Former HARC Employee Charged With Making False Statements To The Social Security Administration
Tampa, FL – United States Attorney A. Lee Bentley, III announces the filing of an information and plea agreement charging Sandra K. Shepherd (53, Tampa) with making a false statement to the Social Security Administration. If convicted, she faces a maximum penalty of 5 years in federal prison and a fine of $250,000. In her plea agreement, Shepherd has also agreed to make full restitution to the Social Security Administration program (SSA), or its designee.
According to court documents, the Hillsborough Achievement and Resource Centers (HARC), formerly the Hillsborough Association for Retarded Citizens, was established in 1953 to positively impact the future for all people living with developmental disabilities, such as Alzheimer’s disease and Down syndrome. HARC opened and operated group homes that served its target client population. HARC also spearheaded various community programs for its clients focused on inclusion activities for youths, adults, and seniors with disabilities.
Many of the HARC clients received SSA benefits due to various developmental disabilities. For certain HARC clients who lacked the capacity to manage their own SSA benefits, SSA approved one or more HARC officials to act as a “Representative Payee” to receive a particular client’s benefits and to use them exclusively for that client’s benefit. As a Representative Payee, the HARC official was required to complete and submit to the SSA a “Representative Payee Report” that included certain information about each HARC client’s living situation and the financial benefits received and expended on behalf of that client.
Shepherd began volunteering at HARC in 2010, and she was later hired to work as a HARC client finance manager. As a client finance manager, one of Shepherd’s duties was to annually assist the HARC CFO in completing and submitting to the SSA a Representative Payee Report for each developmentally disabled HARC client for whom HARC had acted as a Representative Payee.
In March 2011, Shepherd learned that certain HARC clients’ SSA funds—purportedly allocated solely for the HARC clients’ personal needs and use—had been wrongfully diverted by HARC executives from the clients for other purposes. Shepherd raised the wrongful diversion of the clients’ funds with the CFO, who acknowledged the conduct and quipped that the HARC CEO was “going to look good in orange.” Shepherd also discussed the diversion of the funds with the prior HARC CFO, who likewise acknowledged the wrongfulness of the diversion.
Notwithstanding her knowledge of the wrongful diversion of HARC client funds, Shepherd continued to complete false and fraudulent Representative Payee Reports relating to developmentally disabled HARC clients that stated, in pertinent part, that SSA benefits had been spent solely for particular HARC clients (for such items and services as clothing, education, medical and dental expenses, recreation, or other personal items), when that was not the case. Shepherd then provided the fraudulent payee reports to the HARC CFO for signature and mailed the reports to the SSA.
In June 2013, the U.S. Attorney’s Office filed a Verified Complaint for Forfeiture In Rem in a related case (Case No. 8:13-Cv-1601-T-17TBM), seeking the forfeiture of $87,000 held in a Synovus Bank account. That complaint raised like allegations—that HARC clients’ SSA benefits had been wrongfully diverted from the clients and used by HARC for other purposes—and was supported by facts contained in the sworn affidavit of a special agent with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services - Office of Inspector General. On September 30, 2013, the district court entered a Default Judgment of Forfeiture in which the court ordered the forfeiture of the $87,000 to the United States.
"I want to thank United States Attorney Lee Bentley and all the government agencies involved in investigating this important case,” said Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi. “After multiple discussions between our offices, we determined the U.S. Attorney’s Office was best situated to handle this case and we are pleased with today’s announcement."
“Social Security payments are a lifeline for many Americans. The Office of the Inspector General has no higher priority than the investigation and prosecution of those who violate the public trust of vulnerable beneficiaries,” stated Special Agent-in-Charge Margaret Moore-Jackson, SSA-Office of the Inspector General. “I’m grateful that the U.S. Attorney’s Office shares our determination to ensure the integrity of SSA’s programs.”
"Stealing government checks meant to cover the personal expenses of developmentally delayed clients in your care just to enrich yourself is a serious betrayal of trust," said Special Agent in charge Shimon R. Richmond. "Our agency is dedicated to ensuring the integrity of taxpayer-funded programs and the well-being of the often vulnerable beneficiaries of those programs."
An information is merely a formal charge that a defendant has committed one or more violations of federal criminal law, and every defendant is presumed innocent unless, and until, proven guilty.
This case is being investigated by the Social Security Administration - Office of the Inspector General, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services - Office of the Inspector General, and the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, along with the State of Florida’s Department of Financial Services - Office of Fiscal Integrity. It is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney Jay G. Trezevant.