Less than four months after taking over as executive director of the Rockwall Housing Development Corp. in June 2009, assuming full control of the nonprofit's finances and The Meadows, its 36-unit public housing a couple of blocks off Interstate 30, Jennifer Tyson made out a check to "reimbursement," took it to the bank and cashed it.
Over the next three years, Tyson would make the same trip on 54 separate occasions, each time cashing the reimbursement check and pocketing the money.
The problem, according to federal court documents filed on Monday, was that she wasn't owed any reimbursement. She was simply stealing money that the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development had given to RHDC through its Housing Choice Voucher Program, better known as Section 8.
That, according to court documents, was just part of Tyson's scheme to steal from the federal government. In March 2010, she began cutting checks to the fiance of a Section 8 recipient living in Apartment 185. The man did some odd jobs around the property, watering plants and picking up trash, but he was not employed by The Meadows, nor did he earn the $126,063 he was paid over the next 16 months.
The man and his fiancee are both listed as co-conspirators in the federal criminal documents. Neither is identified by name.
Sometimes the man would cash these checks and go buy drugs himself. Sometimes he would bring the cash back to The Meadows, and he and Tyson would go buy them together. Inevitably, they wound up doing the drugs (identified only as "illegal narcotics") in Apartment 785.
The scheme continued even after the man's fiance was evicted. They simply moved their drug binges to a hotel that was paid for with still more HUD money.
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Eventually, the feds caught on. Tyson's term as RHDC's executive director ended in November 2012. She pleaded guilty on Tuesday to conspiring to commit theft concerning programs receiving federal funds.
Tyson appears to be well-connected in Rockwall. Her late father ran RHDC and the Rockwall Economic Technology Park. Her mother, Margo Nielsen, is a former member of the Rockwall City Council.
Correction: The original version of the story identified Margo Nielsen as a current member of the Rockwall City Council. She left the council in 2011.
Send your story tips to the author, Eric Nicholson.