Inform, Entertain, Inspire
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Former South Bend Housing Authority directors found guilty of fraud

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.

After seven days of testimony, a jury decided that it had heard enough evidence to convict the former director of the South Bend Housing Authority and two others of taking part in a wire fraud scheme.

The housing authority’s former director, Tonya Robinson, was found guilty on nine out of 10 counts of fraud for leading a scheme where she doled out federal money to contractors to do work on housing authority properties.

However, most of the work was not done and the contractors would cash the checks and kick back a portion to Robinson and Albert Smith, the agency’s assistant director at the time.

Smith was convicted on all 10 counts of fraud brought against him, while one of those contractors, Douglas Donley was also convicted on two fraud counts.

Kickback scheme

The fraud charges arise from an FBI raid of the housing authority office in 2019. Robinson was the agency's director from 2014-2019 before then-mayor Pete Buttigieg fired her.

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.

All told, six people were charged in the scheme and three of them — Tyreisha Robinson (Tonya Robinson's daughter and a former housing authority employee), Archie Robinson (a contractor with no relation to Tonya Robinson) and Ronald Taylor (a contractor) — pleaded guilty rather than go to trial.

All three testified against Donley, Smith and Tonya Robinson during the course of the trial saying that Tonya Robinson would give the contractors checks from the federal government meant for improvements to South Bend Housing Authority buildings. She and Smith then instructed the contractors to split the money three ways.

All told, $5.8 million was paid to contractors during the time period in question, though some of that amount went to legitimate work. Prosecutors then said Tonya Robinson and Smith each gambled away hundreds of thousands of dollars they stole at the nearby Four Winds Casino.

During the trial, the Robinson and Smith argued they were misled by another former housing authority employee about whether repair work had been done. They said the employee in question kept shoddy paperwork records and that Robinson eventually disciplined him.

The pair didn't deny they gambled large sums of money, but Robinson said her tax returns show she claimed $650,000 in winnings in 2018 which didn't show up on her player card from the casino.

Meanwhile Douglas Donley was convicted on only two out of six fraud counts brought against him. At trial, Donley said he used to date Tyreisha Robinson and that she was embezzling money in a joint bank account the couple had, unbeknownst to him.

The case was sent to the jury on Tuesday afternoon and the 12-person panel delivered the unanimous verdicts on Wednesday. Tonya Robinson, Smith and Donley will be sentenced in February, though it's hard to gauge how severe their punishments will be.

If sentenced to the maximum allowable amount for each charge, Robinson and Smith face over 250 years in prison. Of the defendants who have pleaded guilty already, Ronald Taylor is the only one to have been sentenced and he received just over 3.5 years behind bars.

The Housing Authority is currently without a director. After Robinson was fired, the board appointed Catherine Lamberg, who said at the time that she would work to make the agency more transparent to the point where a fraud scheme of this nature would not be possible. Lamberg left the housing authority earlier this year for personal reasons.

The case was tried in federal court because the housing authority is funded through the Department of Housing and Urban Development.

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.