Former Employee Convicted In Scheme To Defraud Garden Ridge
HOUSTON – Sandra Johnson, 48, of Katy, has admitted to receiving kickbacks in a money laundering conspiracy that targeted home décor retailer Garden Ridge Pottery, now known as At Home, announced U.S. Attorney Kenneth Magidson.
Johnson was employed as a claims manager at Garden Ridge. In that role, she was responsible for reviewing and approving payment on injury claims filed against the store by its customers, commonly referred to as “slip and fall” claims. Johnson and others conspired to submit fraudulent claims against Garden Ridge for injuries which were either faked or never occurred.
In all, 26 false claims were filed against Garden Ridge which resulted in the issuance of $2,063,436 in settlement proceeds. The fraudulent settlement proceeds were split amongst the alleged injury victims and other co-conspirators, with most of the funds kicked back to Johnson. She admitted to laundering the kickbacks she received by having her co-conspirators pay her either in cash or with cashier’s checks which had been purchased under nominee names.
Natalie Jeng, 42, of Katy, Darlene Drummer, 43, of Fresno, and Niesha Hall, 36, of Houston, have all also pleaded guilty to their respective roles in the scheme. Jeng, Johnson’s sister, was employed as a claims adjuster at a third-party administrator hired by Garden Ridge to administer and investigate claims. Thus, many of the fraudulent claims that were allegedly reviewed by Johnson at Garden Ridge were then reviewed and approved by her sister. Jeng also received a portion of some settlements for her role in the scheme. Drummer and Hall, in addition to filing false claims against Garden Ridge in their own names, also recruited other complicit claimants into the scheme.
U.S. District Judge Kenneth Hoyt has set sentencing for May 11, 2015, at which time Johnson faces up to 20 years in prison and a fine of $250,000. The other three women convicted in the scheme will also be sentenced on that date.
The investigation was conducted by Internal Revenue Service – Criminal Investigation and U.S. Postal Inspection Service. Assistant U.S. Attorney Jay Hileman is prosecuted the case.