $15,000 in restitution.

Authorities also discovered that Aleksanyan herself was a Section 8 recipient since 1991 who deliberately hid information about her income and assets that would have made her ineligible for the housing assistance for low-income, elderly and disabled residents.

Mkhitaryan, Aleksanyan's son, was involved in the fraud since 2004, when he began signing annual recertification forms, officials said.

“We realize that difficult times make people do desperate things,” Kim said. “We are more vigilant now than ever. We will go after you if you defraud us.”

In the case of Victor Taracena, U.S. District Judge Percy Anderson also ordered him to pay $526,727 in restitution to the Los Angeles housing authority. The case was investigated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Office of Inspector General.

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— Teresa Watanabe

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