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Paso Robles Woman Sentenced to Six Years in Prison for Filing Application that Contained Forged Signatures for $35 Million in Federal Grants to Fund After-School Programs in Coachella Valley

November 21, 2011

RIVERSIDE, California – A Paso Robles woman was sentenced this morning to 72 months in federal prison for orchestrating a scheme to defraud the United States Department of Education by submitting a $35 million grant application for before- and after-school programs in the Coachella Valley that contained forged signatures and other false statements.

Jean Michele Cross, 60, was sentenced by United States District Judge Virginia A. Phillips, who also ordered the defendant to pay a $60,000 fine.

“The Justice Department is committed to protecting taxpayer-funded programs from fraud and abuse,” said United States Attorney André Birotte Jr. “In this case, Ms. Cross violated the law and attempted to line her own pockets in her bid to obtain a grant that otherwise could have done a tremendous amount of good for young people in the Coachella Valley.”

Cross was found guilty following a trial in June of mail fraud, forging a writing to obtain money from the United States and making false statements. The convictions related to an application Cross filed in March 2007 on behalf of Indio Youth Task Force (IYTF), a non-profit, community-based organization in the Coachella Valley. The application was for a 21st Century Community Learning Centers Program (21st CCLC), a federally funded grant program for before- and after-school programs that was authorized by the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001.

After the application was submitted on behalf of IYTF, the California Department of Education, which administered the 21st CCLC grant program in California, awarded the five-year grant for approximately $6.9 million annually and mailed a $3,455,370 check to IYTF in December 2007. In April 2008, after improprieties about the grant application process surfaced, IYTF returned the check.

“The government has determined that one way to improve the lives and education of disadvantaged children is through the funding of programs like those covered under the 21st CCLC program,” prosecutors wrote in sentencing papers filed with the court. Cross “has taken advantage of that stream of taxpayer dollars and has diverted substantial sums into her own pocket. Here, she intended to divert more than $5 million earmarked for needy children into her own pocket by fraud and deceit.”

In imposing the six-year sentence, United States District Judge Virginia A.
Phillips found that Cross obstructed justice by giving false testimony during her trial. Judge Phillips also explained that, because of Cross’s misconduct in this case, many needy children missed out on valuable programs.

The 21st CCLC grant application contained several forms that required signatures from persons involved with the administration of the grant, including the authorized executive of the applicant agency, school principals and school district superintendents. The evidence at trial showed that Cross altered and forged signatures
and documents in the grant application. Specifically, Cross forged the signatures
of the executive director of IYTF, school principals and school district officials on the
21st CCLC application and supporting documents. Cross also forged and altered documents submitted in support of the application.

Additionally, Cross concealed a 15 percent fee she had negotiated in exchange for submitting a successful grant application.

The case against Cross is the result of an investigation by the United States Department of Education, Office of Inspector General; the Federal Bureau of Investigation; and the Riverside County District Attorney's Office.

Release No. 11-163

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