CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas — A concerned viewer notified us that a line had formed at the "El Barrio Food Pantry" on Thursday.
Several people were there to get a refund from the 361 Grant program that KRIS 6 continuously reported on.
Despite people getting refunds, we've learned an employee of the program has become suspicious themselves.
“Anyone that has requested a refund, we’re giving it to. I’m sorry that we can’t give it to you right there and then when you just show up because we’ve got to check some stuff. See if you paid with a check or what, but we’re not hiding from giving you your money back,” said Daniel Saenz, the man in charge of the 361 Grant program.
Saenz clears up any confusion on who is running the program.
"I run the business, ok? I've got every responsibility, financial responsibility, everything to do with the business. I have the say so," Saenz said in a phone call. "So, everything comes back to me. My son, he's just listed as the owner of the business."
As of Thursday, Saenz said at least 84 refunds have been given in regard to grant applications.
The 361 Grant program charges people $150 to apply for a grant described as Covid relief, a way to fix up your home.
Saenz described two grants, one federal and one private. He said they don't charge for the federal one, but have not provided proof of where the private one comes from.
Some people who have applied said they were under the impression it was a federal grant. Others have said there was no mention of government.
Saenz said even if you get a refund he isn’t stopping the paperwork for the $10,000 grants.
But is the grant real?
“So, it’s just straight-up fraud. It looks like a scam, smells like a scam to me. There are no programs out there that act this way,” said attorney Chris Waller.
Waller is an attorney hired by Velma Hernandez, a resident of Robstown. Hernandez initially made contact with Saenz when she applied for the grant and paid her fee.
She said Saenz then hired her to help with applications and collect money because she’s well known in her community and could attract more applicants.
According to Hernandez, people know her as "the infinity marketing lady." She said Saenz or someone else would come each night to collect applications and money.
Waller said he’s never seen a program like this and if there is no grant, what Saenz is doing is illegal.
“He had actually told Velma, help me pay some of these people back or you’re going to get into trouble. When he had actually been insulating himself, by employing all these people. It’s not just Velma he employed a lot of people to do these applications. And, he used their status in their neighborhoods and everything to trick people into doing these applications. Everybody thought it was legal," he said.
Complaints have come from all over such as Corpus Christi, Robstown, Taft, Mathis, and Banquete.
Someone who identified themself with 361 Grants was at the Banquete Senior Citizens Center with a booth or some sort of presentation.
They didn’t charge anyone for an application but took down the personal information of some seniors. Saenz confirmed this happened.
“We have shredded those papers, we deleted everything from our computer, as we have told people,” he said.
Waller said his client, Hernandez, has since stopped taking applications when she herself became suspicious, as well as when people started sending her death threats.
“Mr. Saenz went to her house, threatened her, and told her that she was going to go to jail and that she had to pay all these people all this money back because it’s her fault and things like that,” Waller said.
Waller saw a copy of the award letter that Hernandez was given.
He also spoke to about 20 people who have gotten involved with the grant program. Waller was immediately skeptical of the award letter, as was State Rep. Abel Herrero.
"They have people's names on them that wouldn't be on award letters from a government agency. and, they look fake. and, finally, people started figuring out, 'hey this might have been a scam.'"
In a phone conversation with our station, we tried asking for more answers from Saenz. After five minutes he became upset and walked away.
"I'm asking you a direct question!" Saenz screamed.
Waller said Hernandez has ended her involvement with the program.
"It's not right, she's just as much a victim as everybody else is," said Waller. "She was just trying to help out and it just looks like Mr. Saenz kind of victimized everybody."
Waller added that he is working with the Robstown Police department and the Nueces County District Attorney's Office to make everyone whole again. They are planning on filing civil litigation.