Woman accused of faking $ 12,300 application for Westmoreland rental assistance

An Allegheny County woman is accused of taking $ 12,300 from Westmoreland County’s emergency rental assistance program after, authorities said, she forged an application for a vacant New Kensington property, according to court papers.

Melissa D. Brandt, 36, of Franklin Park is charged with theft, forgery, identity theft and receiving stolen property. She was arraigned Tuesday and is free on $ 15,000 unsecured bail.

Westmoreland County detectives said the discrepancy was reported in February by Union Mission near Latrobe, which was tapped to administer the program distributing federal funds aimed at helping renters who suffered financial hardship during the coronavirus pandemic.

Brandt submitted two applications identifying herself as the landlord at a pair of properties on Kenneth Avenue, police said. For one of the properties, Brandt submitted a purported lease agreement using the name of a man who previously lived in New Kensington and claimed his rent was $ 6,750 in arrears, according to court papers.

She was sent two checks – $ 9,000 for back and future rent and $ 3,300 for utility payments, police said.

The second application Brandt sent requesting $ 11,250 for another Kenneth Avenue property was rejected.

The man whose name Brandt is accused of using told detectives he never rented a property on Kenneth Avenue or from Brandt, did not recognize her photo and never signed the application for assistance, according to court papers.

Investigators reported that the two properties involved in Brandt’s application are owned by a different person and vacant. One was in a state of disrepair, and the other was being renovated.

New Kensington Code Enforcement Officer Pat McGrath said Brandt is not listed as property manager or landlord for those properties.

Both checks were deposited into Brandt’s bank accounts, according to court papers. Her attorney declined to comment. A preliminary hearing is set for June 29.

Millions of dollars are available for renters who are continuing to struggle financially because of the pandemic. Applications can be found on a website created for the county’s rental assistance program at erapwestmoreland.org.

Renatta Signorini is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Renatta at 724-837-5374, rsignorini@triblive.com or via Twitter .

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