Former Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services employee admits stealing money from federal aid programs
GREAT FALLS — A Great Falls woman who worked as a bookkeeper admitted today to defrauding two businesses in a scheme to pay personal bills, U.S. Attorney Jesse Laslovich said.
Tara Durnell, 63, pleaded guilty to wire fraud and to mail fraud. Durnell faces a maximum of 20 years imprisonment, a $250,000 fine and three years of supervised release.
Chief U.S. District Judge Brian M. Morris presided. The court will determine any sentence after considering the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines and other statutory factors. Sentencing was set for Dec. 6. Durnell was released pending further proceedings.
In court documents, the government alleged that between 1997 and 2019, Durnell worked as a bookkeeper for Kronebusch Electric, Inc., (KEI) a small company in Conrad. Durnell used her access to pre-signed company checks to make payments to cover personal expenses and then miscoded the payments in the accounting system to make them look like legitimate business expenses. As part of the scheme, Durnell used a pre-signed KEI check to make an unauthorized payment of $5,175 to the TNT Tavern for a personal debt. KEI eventually discovered the embezzlement when it sought to sell the company, and due diligence uncovered several hundred thousand dollars in miscoded transactions. Durnell left employment with KEI and found a job as a bookkeeper with Mitchell’s Crash Repair in Great Falls. In January 2022, Durnell used her access to the business’s pre-signed checks and mailed an unauthorized payment of $3,564 to the Pondera County Treasurer to cover a personal debt.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Jeffrey K. Starnes is prosecuting the case. The FBI, Montana Division of Criminal Investigation and Great Falls Police Department conducted the investigation.
Clair Johnson Howard
Public Affairs Officer