A Spokane Valley woman has pleaded guilty to a federal wire fraud charge after she admitted funneling $88,000 to her own accounts from her former employer, Greater Spokane County Meals on Wheels.
Michelle S. Ferrell, 59, who worked for the nonprofit organization from 2013 to last May, pleaded guilty Tuesday before U.S. District Court Judge Robert Whaley.
“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,” U.S. Attorney Joseph Harrington said in a news release. “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.”
According to court records, Ferrell worked as a bookkeeper for Greater Spokane County Meals on Wheels, which is separate from and serves different clients than Meals on Wheels Spokane. Both organizations rely on private donations to provide meals to elderly and disabled persons in the region.
As part of her job, Ferrell had access to the county organization’s bank accounts, debit cards and payroll system. However, she used access to those accounts to funnel Meals on Wheels money for her own personal expenses, including mortgage, utility and property tax payments, according to court records.
In addition, Ferrell also failed to properly file tax returns for the organization and falsified internal accounting records to reflect that the organization had paid the full amount, Harrington said.
Once officials with Greater Spokane County Meals on Wheels discovered the problems, they disclosed the fraud and ended up owing the Internal Revenue Service more than $120,000.
“As soon as we discovered there was a discrepancy, she was placed on suspension,” Rick Waldt, board member of the organization based in Spokane Valley, said earlier this month. “She is no longer with the organization.”
Ferrell faces up to 20 years in federal prison and a $250,000 fine, but is expected to receive much less prison time when she is sentenced on May 14.
As part of the plea agreement Ferrell has agreed to forfeit her home in Spokane Valley which she financed with funds stolen from the organization.
“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,” Harrington said.
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