Two former Hidalgo Housing Authority officials accused of taking bribes and embezzling federal funds totaling more than $14,000 pleaded not guilty Friday afternoon.
Susana Munguia, 60, and Lubina Pedraza, 53, both of Hidalgo, stood before U.S. Magistrate Judge Dorina Ramos at a hearing shortly after noon Friday, where the two were formally arraigned on a total of 15 counts — eight of defrauding the U.S. government and seven counts of bribery.
Ramos set each woman’s bond at $30,000 each.
Between July 2011 and May 2014, Munguia and Pedraza asked for and received bribes totaling nearly $7,500 to skip people on the Section 8 wait list, allowing them to immediately receive federal housing assistance, according to the indictment. Government subsidized housing routinely has long waiting lists in the Rio Grande Valley and elsewhere.
The housing authority in Hidalgo receives $260,000 annually from the Department of Housing and Urban Development.
The indictment lists seven instances of bribery, where Munguia and Pedraza, either directly or through a third party, received a bribe to allow people to bypass the Section 8 waiting list and receive approval for vouchers for housing subsidies under the voucher program. Also listed, are more than 11 fraudulent checks totaling more than $7,000 that the pair processed and cashed at local check-cashing stores.
Munguia, who had worked as the executive director for the housing authority for more than 24 years, and Lubina Pedraza, who was a secretary and had worked at the housing authority for more than nine years, were arrested after agents raided their office in May.
As executive director, Munguia was responsible for processing and signing Housing Assistance Payments (HAP) checks to owners and landlords of property used for Section 8 housing and with providing approval requests for rent subsidies or Housing Assistance Payment checks to owners and landlords.
As the secretary, Pedraza was tasked with, among other things, overseeing the day-to-day operations of the Housing Choice Voucher Program, also known as Section 8 housing, processing the HAP checks, processing tenant’s applications and conducting inspections on housing units, according to the indictment.
Prosecutors said Pedraza had been responsible for assigning housing to applicants and cut the checks that subsidized rent payments. The government wants to seize nearly $15,000 in cash from the women beyond the criminal charges lodged against them.
If convicted of the most serious crime of bribery, the pair faces up to 15 years in prison and a $250,000 fine each.