Vanessa Topaz Bahr and Justin Gene Meineke Plead Guilty in U.S. Federal Cour
Bill Mercer, United States Attorney for the District of Montana, announced today that during a federal court session in Great Falls on April 16, 2009, before U.S. Magistrate Judge Keith Strong, VANESSA TOPAZ BAHR, age 30, and JUSTIN GENE MEINEKE, age 30, residents of Browning, pled guilty to theft of government property and making false claims. Sentencing is set for July 27, 2009. They are currently detained.
In an Offer of Proof filed by the United States, the government stated it would have proved at trial the following:
MEINEKE and BAHR went to the Indian Health Service in November of 2007 to get their child vaccinated. They observed vehicle keys on the desk of an IHS employee. When he could do so without being observed, MEINEKE stole the keys with the notion that BAHR would return at some point and steal the vehicle to which the keys belonged. Attached to the keys was a pouch containing a General Services Administration (GSA) fuel credit card. Use of these cards are intended only government employees to fuel government vehicles being used in the course of government business.
After leaving the IHS, the pair realized that they could use the stolen GSA credit card to obtain fuel for their vehicle, as well as those of friends and relatives who would pay them for filling their cars with gas. Once they had discovered how to get the card activated, or approved for use, by coding the transaction to the identification number of the vehicle and using a five digit mileage entry, they began charging friends and relatives $20 per car to get their vehicles filled with gas; $40 for larger vehicles or 1/2 the pump reading. The fraudulent claims began on November 27, 2007.
Before the scheme was discovered and ended in January of 2008, the two had charged $6,788.10 in unlawful fuel purchases on the GSA credit card. After a brief investigation, MEINEKE was stopped in the middle of a fill-up at a Browning gas station on January 25, 2008. He later relinquished the card and provided a confession detailing the theft and illegal use of the card. He was not arrested or charged at that time. Authorities attempted to interview BAHR, who was at that time incarcerated in Cascade County, but she refused their request.
Sometime thereafter, beginning in August of 2008, MEINEKE and BAHR obtained two more GSA gas cards which had been stolen from IHS ambulances. Claims against the GSA on the unlawful use of these stolen cards totaled $16,871.86. The GSA card which had been used for $15,103.13 of that amount was surrendered to law enforcement by BAHR on September 23, 2008. On this occasion, when interviewed, BAHR admitted her role in the theft and use of the first GSA credit card, and to the fraudulent use of the two others. MEINEKE was also interviewed and reaffirmed his involvement in the theft and use of the first GSA credit card but denied using the two other GSA credit cards.
The final two GSA credit cards were determined to have been stolen and fraudulently used in October of 2008.
BAHR and MEINEKE each face possible penalties of 10 years in prison, a $250,000 fine and 3 years supervised release.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Carl E. Rostad prosecuted the case for the United States.
The investigation was conducted by Office of the Inspector General for the General Services Administration.
A copy of the Offer of Proof can be obtained by contacting Sally Frank at (406) 247-4638.