William D. Hyslop, United States Attorney for the Eastern District of Washington, announced that Michelle Susan Ferrell, age 59, of Spokane Valley, was sentenced today after having pleaded guilty on Feb. 26, 2019, to wire fraud. Senior United States District Judge Robert H. Whaley sentenced Ferrell to a 36-month term of imprisonment, to be followed by a three-year term of court supervision after she is released from federal prison. Judge Whaley also ordered Ferrell to pay restitution, and forfeiture of $99,871. Judge Whaley ordered that Ferrell be immediately taken into custody to begin serving her sentence.
According to information disclosed during the court proceedings, Ferrell worked as a bookkeeper for Greater Spokane County Meals on Wheels between May 2013 and April 2018. Meals on Wheels, which is part of the nationwide Meals on Wheels America organization operating throughout the United States, relies on government funding and private donations to provide over 1,000 meals each day to elderly and disabled residents of Spokane County. As a bookkeeper for Meals on Wheels, Ferrell had access to the organization’s bank accounts, debit cards and payroll system.
While employed at Meals on Wheels, Ferrell used the organization’s funds and bank accounts to pay for her unauthorized personal expenses, including mortgage, utility, and property tax payments on her residence, and to electronically transfer funds to herself and her businesses.
Ferrell concealed her thefts by making false and misleading entries in Meals on Wheels’ internal accounting system, creating the appearance that she was paying legitimate operating expenses of the organization. Over a five-year period, Ferrell stole in excess of $99,000 in Meals on Wheels funds.
Ferrell also defrauded the United States Department of Treasury, Internal Revenue Service. Ferrell was responsible for withholding and paying Meals on Wheels’ quarterly payroll taxes to the IRS. As part of her scheme, Ferrell withheld payroll taxes but did not remit all the taxes to the IRS, or failed to file the organization’s quarterly payroll tax returns for certain quarters, and made false entries in the organization’s internal accounting records representing that the quarterly payroll taxes were paid in full. By engaging in these fraudulent actions, Ferrell ensured there would be sufficient funds in the Meals on Wheels account to cover her personal expenses.
United States Attorney Hyslop stated, “The sentence imposed today holds Ferrell accountable for abusing her position of trust as a bookkeeper for Meals on Wheels, a charitable organization that provides critical services to so many vulnerable people in our community. By lining her pockets, Ferrell put herself above the needs of others. I commend the excellent work done by the FBI in investigating this case. The United States Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Washington will continue to work closely with our federal, state and local law enforcement partners to investigate and prosecute white collar crime and fraud.”
This investigation was conducted by the Federal Bureau of Investigation. This case was prosecuted by Dan Fruchter, Tyler H.L. Tornabene and Brian Donovan, Assistant United States Attorneys for the Eastern District of Washington.