Second Former HARC Employee Pleads Guilty To Making
For Immediate Release
U.S. Attorney's Office, Middle District of Florida
Tampa, FL – United States Attorney A. Lee Bentley, III announces that Marsha C. Weisse (56, Tampa) today pleaded guilty to 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, Weisse 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 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.
Weisse began working at HARC in 2008 as a comptroller, reporting to the CFO. While working in that capacity, she became aware that 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. Weisse raised the wrongful diversion of the clients’ funds with the CEO, who acknowledged the conduct. Notwithstanding, the CEO instructed Weisse to continue transferring funds from the HARC Endowment Account to the operating account, which she did.
During the fall of 2009, in an effort to conceal that the client funds were being wrongfully diverted, Weisse was instructed by HARC executives—including the HARC CEO and CFO—to secure signatures from the HARC clients on a document backdated to 2007. Weisse did as instructed, knowing that many of the developmentally disabled clients who signed the document did not have the capacity to understand the full import of the document.
Weisse was promoted to the position of HARC CFO in March 2011. Thereafter, she supervised another HARC employee, Sandra Shepherd, who routinely assisted her in completing and submitting Representative Payee Reports, or Form SSA-6234s, to the SSA. In August 2011, Weisse signed a Form SSA-6234 that stated that $5,128 of SSA benefits had been spent solely for W.C., a developmentally disabled HARC client, during the period August 1, 2010, through July 31, 2011, for such items and services as clothing, education, medical and dental expenses, recreation, or other personal items, when Weisse knew that was not the case. Instead, only approximately $1,013.06 had been used for such items and services for W.C., and the remaining difference had been wrongfully diverted by the HARC executives for other purposes.
After reviewing and signing the false and misleading Form SSA-6234 for W.C., Weisse gave the form to Shepherd for submission to the SSA. Weisse has also acknowledged that she completed and submitted additional false and fraudulent Form SSA-6234s, relating to other clients, to the SSA.
Weisse is the second person to enter into a plea agreement with the government in the ongoing HARC investigation. In October 2015, Shepherd pleaded guilty to making a false statement to the Social Security Administration. Her sentencing hearing is scheduled for December 30, 2015.
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.
“Taking advantage of developmentally disabled Floridians to receive unwarranted Social Security payments is reprehensible, and I want to thank United States Attorney Lee Bentley and all the government agencies involved in investigating this important case. After numerous 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."
“This is an appalling example of someone who betrayed the trust of HARC’s clients, their families, and all of Florida’s taxpayers,” said Florida Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater. “Stealing the funds designed to help Floridians with developmental disabilities is a crime that deserves to be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law, and I’m pleased to see the work of many agencies come together to hold her accountable.”
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.
Updated December 10, 2015