Monday, July 24, 2017

Fraud charges leveled against New Mexico guardianship firm

Federal prosecutors are accusing a New Mexico guardianship firm of embezzling millions of dollars from the trust accounts of their clients as part of a decade-long scheme to support what court documents describe as lavish lifestyles.

The 28-count indictment against Ayudando Guardians, Inc. and co-founders Susan Harris and Sharon Moore was unsealed Wednesday. It details charges of conspiracy, mail fraud, aggravated identity theft and money laundering.

Moore and Harris were arrested and made an initial court appearance Wednesday. They were scheduled to return to court Thursday to be arraigned.

It wasn't immediately clear if the women had attorneys. Messages left at the company's office were not immediately returned.

Ayudando — which means "helping" in Spanish — specializes in guardianship, conservatorship and financial management services for hundreds of individuals with special needs, including disabled veterans. The company receives benefit payments from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and U.S. Social Security Administration on behalf of many clients.

"The victims in this case relied upon Ayudando to manage their finances and meet their needs," said Acting U.S. Attorney James Tierney. "If the allegations in the indictment are true, the principals of Ayudando cruelly violated the trust of their clients and looted their benefits."

With a court order, federal authorities have assumed control of Ayudando's business operations to ensure the clients' interests are protected as the case moves forward.

The case comes as a special commission created by the New Mexico Supreme Court studies the state's overall guardianship system with the aim recommending ways it can be improved.

The system was thrust into the spotlight following a series of investigative articles published by the Albuquerque Journal that raised questions about the lack of oversight and transparency.

According to the indictment made public Wednesday, Harris and Moore set up client trust and company bank accounts that only they controlled and transferred funds from client accounts to company accounts.

They are accused of using client funds to pay off more than $4 million in charges on a company credit card that was used by the two women and their families for personal purposes.

The indictment also accuses them of writing checks to themselves from company accounts, replenishing depleted client accounts with funds taken from other clients and mailing fraudulent statements to the VA.

Between June 2011 and March 2014, Harris is accused of writing 12 checks that totaled nearly a half-million dollars. One check in the amount of $50,950 was made out to Mercedes Benz of Albuquerque while another for $26,444 was issued to an RV dealership.

Other spending included more than $140,000 on vacations, from cruises in the Caribbean to a college basketball Final Four junket.

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Fraud charges leveled against New Mexico guardianship firm

1 comment:

Josie said...

Amazing story and I'm celebrating this indictment.