Department of Justice
U.S. Attorney’s Office
Central District of Illinois
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Monday, March 7, 2022
Burbank, Illinois, Woman Sentenced to Prison for Mail Fraud, Wire Fraud, and Money Laundering
SPRINGFIELD, Ill. – A Burbank, Illinois, woman, Tarnavis Lee, 42, of the 6000 block of 80th Street, was sentenced on March 2, 2022, to 36 months’ imprisonment, to be followed by three years of supervised release, for mail fraud, wire fraud, and money laundering.
At the sentencing hearing, the government presented evidence that Lee engaged in schemes with co-defendants Demetra Jackson and Elizabeth McFarland to defraud the Illinois Department of Human Services (DHS) through its administration of the Child Care Assistance Program, which funded childcare services for low-income parents while they worked or participated in approved educational programs. Between approximately January 2009 and approximately April 2019, Lee, individually and together with Jackson and McFarland, submitted false and fraudulent claims to DHS for childcare services that were not provided or not provided to the extent claimed. In addition, Lee paid a total of approximately $158,000 in kickback payments to parents participating in the program in exchange for those parents allowing their personal information and that of their children to be used to submit false and fraudulent childcare claims to DHS. As a result of her schemes, Lee caused a loss to DHS of approximately $913,390.66. The government argued at sentencing that Lee’s greed, her conduct involving years-long and extensive schemes to defraud DHS and its childcare program, and the resulting substantial loss to DHS of more than $900,000 warranted a significant imprisonment sentence.
Also at the hearing, Senior U.S. District Judge Richard Mills ordered Lee to pay restitution in the amount of $913,390.66 to the Illinois Department of Human Services, jointly and severally in the amount of $125,000.00 with each co-defendant, Jackson and McFarland.
“The United States Attorney’s Office is committed to prosecuting individuals who defraud our public agencies, which were established to serve low-income individuals who need financial assistance, including with child care, a critical need,” said U.S. Attorney Gregory K. Harris.
“Ensuring that citizens’ tax dollars are protected from fraud and abuse is among our top priorities,” stated Special Agent in Charge Curt L. Muller of the Department of Health and Human Services Office of Inspector General (HHS-OIG). “In collaboration with our law enforcement partners, HHS-OIG is committed to investigating illegal acts and holding bad actors accountable.”
“The Illinois State Police takes great pride in working with our federal partners,” stated Illinois State Police Director Brendan F. Kelly. “The ISP will never stop pursuing individuals who break the law and victimize the honest taxpayer.”
Lee was indicted on October 7, 2020, and pleaded guilty on September 7, 2021. Co-defendants Jackson and McFarland also each previously pleaded guilty to one count of wire fraud and are scheduled to be sentenced on April 7, 2022, and April 12, 2022, respectively. In a separate but related case, Lashonda Hudson pleaded guilty to wire fraud and money laundering in connection with a similar scheme to defraud DHS and is scheduled to be sentenced on April 22, 2022.
The statutory penalties for mail and wire fraud are up to 20 years imprisonment, up to three years of supervised release, and a $250,000 fine. The statutory penalties for money laundering are up to 20 years imprisonment; up to three years of supervised release; and up to a $500,000 fine or twice the value of the property involved in the transaction, whichever is greater.
The cases were the result of a joint investigation by the Department of Health and Human Services – Office of Inspector General, St. Louis Field Office, and the Illinois State Police Medicaid Fraud Control Bureau, Central Division. Assistant U.S. Attorney Timothy A. Bass represented the government in the prosecution.