The federal government provides a great deal of money to support the operations of various non-profit entities that provide services to the public. This money can be an exceptionally tempting target for officers and employees of these organizations. A Tennessee state senator has recently been charged with stealing $600,000 in federal funds from the non-profit health care company that she has managed since its founding in 2015.

Background

The defendant has managed The Healthcare Institute, a school that provides training for jobs in the health care field. She is also a member of the Democratic caucus in the Tennessee state senate. The school has received more than $2,000,000 in federal grants from the United States Department of Health and Human Services. The FBI first searched the school and the defendant’s home in February 2019. FBI agents again searched her home on July 28 to obtain additional evidence.

The allegations

According to the criminal complaint that was released to the public on July 30, the defendant stole more than $600,000 from the stream of federal grant money from 2015 through 2019. The money was used to purchase a 2016 Jeep Renegade for the defendant’s daughter, to pay for the defendant’s wedding and honeymoon, her state Senate campaign, and travel and entertainment for herself and her family. Other expenses funded by the allegedly stolen funds include the defendant’s legal fees for her divorce, home improvements and the establishment of a snow cone business for her children. The defendant is alleged to have paid herself almost $170,000 more in salary than she was entitled to receive under the terms of the grants. If convicted of the crimes for which she has been charged, the defendant faces up to 20 years in federal prison.

Overview

The defendant is entitled to be presumed innocent unless and until she has been proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. All criminal defendants are entitled to this presumption, but it should be the beginning of the defense, not its only argument. An experienced criminal defense attorney can provide a helpful review of the evidence, suggest useful legal arguments for the defense and, when appropriate negotiate a plea agreement with the prosecution.