Sheriff calls on feds to investigate Puerto Rican agencies | WBEZ
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Sheriff calls on feds to investigate Puerto Rican agencies that send addicts to Chicago

Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart is asking the federal government to investigate Puerto Rican agencies and government officials who send addicts to Chicago.

Dart filed a fraud report with the U.S Department of Housing and Urban Development inspector general this week. In it he warns the inspector general that recipients of HUD funding in Puerto Rico may be using federal funds to send heroin addicts off the island.

He said he hopes his report will move to the top of the inspector general’s pile.

“When you have instances where people have committed some type of fraud where the only individual who was harmed was a governmental entity … it’s a heck of a lot different than when you literally pluck people out of their country and drop them thousands and thousands of miles away,” Dart said.

WBEZ reported last month that Puerto Rican agencies and government officials have been sending people seeking treatment to unlicensed rehab centers on the mainland. Dart said that violates requirements that recipients of the federal funding  only use licensed or certified rehab professionals. He also said the HUD rules direct organizations to minimize displacement.  

“These deceptive at best operations of giving people one way tickets to the United States ... are gonna be in violation of the contracts that they have with HUD,” Dart said.

Dart’s report lists two examples of possible fraud:

The first is the municipality Bayamon, which operates the Nuevo Amanacer program. It has been receiving HUD funding since at least 2007, according to Dart’s report. In 2014 Bayamon got a $217,977 HUD Emergency Solutions Grant.

“It is unknown what portion of this grant is awarded to the Nuevo Amanecer program,” the fraud complaint reads. But if it is being funded by HUD money, the program is in violation of several federal regulations, Dart alleges.

The second example sites the program Vuelta a la Vida. According to Dart, Vuelta a la Vida received more than $1.5 million from HUD in 2014 in the form of a continuum of care grant.

The rules for that grant require groups to use services that are in compliance with all state and local licensing laws. But none of the rehab centers identified in WBEZ’s reporting are licensed by the state.

Dart said if the inspector general confirms his allegations, the groups could lose their federal funding. He also said his office is continuing its own investigation to see if unlicensed, unofficial addiction-help centers in Chicago are breaking any local laws.

Patrick Smith is a WBEZ producer and reporter. Follow him @pksmid. Adriana Cardona-Maguigad contributed to this story.

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