Springfield Woman Sentenced for $200,000 Fraud Scheme
SPRINGFIELD, Mo. – Tammy Dickinson, United States Attorney for the Western District of Missouri, announced that a Springfield, Mo., woman was sentenced in federal court today for a wire fraud scheme in which she made hundreds of fraudulent transactions and stole more than $200,000 from a couple who hired her to be their personal assistant.
Tessa A. Riley, 25, of Springfield, was sentenced by U.S. District Judge Beth Phillips to two years in federal prison without parole. The court also ordered Riley to pay $215,167 in restitution to her victims.
Riley was hired as a personal assistant by a husband and wife (identified as “R.E.” and “A.E.”) in February 2012 to make travel arrangements, run errands, respond to correspondence, call repairmen and enter personal finances on their Quicken computer budget program. They hired Riley because their professions – he is an engineering professor and she is a physician – required them to travel and work away from their home for extended periods of time. She was given permission to make small purchases and to make travel arrangements on a credit card.
On Dec. 10, 2014, Riley pleaded guilty to the wire fraud scheme that began about four months after she was hired. Riley admitted that she linked her credit card to her employers’ checking account, which allowed her to make online payments, credits and withdrawals from the checking account automatically when expenses were reported on her credit card. Between June 2012 and September 2013, Riley made 333 fraudulent transactions that withdrew $192,019 from that checking account.
Riley also admitted that she used her employers’ credit cards to make $29,144 in unauthorized purchases in 23 fraudulent transactions. In total, Riley embezzled $221,164 in funds from her employers’ checking account and credit cards.
According to court documents, Riley knew that R.E. suffered from two diagnoses of cancer, one of which involved a brain tumor. Riley continued to steal from their accounts while they were in Houston, Texas, for three months while R.E. received life-saving cancer treatments. As a result of her fraud scheme, the victims were forced to withdraw a considerable sum of money from their retirement funds in order to cover the lost funds stolen by Riley.
When the victims discovered unexplained transactions on their accounts and told Riley they were going to meet with the bank personally, she sent a text message admitting to her fraud and theft. Riley’s text messages stated that she embezzled these funds because she was trying to “make ends meet.” She also asked the victims to not press charges.
In reality, according to court documents, many of the automatic withdrawal and credit card transactions were to purchase luxury items. Riley purchased a car for herself and then made payments utilizing the victims’ bank account. She purchased airline tickets and stayed in expensive hotels overseas. Riley’s credit card receipts showed that she ate at expensive restaurants nearly every night and traveled to Kansas City, St. Louis, New York, Chicago and many cities overseas. Riley used her credit cards to pay for her tuition at Drury University and Missouri State University. She repeatedly used her credit cards to make high-end clothing and technology purchases. Riley also made cash withdrawals and purchased health and beauty products that she was selling as a side business.
This case was prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Patrick Carney. It was investigated by the U.S. Secret Service and the Greene County, Mo., Sheriff’s Department.