Browning woman admits embezzlement of Blackfeet Tribe’s Head Start program
GREAT FALLS—Browning resident Denise L. Sharp, 60, who worked for the Blackfeet Tribe’s Head Start Program, admitted in federal court on Tuesday to stealing money through an overall scheme involving others in which an estimated $232,000 was fraudulently claimed as overtime pay, U.S. Attorney Kurt G. Alme said.
U.S. Magistrate Judge John T. Johnston presided at the hearing and will recommend Sharp’s plea be accepted by U.S. District Judge Brian M. Morris, who is assigned to the case. Sentencing is set for March 20, 2019. Sharp is released.
Sharp faces a maximum 20 years in prison, a $250,000 fine and three years of supervised release. She also faces restitution and an additional monetary judgment of $38,711 as the amount she claimed in overtime pay.
If the case had gone to trial, the government would have presented the following information as evidence:
The Blackfeet Tribe operates the Head Start Program with funding from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Head Start provides early childhood education and other services for low-income children and their families.
During a 15-month period, starting in April 2013, Sharp and others falsely claimed 7,800 hours of overtime and received more than $232,000 in overtime pay from the Head Start program. When the fraud was uncovered, two different firms audited the Blackfeet Head Start program. Both audits questioned the overtime claims, identifying them as “beyond necessary and reasonable” and lacking any supporting documentation.
The Blackfeet Tribe did its own internal review, agreed it could not justify the overtime claims and repaid HHS $250,620.29 for disallowed costs and other expenses.
After an on-site review of the program by government authorities from Washington, D.C., Sharp along with co-defendants and others met in a conference room. Despite not actually working the hours, everyone present in the room agreed to continue claiming overtime.
Other Head Start workers told investigators they never saw Blackfeet Head Start personnel working late nights or on weekends. The program’s board chairman was unaware of the overtime claims, identified budget cuts that were necessary during the time period of the fraud and was unaware of any needs that would have justified the overtime claims by the defendants.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Ryan Weldon is prosecuting the case, which was investigated by the FBI and HHS.