According to an article published on KTVQ.com, the former welfare director for the Blackfeet Tribe’s Temporary Assistance to Need Families (TANF) program wasn’t counting on getting caught for embezzling government funds. Fortunately for taxpayers, she forgot to think about how to get rid of the government’s back-up copy of her fraudulent transactions. (There’s always a copy somewhere.)
TANF is a welfare program funded by the federal government to assist needy families with the purchase of basic needs, including food, clothing and housing. The program also helps with employment, transportation and education. Over a four-year period, the Blackfeet tribe received a total of $12 million in TANF funding. During this time period, the former welfare director engaged in a variety of schemes to overpay approximately 16 to 20 eligible and ineligible TANF clients, while receiving a kick-back from the cashed benefit checks.
The fraudster accomplished the overpayments by adding real and fictitious dependents to the payment calculation. She would also keep household residents who were no longer living in the household on the payroll. The former director was able to conceal her actions from other office staff because she restricted account access to the computer file. Auditors estimated the woman pocketed nearly $300,000 from the fraudulent transactions.
Things went downhill for the fraudster when she tried to delete the files relating to the fraudulent scheme. Apparently, she did not know about the back-up file located at an out-of-state facility, which provided the evidence needed to recreate the transactions that were part of the former director’s plan to split the benefits. While being interviewed by investigators, the woman admitted that she had kept a small part of each fraudulent transaction amounting to about $100 per check. (Not exactly. In reality, she kept a majority of the proceeds to spend on her gambling habit.) According to the folks she scammed, she was telling them that her “cut” was going back into the TANF program because it was part of a grant.
The woman faces up to 10 years in prison plus a fine of up to $250,000. She may have to pay restitution of more than $297,000. (That seems like a “no-brainer” to me.) Let’s hope her sentence accurately reflects the punishment deserved for gambling with other peoples’ future.