Bozeman Man Sentenced for Embezzling More Than $300,000 from Elderly and Disabled Clients
MISSOULA—A Bozeman man was sentenced Thursday for embezzling over $300,000 entrusted to him by the Social Security Administration, the Veterans Administration, the U.S. Railroad Retirement Board, and private funds for 36 individuals needing help with their money by reason of age or disability. William Wise, 50, was sentenced to 30 months in prison and three years’ supervised release. In addition, Wise was ordered to pay $369,582 in restitution. He was also ordered to forfeit $369,582 to the United States.
Wise was sentenced in connection with his May 2014 guilty plea to mail fraud.
In a sentencing memorandum, Assistant U.S. Attorney Chad Spraker told the court that in 1994, William Wise started a consulting business, Walking Cross Incorporated (WCI), with his friend John Heintz. In or about 2000, WCI began providing personal financial services for elderly and disabled clients, including those receiving money from the Social Security Administration (SSA), the Veterans Administration, and the U.S. Railroad Retirement Board. The agencies appointed WCI to act as a representative payee to manage federal money for the benefit of those having difficulty managing their own affairs.
In the Fall of 2007, Audrey Reese became a client of WCI, and Wise had a power of attorney over her financial accounts. Reese died in April 2011. Helen Carey, a family friend of Reese, was appointed as Reese’s personal representative. In the process of administering Reese’s estate, Carey requested bank records from Wise. Wise did not respond to Carey’s multiple requests, so she obtained copies of Reese’s bank records directly from the bank. Upon reviewing the records, Carey discovered that Wise had written large checks from Reese’s account beginning in fall 2007.
Bank records for WCI show that numerous checks, often in amounts of $1000 or $2000, were drawn from Reese’s bank account and deposited into the WCI account. The checks did not bear any indication that they were drawn for Reese’s personal expenses and were deposited into the WCI account on days when it was nearly overdrawn. Wise also transferred money from other client accounts into the WCI account during times when it was close to being overdrawn.
After his records were seized through a search warrant, Wise was interviewed in April 2012. Wise told investigators that he used WCI funds to pay several credit cards used for personal expenses. Wise admitted that WCI was not an approved fee-for-service organizational representative payee, which would have allowed WCI to charge clients for administering their benefits. Nevertheless, Wise charged fees to SSA beneficiaries at a rate of $35 a month for clients with Supplemental Security Income and $50 a month for clients with Social Security Disability Insurance. He also stated that when clients had negative balances, other SSA beneficiaries’ funds would be used to cover the shortfall.
Wise was interviewed again on December 21, 2012. According to Wise, his misuse of fiduciary funds started before 2000, when he “advanced” approximately $2000 from M.H.’s account to WCI. Wise admitted to using money from the WCI account to send his children to summer camp and purchase catering products for a side business. Wise also stated that his personal living expenses were paid out of the WCI account. When clients asked him questions, he would show them balances when in fact the clients had no money. In total, Wise embezzled $369,582 of his clients’ money.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Chad Spraker prosecuted the case. The investigation was collaborative effort between the State of Montana Division of Criminal Investigations; Social Security Administration, Office of Inspector General; Federal Bureau of Investigation, Department of Veteran’s Affairs, Office of Inspector General; and the U.S. Railroad Retirement Board, Office of Inspector General.