Sandra Stiner, 65, of Ladysmith, pleaded guilty in federal court on Wednesday, Aug. 12, to wire fraud, aggravated identity theft and criminal asset forfeiture in siphoning more than $700,000 from her employer while working for Rusk County Health & Human Services.

As part of the plea agreement with the United States, Stiner agreed to waive her right to be charged by indictment by a grand jury. In these circumstances, federal charges are entered by way of information filed with the court.

Stiner was employed for 42 years at the Rusk County Health and Human Services Department.

While working for HHS, Stiner misappropriated $702,351 during a nine-year period, beginning in June 2010 and continuing until her retirement in January 2019. She created and submitted fictitious invoices allegedly from a home-based therapy company for nonexistent intensive in-home autism services for two children.

Stiner used, without lawful authority, a means of identification of real people and real entities in an effort to create documentation that appeared legitimate, providing cover to support her fraud scheme. Her attempts include taking the name and taxpayer identification number of the therapy company, its founder and misusing them to create a nominee bank account, nominee email account and fictitious invoices.

During the plea hearing on Aug. 12, Stiner admitted she forged the signature of the therapy company’s founder on various documents and IRS forms to make these documents appear legitimate to Rusk County.

Stiner also admitted that she took the name of a CPA firm in La Crosse to misuse it to create a fictitious letter and financial statements for that company. Stiner told U.S. District Judge William Conley that she created a nominee bank account on June 21, 2010, at Bank of America using the name of the therapy company and forged the signature of the founder on the direct deposit authorization form to make sure the payments came to her and not the real business owner.

Based on these fictitious invoices, Rusk County paid $702,351 to Stiner’s nominee bank account over a nine-year period.

Stiner admitted at the plea hearing that she spent the misappropriated funds on various personal expenditures, including $295,000 in credit card payments, $200,000 in cash advances, $20,000 in iTunes charges for a gaming app called Big Fish Casino, $50,000 in retail shopping expenses, over $41,000 on her house mortgage and over $18,000 in automobile loan payments.

The maximum penalty for the wire fraud charge is 20 years in federal prison. The penalty for the aggravated identity theft charge is a mandatory two-year sentence, which would be served consecutive to any prison term imposed on her wire fraud charge.

The plea agreement states that Stiner agreed to a criminal asset forfeiture judgment of $702,351 and potential forfeiture of substitute assets, including real estate, vehicles, boats, a camper, her pension and household contents.

Sentencing for Stiner is scheduled for Nov. 4 at 1 p.m. before Conley.

The charges against Stiner are the result of an investigation conducted by the Rusk County Sheriff’s Office and the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Assistant U.S. Attorney Daniel Graber is handling the prosecution.

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