Former HPD worker pleads guilty, took bribes

After pleading guilty to all charges, Joba Cortorreal is likely to spend some time in jail. Cortorreal, a former employee of Housing, Preservation and Development was charged back in July of 2008 with selling, for personal cash, Section 8 housing vouchers to families in need. Cortorreal charged 16 families of tenants over $5,000 each for a voucher they were legally entitled to get — essentially the equivalent of demanding a bribe.

It all started in 2005 when, according to Department of Investigation commissioner Rose Gill Hearn, the city received an anonymous tip that someone living in Section 8 housing had paid a bribe to get their apartment.

Two years later, Cortorreal, now 39, has been convicted, following a guilty plea she gave in Bronx county court on Thursday, August 5. The charges were 26 counts of 3rd degree bribe receiving, which is a class D felony, and one count of 1st degree falsifying of business records, an E-class felony. Cortorreal was accepting bribes for nearly three years; her crimes took place between June 1, 2003 and August 1, 2006.

Official sentencing is set to take place October 6, but under the terms of her guilty plea, she will likely be sentenced to concurrent terms of up to five years for the bribes and up to three for falsifying documents.

Officials said at the time of her initial arrest in 2008 that for her yearly salary of $35,759 Cortorreal’s work at the HPD offices in Manhattan included handling applications for the Section 8 vouchers and issuing those vouchers to qualifying families. She was fired in October 2006.

The 16 people who paid for the vouchers have also been charged with bribery. In addition, two associates of Ms. Cortorreal’s who did not work for the city were charged with receiving bribes for referring customers to her and sharing in the bribes.

In her guilty plea, Cortorreal admitted to “acting in concert” with others in soliciting the bribes. The co-defendants, Damaris and Arelis Peralta, both of Stamford, Conn., also pled guilty to the scheme and await sentencing. Those who paid the bribes have all pled guilty as well, save for one person, and they will be charged and sentenced soon for paying the bribes.

According to a release from the office of Bronx District Attorney Robert Johnson, “Once the bribes were paid, Joba altered computerized records of applicants on the waiting list for Section 8 housing. The names of those who paid the bribes were substituted for the names of others who had filled out the required paperwork… People who paid bribes were then placed in Section 8 housing based on eligibility information that belonged to someone else.”

In a statement on Thursday, Aug 5, DOI commissioner Hearn railed that Cortorreal “abused her supervisory position” and that her corruption “created a black market… and meant that precious dollars were siphoned from needy and eligible individuals.”

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