WASHINGTON – An employee of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) was sentenced today in Asheville, N.C., to six months in prison for stealing $114,494 in government funds, announced Assistant Attorney General Lanny A. Breuer of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division and Special Agent in Charge Elton Malone of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of the Inspector General (HHS-OIG), Office of Investigations, Special Investigations Branch.
Jihan S. Cover, 34, of Arden, N.C., was sentenced today by U.S. District Judge Martin Reidinger in the Western District of North Carolina. In addition to her prison term, Cover was ordered to forfeit $114,494, pay $114,494 in restitution to HHS and serve three years of supervised release, including six months of home confinement, following her prison term.
Cover pleaded guilty to one count of theft on Aug. 22, 2011.
According to court documents, Cover worked as a purchasing agent with the National Institutes of Health (NIH), National Cancer Institute (NCI), a subdivision of HHS, from approximately 2006 through December 2011. Cover’s sole job function involved procuring authorized items and services for NIH/NCI using assigned government credit cards.
According to plea documents, between June 2009 and December 2010, Cover, who received regular training in the proper use of government credit cards, used and caused to be used NIH/NCI credit cards assigned to her to complete over 250 unauthorized personal transactions totaling approximately $114,494.
During this period of time, according to her plea, Cover used and caused to be used her NIH/NCI purchase cards to make over 170 personal purchases totaling approximately $16,000 from Amazon.com for items that included toys, exercise equipment, books, clothes and other personal times. Almost all of these items were shipped to Cover’s residence in Arden. In addition, Cover admitted using her NIH/NCI purchase cards to pay off over $29,000 in balances she accrued with various cash advance and payday loan vendors.
According to plea documents, Cover also used and caused to be used her NIH/NCI purchase cards to make more than $47,000 in payments to personal accounts she caused to be created on PayPal, an online payment website. Cover directed over $46,000 from these PayPal accounts to be deposited into bank accounts that she controlled. Plea documents also revealed that in an effort to conceal her misuse of assigned purchase cards, Cover created additional PayPal accounts associated with email accounts that she controlled and which she selected to resemble the name of a legitimate NIH/NCI vendor. In this manner, Cover made over $11,000 in additional hidden payments to these PayPal accounts.
According to court documents, Cover also engaged in additional fraudulent personal transactions totaling approximately $11,000.
In addition, Cover admitted that she further sought 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 her plea hearing, Cover admitted that in or about January and June 2011, she lied to investigators, claiming that she had satisfied personal transactions made with her NIH/NCI purchase cards using her personal bank account, which in fact she knew she had not. 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.
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.