Police: Vernon Housing Authority manager, Manchester resident charged with embezzlement

·5 min read

May 6—A Manchester man who police identified as a Vernon Housing Authority employee was arrested Wednesday after investigators said he embezzled rent payments from tenants, documents show.

According to the arrest warrant affidavit for the man, Michael Gentile, 36, of 250 Greenwood Drive in Manchester, events unfolded this way:

Housing Authority Director Betsy Soto, Housing Authority Commission Chairwoman Karen Roy, and their lawyer met with police via videoconference on Jan. 4. During the meeting, Soto explained that the Housing Authority had recently received a complaint from a tenant who lived with his significant other, his daughter, and a dog, but did not appear in the Housing Authority's database.

When Housing Authority officials spoke to him, he told them he moved into his apartment in August. Soto said the man told her he had been dealing directly with Housing Programs Manager Michael Gentile.

Soto told police that Gentile had been home since Dec. 7 after he suffered a drug overdose at work. A separate police report obtained by the Journal Inquirer confirmed that emergency crews responded when Gentile suffered an overdose on that date.

Soto and other Housing Authority officials searched Gentile's desk and found a lease and rent collection policy that were signed by the man and his significant other but not by Soto, despite the fact that she always reviews and signs all leases associated with Housing Authority properties. They also found several money orders signed by the man and made out to the Housing Authority that hadn't been deposited or cashed. However, an initial payment of $2,500 — $1,100 for the first month of rent, an $1,100 security deposit, and a $300 fee for owning a dog — was unaccounted for, the affidavit states.

When Soto asked the man about the missing $2,500, he provided a receipt, but a review of the Housing Authority's bank accounts found that it had never been deposited.

The tenant, who was unaware of Gentile's overdose, had gone to the Housing Authority office to complain about mice in the apartment and a faulty dryer. He explained that he had not heard back from Gentile after attempting to contact him. After learning of the situation, Soto sent a letter to Gentile, who still had not returned to work, informing him that he was suspended.

Soto also told police that an elderly resident living in a different unit had called to request a receipt for a recent rent payment, but officials found no record of the payment. Officials then found that the tenant's income was listed in the database as "$0," which meant that her rent should have been subsidized by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and she should not have been writing rent checks.

After reviewing the database, Soto found that the tenant had some income on file when she moved in last May, but that it had been recently altered to zero.

The woman told police that she had been making monthly payments of $708 since moving in, and that she made the checks out to "VHA," which stands for Vernon Housing Authority. Although she was typically sent receipts, she had not received one for her November payment. After inquiring with her bank in September, they provided her with an image of her November payment, which showed that the letters "VHA" were altered to turn the V into a C, with added letters spelling out "MiCHAel Gentile." Police found that her October rent check was similarly altered.

The tenant explained that she has intellectual disabilities and her sister handles her finances. She said Gentile visited her often and helped her with small tasks, and that she treated him "like a son." She told police she felt taken advantage of after learning of the altered checks.

At that point, a special agent from the HUD Office of the Inspector General began assisting local police with the investigation. He told police HUD had incurred a loss of about $1,400 after subsidizing her rent due to her income being changed to zero.

Upon further review, Soto found another discrepancy involving a tenant who moved in last September. Investigators found that Gentile had taken her security deposit and had collected her rent check, which was unaccounted for, in October.

In March, Soto provided the HUD special agent with a letter stating that quality controls had been enacted during the investigation, including a financial review of all rent changes throughout 2020, a copy of the rent policy sent to all tenants, and the installation of cameras at numerous properties. In a meeting with police and the HUD special agent, Soto said she found another discrepancy, this time involving a tenant who was working to pay back rent that was owed to the Housing Authority. The tenant told police they made payments directly to Gentile, and police again found that the letters "VHA" had been altered to spell Gentile's name before being cashed.

The total loss to the housing authority was $5,350.

When police interviewed Gentile at his home on March 26, he told them he was newly sober following his overdose at work but had been struggling with an addiction to what he initially believed were oxycodone pills but which were actually made of fentanyl, a more potent opiate. He said that, due to his prior drug use and a previous stroke, his memory was impaired.

During the interview with police, he said he had been suspended for accepting cash payments from a tenant, but he said the money should be in his desk at the Housing Authority office. He told police he could not recall many of the other events alleged by tenants.

Following that interview, police obtained a warrant for Gentile's arrest. He was charged on May 5 with first-degree larceny, second- and third-degree forgery, and a third-degree computer crime, records show. He was released after posting $10,000 bond and is due to appear at Vernon Superior Court on June 29.

Soto could not be immediately reached to confirm if Gentile still worked for the Housing Authority.

For updates and coverage of Vernon and Stafford, follow Anthony Branciforte on Twitter: @ABranciforte_JI, Facebook: Reporter Anthony Branciforte, and Instagram: @JI_Anthony1.