Non-Profit Housing Official Accused of Stealing Houses From Low-Income Detroit Residents

Published: 01 March 2024

Wooden Cabins USA

Thomas allegedly stole over 30 properties in the City of Detroit using her role at the United Community Housing Coalition (UCHC), a non-profit organization focused on helping low-income and vulnerable people obtain safe and affordable housing. (Photo: Elaine with Grey Cats, Flickr, License)

By Lieth Carrillo

A woman whose job it is to help poor people buy their own homes was charged on Wednesday with stealing more than 30 properties from impoverished clients in the Detroit area.

Zina Thomas, the 60-year-old director of the nonprofit United Community Housing Coalition (UCHC), ran programs to help low-income and distressed Detroit residents buy their own homes. Along with other individuals, Thomas is accused of transferring the homes from their legal owners to non-existent "temporary owners" before ultimately selling them to third parties.

The scam targeted low-income individuals who were at risk of losing their homes due to non-payment of taxes.

The fraudulent scheme was carried out by filing multiple false “quitclaim” deeds (a quitclaim is a document that relinquishes legal rights to a property). The deeds were allegedly notarized to appear legitimate. Thomas allegedly emailed false driver's licenses and other documents to an employee of the Wayne County Treasurer's Office, which were then uploaded into the Treasurer's Property Tax Administration system to stop the pending foreclosures.

Investigators say Thomas received some of the property payments via wire transfer to a bank account owned by her real estate company and then transferred the proceeds to her personal bank account.

She currently resides in one of the properties involved in the scam, authorities stated.

Thomas was arrested on Wednesday and faces charges of conspiracy to commit wire fraud, wire fraud, money laundering and aggravated identity theft.

“This scheme targeted some of our most financially vulnerable citizens and was perpetrated by an individual whose job it was to help those very people avoid losing their homes to foreclosure,” said U.S. Attorney Dawn N. Ison.

“This arrest is the result of a multi-agency, cooperative investigation involving both federal and state law enforcement, and is reflective of our ongoing efforts to identify and disrupt fraud schemes like this as quickly as possible.”

Said Cheyvoryea Gibson, Special Agent in Charge of the FBI in Michigan, “While working in a capacity to assist residents experiencing financial hardships, Ms. Thomas allegedly exploited individuals in the process of losing their homes.”