The California Attorney General’s Office has filed 56 charges against three women who allegedly defrauded the nonprofit People Assisting the Homeless of $400,000 earmarked for housing and services.
Two of the defendants, Valencia Stevenson, 38, and LaToi Allena Pledger, 45, formerly worked for PATH as a program manager and case manager, respectively. A third defendant, Sareena Stevenson, 44, is a relative of Valencia Stevenson, according to the criminal complaint. All three women have pleaded not guilty to 56 counts of grand theft and embezzlement, with special allegations of committing aggravated white collar crimes with losses exceeding $100,000.
The criminal complaint stated that Valencia Stevenson and Pledger worked for PATH in 2017 and were responsible for securing housing for individuals experiencing homelessness. PATH receives funds to house homeless individuals from the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority, which requires that the money is paid directly to the owners or managers of properties where unhoused individuals are referred. Valencia Stevenson and Pledger allegedly enlisted Sareena Stevenson to pose as the owner or manager of different properties and created referrals for associates of the defendants who were not homeless. PATH funds meant to pay for the housing were allegedly sent to Sareena Stevenson, who then shared the money with her alleged co-conspirators, the criminal complaint stated.
PATH, which refers people to housing throughout the city, also operates a facility with a temporary shelter and other services for homeless individuals at 340 N. Madison Ave. in East Hollywood. The nonprofit also serves people experiencing homelessness throughout California, from Sacramento to San Diego.
The alleged crimes occurred between January and September 2017, when PATH administrators discovered discrepancies in records and reported them to police. According to the criminal complaint, administrators recognized one of the names on a referral as being Pledger’s boyfriend, who was not homeless.
The Los Angeles Police Department’s Commercial Crimes Division investigated the case for four years before arresting the three women in September. The California Attorney General’s Office filed the case on Sept. 9. Authorities did not disclose why the investigation took so long, but said it involved dozens of referrals to properties in Los Angeles, Riverside and San Bernardino.
“This was a very lengthy and complex investigation,” said Capt. Lillian Carranza, commanding officer of the LAPD’s Commercial Crimes Division. “We are very proud of the work done by our commercial crimes detectives. This case could not have been brought to fruition without their work ethics, tenacity and commitment to duty. The victims of these crimes deserve justice and due process.”
California Attorney General Rob Bonta said the defendants betrayed public trust.
“By helping families secure a roof over their heads, taxpayer funded programs like PATH provide Californians in need with an invaluable resource,” Bonta said. “When these programs are taken advantage of or stolen from, the individuals and families who depend on them are the most harmed.”
PATH spokesman Tyler Renner said Stevenson and Pledger were both terminated in 2017. PATH has reimbursed LAHSA for the funds allegedly misappropriated by the defendants. Renner said PATH has taken measures to ensure similar crimes do not occur again.
“As an organization, PATH has enhanced its audit procedures, built out its compliance review team and enhanced our system of checks and balances for all funding sources and spending,” read a statement supplied by Renner. “PATH leadership will continue to fully participate in the legal proceedings and does not have any further information to share publicly at this time. As an organization dedicated to ending homelessness for individuals, families and communities, we are appalled that people would take away valuable resources from vulnerable, unhoused people.”
The case remains under investigation, and police encourage anyone who has information to call LAPD Commercial Crimes Division detectives at (213)486-6620.
This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.