NYC welfare worker charged with pocketing rent funds for homeless

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A city welfare worker funneled $500,000 in rent checks meant for homeless families to phony landlords who paid him kickbacks, authorities said Thursday.

Rafael Heras, 45, was arrested Wednesday along with one of the purported landlords, Carlos Felix, 74, both of Manhattan, according to the New York City Department of Investigation. Both were charged with grand larceny and welfare fraud.

As an associate job opportunity specialist with the city's Human Resources Administration, where he has worked since 1994, Heras had the authority to issue public subsidies to landlords housing homeless families. Instead, the money went to Felix and other accomplices in a scheme that lasted from 2006 to 2009, the Department of Investigation said.

According to the Manhattan district attorney's office, Felix helped Heras steal $100,000.

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Authorities say both men confessed, and that Felix said he would deposit the checks, give Heras about $625 for each and keep about $300.

The case came to light after agency officials noted discrepancies involving Heras, a DOI statement said.

His attorney, Francisco Knipping-Diaz of Washington Heights, questioned whether his client's supposed confession was coerced. He said Heras is being treated for depression and high blood pressure and was medicated during the early morning arrest.

"This guy's a doll, a teddy bear, so I expect that we're going to get a favorable outcome at the end of the day," he said. "Things in the beginning look very bad, and then they start looking better with any criminal case."

Felix's lawyer didn't return calls for comment. Heras was jailed on $10,000 cash bail, and Felix, $5,000.

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