doj.gif

NEWS RELEASE

OFFICE OF THE UNITED STATES ATTORNEY

WESTERN DISTRICT OF MISSOURI


JOHN F. WOOD


Contact Don Ledford, Public Affairs ● (816) 426-4220 ● 400 East Ninth Street, Room 5510 ● Kansas City, MO 64106

www.usdoj.gov/usao/mow/index.html


SEPTEMBER 24, 2008

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE


FORMER BUCHANAN COUNTY OFFICIAL

PLEADS GUILTY TO STEALING $118,000


EMBEZZLED SOCIAL SECURITY PAYMENTS

FROM 120 DISABLED CLIENTS


            KANSAS CITY, Mo. – John F. Wood, United States Attorney for the Western District of Missouri, announced that a former Buchanan County, Mo., official pleaded guilty in federal court today to embezzling $118,000 from Social Security payments intended for dependent or disabled clients served by her office.


            Bonnie Sue Lawson, 68, of St. Joseph, Mo., waived her right to a grand jury and pleaded guilty before U.S. District Judge Gary A. Fenner this afternoon to a federal information that charges her with stealing public money.


            “This former elected official abused the public’s trust and stole public money that was intended to assist the vulnerable clients who were dependent upon her,” Wood said.


            Lawson served as Buchanan County Public Administrator from her election in 1996 until her resignation in August 2006. As Public Administrator, Lawson was appointed as the guardian for mentally impaired or developmentally disabled adults in instances where these adults had no one else who was willing to act on their behalf. Some of the clients under Lawson’s care received Social Security Administration benefits on a monthly basis. Lawson, who was appointed by the Social Security Administration as the representative payee for clients who were identified as either physically or mentally unable to handle their own financial affairs, established separate bank accounts where the Social Security funds were deposited. Lawson maintained control over the accounts.


            By pleading guilty today, Lawson admitted that, from Sept. 1, 2003, to Aug. 21, 2006, she embezzled funds from these accounts for her own use.


            Lawson accomplished her embezzlement by generating checks payable to herself under the guise that the proceeds were to pay her fees. The checks or embezzled monies were above and beyond any legitimate payments due to Lawson as representative payee. Lawson then altered the accounting records, maintained electronically, in her Public Administrator’s office in order to conceal her embezzlement. Lawson also concealed her embezzlement by submitting false and fraudulent reports to the Social Security Administration.


            Approximately 120 separate client accounts were identified by investigators as having

been embezzled by Lawson. Investigators also calculated an aggregate loss figure of approximately $118,000 from Lawson’s embezzlement activities. This sum represents Social Security payments intended for the use and care of dependant or disabled clients.


            Under federal statutes, Lawson is subject to a sentence of up to 10 years in federal prison without parole, plus a fine up to $250,000 and an order of restitution. A sentencing hearing will be scheduled after the completion of a presentence investigation by the United States Probation Office.


            This case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney K. Michael Warner. It was investigated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Social Security Administration – Office of Inspector General, the St. Joseph, Mo., Police Department and the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services..


****************

This news release, as well as additional information about the office of the United States Attorney for the Western District of Missouri, is available on-line at

www.usdoj.gov/usao/mow/index.html