WASHINGTON — An employee of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) pleaded guilty today in U.S. District Court in Asheville, N.C., to theft of approximately $114,494 in government funds, announced Assistant Attorney General Lanny A. Breuer of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division.
Jihan S. Cover, 33, of Arden, N.C., pleaded guilty before Magistrate Judge Dennis L. Howell in the Western District of North Carolina to a one-count criminal information charging her with theft of government property. According to the criminal information, filed Aug. 11, 2011, Cover has worked as a purchasing agent with the National Institutes of Health (NIH), National Cancer Institute (NCI), a subdivision of HHS, from 2006 through the present. Cover’s sole job function involved procuring authorized items and services for NIH/NCI using assigned government credit cards or purchase cards.
According to court documents, between June 2009 and December 2010, Cover, who received regular training in the proper use of purchase cards, admitted using and causing to be used NIH/NCI purchase cards assigned to her in more than 250 unauthorized personal transactions totaling approximately $114,494.
According to the plea agreement, Cover used and caused the purchase cards to be used to make more than 170 personal purchases totaling approximately $16,000 from Amazon.com for toys, exercise equipment, books, clothes and other personal items. Almost all of these items were shipped to Cover’s residence in Arden. In addition, Cover admitted to using the purchase cards to pay off more than $29,000 in balances she accrued with various cash advance and payday loan vendors. Cover also made more than $47,000 in payments to personal accounts she created on PayPal, an online payment website.
In addition, Cover admitted that she tried to conceal her actions by submitting various dispute forms to the bank servicing her purchase cards, claiming that she did not recognize certain charges or did not authorize them, when in fact, she knowingly made or caused to be made the personal charges. During the guilty plea hearing, Cover admitted that in January and June 2011, she lied to investigators, claiming that she had reimbursed the personal transactions she made with her NIH/NCI purchase cards using her personal bank account, which in fact she knew she had not done. Previously, when confronted by her supervisor at NIH/NCI regarding suspicious transactions, Cover claimed falsely that she had been the victim of identity theft, when in fact she knew that she had caused the transactions.
At sentencing Cover faces up to 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine. The government is also seeking forfeiture of $114,494. A sentencing date has not been set.
This case is being prosecuted by Trial Attorney Eric G. Olshan of the Criminal Division’s Public Integrity Section. This case was investigated by the HHS Office of Inspector General.