Former Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services employee admits stealing money from federal aid programs
MISSOULA — A Kalispell woman suspected of operating a money mule business to collect money from various wire fraud schemes occurring in the United States and then sending the funds overseas in return for a commission appeared today for arraignment on conspiracy and money laundering charges, U.S. Attorney Leif M. Johnson said.
Theresa Anne Chabot, 57, pleaded not guilty to a 30-count indictment charging her with unlicensed money transmitting business, conspiracy to commit money laundering, 17 counts of money laundering-promotion and 11 counts of money laundering-spending. If convicted of the most serious crime, Chabot faces a maximum of 20 years in prison, a $500,000 fine and three years of supervised release.
U.S. Magistrate Judge Kathleen L. DeSoto presided. Judge DeSoto released Chabot pending further proceedings.
The indictment alleges that from about May 2016 until about February 2021, Chabot conspired with others and through her business, Avalanche Creek, LLC, an unregistered money transmitting business, to operate as a money mule related to various wire fraud schemes occurring in the United States. The wire fraud schemes included advance pay schemes, internet-enabled frauds, investment schemes, romance schemes, lottery and sweepstakes frauds and COVID-19 funding fraud. A money mule is a person who transfers illegally acquired money for other individuals. Money mules often receive a commission for providing their services.
The indictment further alleges that during the scheme, Chabot opened more than 50 bank accounts, collected the proceeds from the wire fraud schemes and then transmitted the money overseas. Banks closed numerous accounts after reviewing the activity, and at least 15 banks directly informed Chabot the accounts were being closed because of fraud, in violation of bank policies and other identified misuse. Despite repeated account closures, Chabot opened new bank accounts that enabled her to receive proceeds from fraud schemes with victims located in the United States. Chabot received a fee, which in many instances totaled approximately 10 percent of the fraudulent proceeds deposited into her bank accounts. Chabot would then forward the remaining funds overseas, including to Dubai, in the United Arab Emirates.
An indictment is merely an accusation, and the defendant is presumed innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Ryan G. Weldon is prosecuting the case, which was investigated by the FBI and IRS Criminal Investigations.
PACER case reference. 22-18.
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Clair Johnson Howard
Public Affairs Officer