Woman accused of falsifying a $12,300 housing benefit claim in Westmoreland

An Allegheny County woman is accused of taking $12,300 from the Westmoreland County Emergency Response Program after she forged an application for a vacant New Kensington property, according to the court.

Melissa D. Brandt, 36, of Franklin Park is charged with theft, forgery, identity theft and receiving stolen goods. 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 manage the program to distribute federal funds intended to help tenants experiencing financial difficulties during the coronavirus pandemic.

Brandt filed two applications identifying herself as the landlord of a pair of properties on Kenneth Avenue, police said. For one of the properties, Brandt filed an alleged lease in the name of a man who previously lived in New Kensington and claimed his rent was $6,750 overdue, according to court documents.

She was handed two checks: $9,000 for past and future rent and $3,300 for utilities, police said.

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

The man whose name Brandt allegedly used told detectives he had never rented a property on Kenneth Avenue or Brandt’s, did not recognize her photo and never signed the plea for help, according to court papers.

Investigators reported that the two properties involved in Brandt’s filing are owned by another person and are vacant. One was in disrepair, the other was being renovated.

Pat McGrath, the new Kensington Code Enforcement Officer, said Brandt is not listed as a manager or landlord for those properties.

Both checks were deposited in Brandt’s bank accounts, according to court documents. Her lawyer declined to comment. There will be a preliminary hearing on June 29.

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

Renatta Signorini is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Renatta at 724-837-5374, [email protected] or via Twitter

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