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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE CONTACT: DAVILYN WALSTON
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ADDITIONAL HELENA LAB EMPLOYEE
SENTENCED FOR MAIL FRAUD SCHEME
(Beaumont, Texas) Acting United States Attorney John L. Ratcliffe announced that one additional Helena Lab employee has been sentenced in a complex mail fraud scheme in the Eastern District of Texas.
SONIA ELEFANO, 55, of Beaumont, was sentenced to three years probation, 120 hours home confinement with electronic monitoring, and 300 hours community service today by United States District Judge Marcia Crone. Elefano previously pleaded guilty to a felony offense related to the mail fraud scheme on December 1, 2006. She was also ordered to pay restitution of $89,919.40 to Helena Labs.
According to court documents, Elefano worked for Helena Laboratories, a Beaumont company which manufactures testing materials for the biotechnical and biopharmaceutical communities. One of Helena’s principal products, QuickGel, is a film gel that scientists use to secure and analyze blood serum and other DNA samples.
In 2003, several Helena employees discovered a process to dramatically improve or “derivatize” the film gels, but did not disclose their discovery to Helena. Rather, they concealed the discovery and shipped the improved or “derivatized” material to an independent company in Ohio. The Helena employees then used their positions to cause Helena to order the derivatized material from the Ohio company at inflated prices. The Ohio company repackaged the material received from the Helena employees and sent the material and an invoice back to Helena. After Helena paid the Ohio company for the derivatized material, the Ohio company kicked back most of the money to the Helena employees.
According to additional documents, in February 2005, the Helena employees sought advice from a local Beaumont lawyer, who formed a shell company named WindCat, LLC and opened up a bank account for WindCat. Thereafter, WindCat submitted bogus invoices to the Ohio company and the Ohio company paid WindCat rather than the individual Helena employees, including Hicks, Tansamrit, Elefano and McNeely. WindCat in turn used the funds to purchase real estate in Beaumont and Crystal Beach, Texas and made cash payments to relatives of the Helena employees.
Ratcliffe is serving as the Acting United States Attorney in this case. United States Attorney Matthew D. Orwig recused himself from the case because of his close professional relationship with the Jefferson County District Attorney’s Office and recommended Ratcliffe’s appointment by the Justice Department.
These cases were investigated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorneys Arnold Spencer, Malcolm Bales and Robert Rawls.