Spokane Valley Woman Pleads Guilty to Stealing Over $88,000 from Greater Spokane County Meals On Wheels
Spokane – Today, Joseph H. Harrington, United States Attorney for the Eastern District of Washington, announced that Michelle Susan Ferrell, age 59, of Spokane Valley, Washington, pled guilty to wire fraud. Senior United States District Judge Robert H. Whaley accepted Ferrell’s guilty plea and scheduled a sentencing hearing for May 14, 2019 at 9:30 a.m. in Spokane, Washington.
According to court documents and information disclosed during the court proceedings, between May 2013 and April 2018, Ferrell was a bookkeeper at Greater Spokane County Meals on Wheels (Meals on Wheels). Meals on Wheels, which is part of the nationwide Meals on Wheels America organization operating throughout the United States, relies on government funding and private donations to provide over 1,000 meals each day to elderly and disabled residents of Spokane County. As a bookkeeper for Meals on Wheels, Ferrell had access to Meals on Wheels’ bank accounts, debit cards, and payroll system.
While employed at Meals on Wheels, Ferrell frequently used Meals on Wheels funds and bank accounts to pay for her unauthorized personal expenses, including mortgage, utility, and property tax payments on Ferrell’s residence, and to electronically transfer funds to herself and her businesses. Ferrell frequently disguised these transfers in Meals on Wheels’ internal accounting system to make them appear as though they were legitimate Meals on Wheels expenses. In this manner, between May 2013 and April 2018, Ferrell stole $88,800 in Meals on Wheels funds for her own personal use.
Additionally, Ferrell, who was responsible for paying Meals on Wheels’ quarterly payroll taxes to the United States Internal Revenue Service (IRS), frequently underpaid the Meals on Wheels’ payroll taxes, or failed to file tax returns at all, and then falsified Meals on Wheels’ internal accounting records to reflect that it had paid the full amount due. Ferrell did this in order to ensure that Meals on Wheels would have funds in its account that Ferrell could use to pay her personal expenses without drawing attention to herself. When Meals on Wheels discovered this fraud, it was required to file corrected returns with the IRS, resulting in Meals on Wheels owing the IRS an additional over $120,000 in back payroll taxes, not including penalties or interest for late payment, which are still being assessed by the IRS.
United States Attorney Harrington said that “every day, more than one thousand elderly and disabled Spokane County residents rely on Meals on Wheels to provide food so that they don’t go to bed hungry or undernourished. Stealing from an organization that provides a crucial service to so many of the most vulnerable members of our community is simply beyond the pale.” Harrington continued, “I want to especially commend the stellar investigative work done by the FBI in making this result possible. This case demonstrates that our office will continue to work closely with our law enforcement partners to ensure that our tax dollars and charitable donations do not fall prey to fraud and embezzlement.”
The wire fraud charge carries a maximum penalty of 20 years imprisonment, a $250,000 fine, up to 3 years of court supervision after release, and restitution. Additionally, as part of the plea agreement, Ferrell has agreed to the United States’ forfeiture of her residence in Spokane Valley, because it represents the proceeds of the fraud.
This investigation was conducted by the Federal Bureau of Investigation. This case is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorneys Dan Fruchter and Tyler H.L. Tornabene.