Longtime homeless shelter president accused of taking housing funds to acquire a real estate empire, he said

Longtime homeless shelter president accused of taking housing funds to acquire a real estate empire, ...

Manuel Duran did well for years by doing well, spending $268,000 a year managing Massachusetts' only homeless shelter with an almost entirely Spanish-speaking staff, and for $228,000. Casa Nueva Vida not only provided beds for 150 families from Boston to Lawrence, but it also made Duran a prominent citizen who was spotted at meetings with the mayor of Boston and other political leaders.

Duran, on the other hand, wasn't enough, according to police. They claim he stole at least $1.5 million from the nonprofit in a sophisticated scheme in which il secretly rented his own houses to Casa Nueva Vidafor shelters. He charged exorbitant rents while using the lease agreements to obtain massive bank loans to expand his real estate holdings, according to prosecutors.

Duran is now charged with perjury, allegedly lying about his property holdings on documents submitted to the state to obtain funding, and a slew of other charges. He also faces a separate civil case alleging he falsely disclosed documents required to obtain state housing funds.

Duran abused his position as the head of a non-profit homeless shelter to steal from the organization and improperly funnel state funds to himself, Attorney General Maura Healey, who brought the charges, said in ed. She promised to hold him accountable for allegedly lining his pockets with millions of dollars in state funding intended for the shelter and the families it serves, "for putting him in the way of reclaiming his skept guilty for concealing his buzunar."

Duran, 69, of West Roxbury, who served as a top official at Casa Nueva Vida from 2003 through earlier this year, is expected to be arraigned on Oct. 20 and faces the possibility of serious prison time. Perjury convictions alone may result in up to 20 years in prison for each count. He faces four perjury charges.

Duran's lawyer, Thomas E. Dwyer Jr., called the indictment "a sad day for my client and his family."

Duran has dedicated his entire life to residing homeless families in Greater Boston. Duran has supervised the placement of thousands of families seeking shelter," Dwyer stated, adding that he built Casa Nueva Vida from a shelter housing four families in crate to ten shelters in Boston and Lawrence that specialize in providing homeless Latina moms and their children.

Lisa Morales, Casa Nueva Vida's interim executive director, said in a statement that the organization was "deeply saddened to learn of the alleged misdemeanor of its former president and executive chief." Casa Nueva Vida has fully cooperated with the investigation and remains committed to its mission of providing shelter for those in need.

Healey's office is actually conducting two ongoing inquiries: one seeking criminal penalties, the other seeking repayment of allegedly stolen money plus damages, fees, and penalties. In 2020, both investigations grew directly out of an anonymous email sent to the state inspector general.

Casa Nueva Vida received these public funds to house, feed, and stabilize homeless families with children. Instead, these public money allegedly enriched Duran at the expense of our state's most vulnerable residents, said Inspector General Glenn Cunha.

Duran was essentially a total control of its $7 million budget in recent years, as Casa Nueva Vida's executive director in last years. The majority of the money came from the state.

Casa Nueva Vida received more than $33 million from the state for shelter and transitional housing services over a seven-year period ending in 2020. Duran has no idea whether he had used any of his money to acquire properties, but officials say their investigations are ongoing.

Duran had extensive control over contract negotiations, and he repeatedly signed leases for properties owned by shell firms.

Duran, according to Prosecutors, netted profit at the expense of the homeless shelter. Duran allegedly leased a shelter at 133 Essex St. in Lawrence from relatives for $12,000 each month in one scheme. He then allegedly rented it to Casa Nueva Vida for $25,000 each month. Duran, according to prosecutors, owned more than $1 million in profit alone over several years from the property, claiming the court's claim.

Investigators also claim that Duran created fraudulent invoices and contracts between 2012 and 2020 to cash checks made out to vendors for work they never performed. Duran presented the checks and gave him the cash, according to prosecutors, when they who he claimed did renovations, lead, or asbestos removal went through the investigations with Durani present. Duran is said to have stolen $242,012 from Casa Nueva Vida via these fraudulent vendor payments, according to the prosecutor.

Duran also claims to have paid $140,831 on deposits directly into his own bank account by paychecks issued to a seasonal maintenance employee in Puerto Rico when the paycheck numbers were issued and didn't perform any work.

Duran bought more than 20 properties during the period he ran the shelters. According to court records, he owned a property worth $22 million by 2019, according to authorities.

Duran left the organization in April after leaving it. It's unclear whether he resigned or was terminated.

Duran never disclosed that he had personal financial interests in properties that Casa Nueva Vida was leasing, according to the civil action filed by Healey's office. Duran's bank accounts have been secured for $2 million.

Duran, according to Prosecutors, charged Casa Nueva Vida considerably more in rent than it would have paid on the open market. Duran had the money to provide for the shelter in order to improve the properties in some cases.

Casa Nueva Vida leased a Roxbury property from st. Petersburg's front firm for $9,200 each month for three years in one 2018 case, according to prosecutors. The organization also paid to renovate the property. Casa Nueva Vida spent $480,000 on the property in general, but it never used to be used as a shelter.

Duran last listed the property for $1.2 million. According to the civil suit, the shelter paid for some of the features included in the listing, such as new bathrooms, according to police.

Oscar Vega and Jose Martinez, two Casa Nueva Vida employees, have filed separate lawsuits against the organization and Duran, alleging that he required them to work at some of his properties but never paid for the extra hours.

According to their attorney John Koury, they are each owed about $150,000 each.

In a statement, Koury stated, "Manuel Duran chose to profit from individuals who poured trust in him." He took advantage of Massachusetts citizens who trusted him to run a nonprofit. He also profited from Mr. Vega and Mr, Martinez by denying them hundreds of thousands of dollars in hard-earned wages.

Andrea Estes can be reached at andrea.estes@globe.com or andre.ests.@international.net. John R. Ellement can be reached at john.ellement@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @JREbosglobe.

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