A Rusk County employee of 42 years has entered a plea agreement on two of 12 charges related to an alleged 10-year-long scheme of defrauding the county out of $702,351.
Sandra L. Stiner, 66, began as a receptionist in 1976 and retired in January 2019 as the child support manager in the Rusk County Health and Human Services Department.
The criminal complaint filed by the United States District Court alleges Stiner defrauded Rusk County out of $702,351 to pay for a variety of personal expenses. Stiner was charged with 10 felony charges of wire fraud and two felony counts of aggravated identity theft.
According to a U.S. Department of Justice plea agreement, Stiner agreed to plead guilty to two of her 12 charges. The penalties of these two charges carry a punishment of at least two years’ and up to 22 years’ incarceration, $500,200 in fines, four years of supervised release or a combination of those penalties. Stiner will also be required to enter into an appropriate restitution order.
In the plea agreement, Stiner agreed to pay restitution for all losses related to her offenses. Restitution of the loss amount is totaled at $702,351.
Forfeiture allegation will require Stiner to forfeit to the United States District Court any property constituting or that derived from the traceable proceeds that resulted from the scheme.
In the event the United States is unable to locate or retrieve the property Stiner purchased, the United States District Court will be entitled to the forfeiture of substitute property, including her home, camper, monthly lifetime pension, furniture, jewelry, electronics, vehicles and funds in any bank account owned by Stiner. She will be required to surrender the cash value of her life insurance policies and any other property deemed of value to pay restitution.
The complaint alleges Stiner used the funds for various personal expenses, including $263,631 in credit card payments, $200,153 in cash withdrawals, $50,009 in retail shopping charges, $20,118 in iTunes charges, $18,620 in car loan payments, $14,741 in utility payments, $41,899 in home mortgage payments and $3,992 for a French bulldog.
In addition to the maximum penalties, any violation of the supervised release term could lead to an additional term of imprisonment.
Prior to sentencing, Stiner has agreed to complete a financial statement to determine net worth and cash flow. The United States’ agreement to the plea agreement, sentencing and submitted financial information will be based, in part, on Stiner’s full and truthful accounting and her efforts to make the agreed-upon immediate restitution payments.
According to the criminal complaint, around June 2010 and continuing until Stiner’s retirement on Jan. 15, 2019, it was discovered Stiner knowingly, and with intent to defraud, devised and participated in a scheme to defraud the Rusk County HHS department and obtained money and property by means of materially false and fraudulent pretenses, representations, promises and by the concealment of material facts.
A La Crosse home-based individualized therapy services company was founded in 2007 to provide service in western Wisconsin, including Rusk and Price counties. The therapy service company contacted Rusk County to provide services and initially billed the counties directly.
Later the billing went directly to the state of Wisconsin’s Health and Human Services Medicaid portal, called ForwardHealth. The therapy services company provided services for one child in Rusk County in 2009; however, the services were discontinued after one week due to staffing issues.
The founding doctor communicated with clients, agencies and staff by email; however, following investigation it was determined the doctor did not communicate with a Gmail email account. Investigation revealed Stiner had created a Gmail email account in the doctor’s name to communicate with Rusk County.
The complaint alleges the company used a U.S. Bank account and used a different logo and address on its invoices than was discovered during investigation.
Stiner misappropriated money from HHS by creating and submitting fictitious invoices from the therapy services company for nonexistent intensive in-home autism services for twin boys in Price County.
It was determined Stiner bypassed the internal controls of HHS and the Rusk County Finance Department by engaging in a variety of fraudulent and misleading conduct.
The complaint alleges Stiner lied to the HHS director and finance director when questioned about the payments made to the therapy services company. Stiner created a false story by telling her supervisors that because of a conflict of interest with Price County HHS paying for therapy services, Rusk County HHS was brought in to handle the payments to therapy services company. She also allegedly lied about being authorized to use the Youth Aids Allocation from the State of Wisconsin.
Stiner submitted the therapy services company invoices directly to the Rusk County finance director, instead of submitting them to the Rusk County HHS finance manager for approval and coding. Stiner also created fake initials on the invoices to make it appear as if someone in Price County HHS had approved the invoices. She then put her own initials on the invoices to show purported approval by the HHS finance department and wrote down the general ledger account to show the proper coding of the payment.
Stiner either hand-delivered or emailed the fake therapy services company invoices to the Rusk County finance director.