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Trial for ex-South Bend Housing Authority director accused of stealing millions starts this week

The FBI raided the South Bend Housing Authority's office in 2019 as part of an investigation into the scheme.
WVPE, Justin Hicks
The FBI raided the South Bend Housing Authority's office in 2019 as part of an investigation into the scheme.

Three people indicted as part of a federal investigation for allegedly stealing money from the South Bend Housing Authority are on trial this week.

It is now up to a jury to determine if Tonya Robinson and two co-defendants defrauded the federal government out of nearly $6 million while Robinson was head of the agency.

From 2014 through 2019, prosecutors say Robinson requested federal money for maintenance work on housing authority properties that was never done. Instead, Robinson would give the checks to contractors, who would cash them and kick back a portion to Robinson and other housing authority employees.

In total, six people were charged in the alleged scheme. In addition to Robinson, Albert Smith — the assistant director of the housing authority — and Douglas Donley, a contractor, are on trial this week. Three others — Tyreisha Robinson, Archie Robinson and Ronald Taylor —have pleaded guilty and expected to testify at the trial. Tyreisha Robinson is Tonya Robinson's daughter and was a housing authority at the time of the scheme.

Taylor, a contractor, has already been sentenced to over 3 1/2 years in prison for his role in the scheme.

The FBI raided the housing authority headquarters in South Bend in 2019, which caused then-mayor Pete Buttigieg to fire Tonya Robinson. City governments have no direct role in the housing authority's management beyond the fact that the mayor appoints its board members. Buttigieg had previously replaced the entire board in 2015 after a Department of Housing and Urban Development study in 2013 found South Bend was mired in financial woes.

According to federal court documents, Robinson made cash deposits to her personal bank account totaling $655,000, though she allegedly gambled away at least $600,000. Prosecutors say Smith similarly lost over $450,000 gambling from 2015-2018. Robinson hid the scheme from the housing authority's board, prosecutors say.

The alleged fraud comes after and amid years of financial mismanagement at the South Bend Housing Authority. In 2017 and 2018, 75% of housing authority properties failed their building inspections — the highest rate in the state in that time.

Since the indictment, city and housing authority officials have said they've made procedural changes that make it "nearly impossible" for someone to commit fraud of that nature again.

Marek Mazurek has been with WVPE since April 2023, though he's been in Michiana for most of his life. He has a particular interest in public safety reporting. When he's not on the radio, Marek enjoys getting way too into Notre Dame football and reading about medieval English history.