Former Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services employee admits stealing money from federal aid programs
MISSOULA — A Kalispell couple accused in a scheme to steal mail in Lincoln and Flathead counties and of using personal information found in the stolen mail to shop at numerous businesses admitted to charges, U.S. Attorney Leif M. Johnson said today.
Jennifer Don Smith, 37, pleaded guilty today to wire fraud and aggravated identity theft. Co-defendant Michael Thomas Kullberg, 34, Smith’s husband, pleaded guilty to theft of mail, wire fraud and aggravated identity theft on May12. Smith and Kullberg face a maximum of 20 years in prison, a $250,000 fine and three years of supervised release on the wire fraud count and a mandatory two years in prison, consecutive to any other punishment, a $250,000 fine and one year of supervised release on the aggravated identity theft count.
U.S. District Judge Susan P. Watters presided at Smith’s hearing. U.S. District Judge Donald W. Molloy presided at Kullberg’s hearing. The court will determine any sentence after considering the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines and other statutory factors. Sentencing was set for Sept. 7 for both Smith and Kullberg. Both Smith and Kullberg were detained pending further proceedings.
The government alleged in court documents that on March 21 and 27, 2020, hundreds of residents throughout Eureka had their mail stolen. Over the next few days, discarded mail was recovered in roadways, ditches and other public areas. On April 4, 2020, law enforcement received many new reports of mail stolen from the Marion, Kila and Libby areas and again subsequently recovered large amounts of mail dumped along the roadway. Dozens of residents reported the loss of packages, letters, bills, outgoing checks and personal identifying information.
The government further alleged that on April 6, 2020, John Doe 1 reported that Bank of America had contacted him regarding a slew of charges on a new credit card it had mailed him in Eureka. Doe 1 never received the card. Bank of America provided a list of transactions showing the card had been used 14 times from March 22 to April 6 at various businesses in Eureka and Kalispell. Some of the sales were declined, but seven were approved and totaled $815 in unauthorized charges. In addition, the Town Pump in Eureka provided surveillance images from March 22, 2020 for one of the fraudulent transactions, which depicted Kullberg tendering the card. Other images from April 6, 2020, showed Smith using the stolen card. Pictures provided by Stein’s Eureka Market showed Smith twice attempting to purchase items with Doe 1’s card.
Kullberg, the government alleged, had recently been released from custody on a felony conviction and was wearing a GPS tracking device. The Lincoln County Sheriff’s Office obtained location data and determined Kullberg travelled along the same routes where the mail was stolen during the nights of March 21, 27 and April 4, 2020. The data further indicated Kullberg was at the Eureka Town Pump when Doe 1’s card was used and at Stein’s Eureka Market when Smith tendered the card. Kullberg also was at other locations in Kalispell, including ExxonMobil, Home Depot, Target and Albertsons when the card was presented.
In May 2020, law enforcement received a report that John Doe 2 and Jane Doe 1 had a joint credit card from Citibank stolen from their mailbox in Eureka. Kullberg’s GPS coordinates reflect that he was in that area on March 27, 2020. The Citibank card was used on March 28, 2020 at multiple Kalispell locations, including Target, Home Depot, Walmart, Lowes, Conoco, Harbor Freight and the Dollar Tree. Kullberg’s GPS data reflects he was at each of those businesses on March 28. The total amount of unauthorized charges was $1,352.
Kullberg later denied to law enforcement that he stole any mail or used anyone else’s credit card without permission. When asked why his GPS placed him at the scene of the thefts when they occurred, Kullberg explained he was driving around fighting with Smith in his car.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Karla E. Painter is prosecuting the case, which was investigated by the Lincoln County Sheriff’s Office, Eureka Police Department, Montana Probation and parole and U.S. Postal Inspection Service.
Clair Johnson Howard
Public Affairs Officer