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EDITORIAL: Housing voucher fraud must be taken seriously

Fraudulently obtaining public benefits is a crime, as it should be. That’s why local law enforcement officials should be paying close attention to Theresa Davis, who serves on the board of the Southern Nevada Regional Housing Authority.

On Monday, the authority stood firm in its decision to strip Ms. Davis of her housing benefits in the wake of a fraud investigation. State statutes mandate that four members of the agency’s nine-member board receive financial help from the authority. If the decision to revoke her housing voucher stands, Ms. Davis would become ineligible to serve on the panel.

The allegations against Ms. Davis stem from an investigation conducted earlier this year by housing authority staff into her eligibility for public assistance. The probe concluded that the commissioner did not report various bank accounts to which she had access. “Investigators have also alleged,” the Review-Journal’s Michael Scott Davidson reported, that Ms. Davis “fraudulently increased her housing benefits by manipulating her income and family size” on her application for assistance.

As a result, the authority announced in May that it would end Ms. Davis’ benefits by the end of last month. A hearing master validated the decision on July 23.

Ms. Davis and her attorney, Haley Box, argue the matter is a simple misunderstanding. They have asked a District Court judge to intervene. “It’s definitely an overreaction,” Ms. Box said. “She was given bad advice by her caseworkers, and (the authority) is punishing her for their employees’ inability to their job correctly.”

But fabricating personal data or willfully omitting pertinent financial information in order to receive public benefits is an affront to the taxpayers who fund such programs — and would be particularly outrageous for a housing authority board member sitting in a position of trust and charged with overseeing a public agency that spends more than $150 million annually.

Those who receive public benefits to which they aren’t entitled potentially divert resources from others who are truly in need, while helping to foster increased cynicism for programs designed to assist the disadvantaged or indigent.

Ms. Davis has every right to contest the housing authority’s decision in court, of course. She’s also entitled to a presumption of innocence. But if her legal challenge fails, she should face additional repercussions, including restitution.

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