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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Meals on Wheels former bookkeeper faces wire fraud charge

In this photo from last August, Meals on Wheels volunteer Howard Kovarsky, left, gives the hand of Theo Adams a squeeze after he drops off lunch and another fan for her little house in East Central in Spokane (Jesse Tinsley / The Spokesman-Review)

A former bookkeeper for Greater Spokane County Meals on Wheels in Spokane Valley faces a federal wire fraud charge for allegedly spending funds that were supposed to be used by the nonprofit charity that works to deliver meals to the elderly.

According to court records filed Thursday, Michelle S. Ferrell faces a maximum of 20 years in federal prison and a $250,000 fine if she is convicted on the single count of wire fraud. Ferrell is scheduled for a first appearance before U.S. Magistrate Judge John Rodgers at 1:30 p.m. Feb. 28.

“As soon as we discovered there was a discrepancy, she was placed on suspension,” said Rick Waldt, board member of the organization based in Spokane Valley. “She is no longer with the organization.”

Ferrell worked as a bookkeeper for Meals on Wheels from May 2013 until last April. As part of her job, she had access to the organization’s payroll, bank accounts and accounting information.

Ferrell “used her access to MOW funds and accounts to make electronic funds transfers to, and debit card purchases from, various businesses and entities for her personal benefit,” according to court records. Ferrell “frequently disguised these purchases in MOW’s internal accounting records to conceal them and to make them appear to be for legitimate MOW expenses.”

Ferrell does not yet have an attorney assigned to her case and efforts to reach her late Thursday were unsuccessful.

As part of the alleged scheme, Assistant U.S. Attorneys Dan Fruchter and Tyler Tornabene contend Ferrell failed to file the proper payroll taxes with the Internal Revenue Service. Ferrell “did this for the purpose of ensuring that MOW would have funds in its accounts for her to use for her personal expenses, and to not draw attention to the fraudulent scheme.”

After officials from Greater Spokane Meals on Wheels learned of problems with the bookkeeping, they were left owing $120,000 to the IRS in back payroll taxes, as well as penalties and interest, court records state.

“While it was incredibly disappointing, the situation will not affect our ability to deliver services to those folks,” Waldt said. “I think we are very fortunate in that regard.”

Greater Spokane County Meals on Wheels serves about 1,000 meals a day and 298,000 meals a year through the efforts of over 300 volunteers and a small professional staff, Waldt said.

The indictment also seeks to force Ferrell to forfeit a home on the 4100 block of South Hollow Court in Spokane Valley valued at more than $500,000. Federal prosecutors are also seeking about $89,000 in restitution “representing the amount of proceeds obtained from the wire fraud violations,” court records state.

Editor’s note: Michelle S. Ferrell worked for Greater Spokane County Meals on Wheels in Spokane Valley. An earlier version of this report listed her working for a different Meals on Wheels organization.