Former Jasper County Official Indicted for $200,000 Fraud, Misusing Public Funds
|U.S. Attorney’s Office December 15, 2011|
SPRINGFIELD, MO—Beth Phillips, United States Attorney for the Western District of Missouri, announced today that the former public administrator of Jasper County, Mo., has been indicted by a federal grand jury for a nearly $200,000 fraud scheme in which she illegally obtained federal Medicaid and Social Security benefits for her wards, then used those proceeds to subsidize the administration of her office.
Rita Frances Hunter, 59, of Joplin, Mo., was charged in a 12-count indictment returned by a federal grand jury in Springfield, Mo., on Wednesday, Dec. 14, 2011.
The federal indictment charges Hunter, who was the elected Public Administrator for Jasper County from Jan. 1, 2005, to Dec. 31, 2008, with two counts each of health care fraud, theft of public money, Social Security fraud and Medicaid fraud and four counts of document fraud. The indictment specifically alleges violations related to 14 wards, primarily mentally disabled or indigent persons who were designated by the Circuit Court to be under the care and custody of the Public Administrator as the guardian/conservator. The wards allegedly received $196,597 in Medicaid and Social Security benefits that were illegally funneled to the Public Administrator’s office.
According to the indictment, Hunter directed her employees to submit materially false Medicaid applications for wards under the custody of the Public Administrator’s office. These applications falsely stated that the wards had assets below the $1,000 threshold to be eligible to receive Medicaid benefits, when in fact, the wards had more than $1,000 in assets.
Hunter allegedly used resources from those wards to fund approximately $121,099 toward the administration of the office, including payments for administration fees, attorney fees, tax preparation fees and court fees unrelated to the ward’s medical care and not allowed under law.
Hunter also charged fees that were collected from wards whose sole source of income was Social Security payments, the indictment says. Hunter allegedly converted those Social Security payments, which were made for the benefit of the wards, to the use of her office, without proper authorization and without reporting the fees to the Social Security Administration. The fees, according to the indictment, would not have been approved by the Social Security Administration.
Hunter allegedly misused Social Security funds by charging $15,901 in attorney fees and $59,597 in public administrator fees, for a total fraud of $75,498.
Phillips cautioned that the charges contained in this indictment are simply accusations, and not evidence of guilt. Evidence supporting the charges must be presented to a federal trial jury, whose duty is to determine guilt or innocence.
This case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Randall D. Eggert. It was investigated by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the U.S. Social Security Administration, the FBI, the Missouri State Highway Patrol, and the Missouri Department of Social Services Legal Investigation Section.