North Potomac woman sentenced for defrauding Montgomery County housing program
Former county attorney says criminal prosecution is first of its kind in state
A North Potomac woman will spend 18 months in jail for theft and perjury for defrauding a Montgomery County affordable housing program.
Prosecutors and county attorneys say Katherine Ting Tiong, 42, of Glen Mill Road in North Potomac is the first person criminally prosecuted for attempting to turn a profit from the 27-year-old Moderately Priced Dwelling Unit program, designed to provide low-cost housing for first-time home purchasers who qualify under certain income standards
"It's the first of its kind in Montgomery County and in Maryland, maybe the United States" said former assistant county attorney Nowelle Ghahhari, who pursued the civil case, which inspired the criminal case against Tiong. "We certainly hope it serves as a warning."
Tiong formerly a real estate agent with RE/MAX Realty Group of Gaithersburg was found guilty of four counts of perjury and two counts of theft in Montgomery County Circuit Court in September for forging documents and then lying in the 2006 civil suit brought against her family by the county.
Tiong's mother, Conchita Kramer, and sister, Bernadette Fuss, both of Shepherdstown, W.Va., were ordered to pay $33,000 in the civil case; the estimated amount of profits gained by renting the townhouse, court records say.
Prosecutors had asked for the same amount be paid in restitution as part of Tiong's criminal sentencing Thursday, but were denied.
Tiong used her mother's name in 2002 to purchase a townhouse for $72,708 in Germantown through the county's MPDU program. Prosecutors in the civil and criminal cases against Tiong say her mother was unaware of this and Tiong forged her signature and then lied about her eligibility for the program.
Less than a year after buying the property, Tiong began to rent it to tenants, a violation of the program's policies, said Assistant State's Attorney Bryan Roslund.
"We don't think she ever lived there or intended to use this property as it was supposed to be used," he said.
In 2006, Tiong filed paperwork transferring the deed to her sister again falsifying signatures of income information and refinanced the loan she took out to purchase it in 2002, Roslund said.
Her lawyer, Luis Gomez of Rockville, defended Tiong by saying she was a lover of animals who would often adopt sick and blind dogs from shelters and did not deserve a prison sentence.
"Here's a woman who's never been in trouble before, now she has two felony convictions for theft," he said.
Circuit Court Judge Joseph Dugan admonished Tiong during her sentencing hearing Thursday.
"These houses are here so police officers and teachers can live here, not so someone can make a profit," he said.
When the county's Department of Housing and Community Affairs was notified by a neighbor that the property was being rented in 2006, they contacted Tiong's sister and mother, the official owners of the property, Ghahhari said.
A civil suit was filed by Montgomery County against them that year to reclaim the property, during which Tiong lied under oath about her ownership of the property and the signatures on the MPDU forms, Roslund said. A criminal investigation began after the civil case ended in March 2010.
At the time she purchased the townhouse, Tiong was reporting an income of more than $100,000 per year. Tiong reported her mother as making less than $50,000.
Calls to Tiong's home were not returned. She declined to speak during her hearing.
Fuss and Kramer could not be reached.
Tiong has a contract to work as an administrative aid is currently employed at the National Institutes of Health Cancer Institute, Gomez said. NIH representative Jenny Haliski was unable to confirm Tiong's employment.
Some owners break the rules
Chris Anderson, manager of the Moderately Priced Dwelling Unit program, said while these violations are not unusual, resistance from violators who have been caught is. He said his department has a policy of requesting to purchase the property back from anyone out of compliance or filing a civil suit to recoup it.
Anderson said his office does not regularly check on participants in the program. He said his office does not keep statistics on how often owners are found out of compliance.
"Unfortunately, we do have people who break the rules," he said. "But our policy is to work with them to correct it."
Anderson said of the 13,000 units built since Montgomery County introduced the moderately priced housing policy in 1973, which requires builders who construct 20 or more houses or rental units to dedicate 12.5 percent of them to the program; creating affordable housing as the county expands.
The program is open to anyone who qualifies under the income guidelines, Anderson said. Developers can opt out of building MPDUs under certain circumstances, he said.
There is also a rental program offered by the department which has a different set of guidelines, Anderson said.
Since 1973 nearly all of Maryland's counties have instituted a similar affordable housing program, Ghahhari said.
To qualify to purchase an MPDU, potential buyers must make between $35,000 and $50,500 and utilize the property as their primary residence, he said. A family of four can have an income of as much as $72,500 to qualify.
"It was designed at a time of rising home prices so people of modest income could live near where they work," he said.
To qualify for Montgomery County's Moderately Priced Dwelling Unit's sales program:
-Candidates must meet the income guidelines, proving their gross household income before taxes is over $35,000 per year but under $50,500 for individuals and $78,000 for a family of five, and be first-time homebuyers.
-To begin the process, potential purchasers need to attend three classes; the First-Time Homebuyer Class; the MPDU Orientation Seminar; and the MPDU Application Session. These classes are designed to start the application process. All are held monthly in Rockville.
-For more information or to apply, visit www.montgomerycounty