Leah Daniell Morton Pleads Guilty in U.S. Federal Cour
The United States Attorney's Office announced that during a federal court session in Missoula, on September 22, 2011, before U.S. District Judge Donald W. Molloy, LEAH DANIELL MORTON, a 32-year-old resident of Ronan, pled guilty to theft from a Tribal organization. Sentencing has been set for January 5, 2012. She is currently released on special conditions.
In an Offer of Proof filed by Assistant U.S. Attorney Timothy J. Racicot, the government stated it would have proved at trial the following:
MORTON was an approved participant in the Salish Kootenai Housing Authority's ("SKHA") Tenant Based Assistance program ("TBA") from June 2005 until January 2009. The SKHA is an agency of the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes of the Flathead Reservation and receives funds from the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development ("HUD") in the form of Indian Housing Block Grants.
In April 2006, the MORTON household moved to a residence in Ronan and their rental subsidy was based on information provided on a March 29, 2006 questionnaire. MORTON reported on that questionnaire that her only source of income was an Social Security Disability (SSI) payment for her son in the amount of $603 per month.
On February 21, 2007, MORTON again reported that her household's only source of income was her son's SSI benefit. Also on February 21, 2007, MORTON signed a Fraud Notice form that warned her about the HUD fraud guidelines and outlined examples where fraud might occur, including reporting less than all sources of income.
On February 28, 2008, MORTON again falsely claimed that her only source of income was her son's SSI benefit. On that same date she signed a "No Income Declaration" and another Fraud Notice.
In December 2008, MORTON asked to transfer to a different residence. When the SKHA attempted to verify income in connection with that request, it discovered that MORTON had been employed full-time by the Mountain View Care Center since July 2006. A HUD agent later discovered that MORTON's boyfriend had also been employed the vast majority of the time that the MORTON household was receiving SKHA benefits.
From the third quarter of 2006 until the second quarter of 2009, MORTON and her boyfriend earned a total of $71,197 that they failed to report to the SKHA. However, the SKHA does not adjust rental subsidies based on income increases that occur between annual certifications, so the income earned and concealed before MORTON filled out the February 2007 questionnaire would not have been used to adjust her subsidy and is not included in the amount of overpayments that MORTON received.
Based only on the income concealed from February 2007 until January 2009, MORTON received $9,583 in housing assistance to which she was not entitled. MORTON was interviewed by a HUD agent on a few occasions and admitted that she did not report her income to the SKHA because she knew that her rent would increase. MORTON also said that her boyfriend did not know about the income reporting requirements and merely signed the forms as directed by MORTON.
MORTON faces possible penalties of 5 years in prison, a $250,000 fine and 3 years supervised release.
The investigation was conducted by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development - Inspector General's Office.
A copy of the Offer of Proof can be obtained by contacting Sally Frank at (406) 247-4638.