ALBUQUERQUE, NM – Susan K. Harris, 74, and William S. Harris, 60, both from Albuquerque, were convicted today in federal court of conspiracy to defraud the United States and d other financial crimes committed in connection with the operation of Ayudando Guardians, Inc., a non-profit corporation that previously provided guardianship, trusteeship and financial management for hundreds of people with special needs.
Susan Harris was sentenced to 47 years in prison, followed by three years on probation. William Harris was sentenced to 15 years in prison, followed by three years of supervised release. Both will be required to pay all of the stolen funds as restitution to the victims.
A replacement indictment filed on December 5, 2017, charged Susan Harris, William Harris, Sharon A. Moore, 64, and Susan Harris’s son Craig M. Young, 53, with various financial crimes, including including conspiracy to defraud the United States. , postal fraud, aggravated identity theft and money laundering.
Susan Harris pleaded guilty on July 11, 2019 to conspiracy, mail fraud, aggravated identity theft, money laundering and conspiracy to commit money laundering. William Harris pleaded guilty on June 25, 2019 to conspiring to defraud the United States and commit money laundering. Susan Harris and William Harris were originally scheduled to be sentenced on March 2, 2020, but did not show up for their sentencing hearing. An arrest warrant was issued against their arrest and the US Marshals Service arrested them in Shawnee, Oklahoma on April 15, 2020, after fleeing New Mexico.
According to their plea agreements and other court records, Susan Harris acted as chairman and owned 95% of Ayudando, while Moore acted as CFO and owned 5%. They engaged in criminal behavior from November 2006 to July 2017, which included illegally transferring money from accounts receivable to a combined account without any client-based justification. They wrote and endorsed numerous checks, often over $ 10,000, from these accounts mixed with themselves, family members, money and other parties whose payment would benefit their families.
Susan Harris took steps to maintain Ayudando’s appearance of legitimacy, including submitting a proposal to the New Mexico Trusteeship Office that contained numerous false statements, including a false claim that Young was a certified guardian of the national level at the time of submission.
William Harris, who worked as a guardian, admitted he knew Moore was siphoning payments from clients of the Department of Veterans Affairs and Social Security Administration and using the money to benefit herself, Harris and their co-conspirators. Harris specifically admitted to receiving, endorsing and depositing dozens of checks drawn on Ayudando accounts for his own personal benefit. Harris admitted to being involved in a money laundering scheme, using an Ayudando corporate credit card for personal expenses, knowing it would be paid with the customer’s money. He also admitted his role in a loan application for the stated purpose of expanding the Ayudando business with the actual intention of using the money to “pay back” clients whose money had been taken without authorization.
The stolen funds were used to finance an extravagant lifestyle, including the purchase of homes, vehicles, luxury motorhomes and cruises, as well as a private lodge at “the Pit” at the University. from New Mexico. The stolen funds were also used to pay more than $ 4.4 million in American Express costs incurred by the defendants and their families.
“The sentences the defendants have received today are fair and the defendants fully deserve them,” said Fred J. Federici, acting US district attorney for the New Mexico district. “The conduct of the accused in attacking people with special needs, whom they were charged with protecting, was both disgusting and despicable. We hope these sentences serve as a warning to others that we will seek to hold accountable anyone who chooses to violate federal law by abusing any similar position of trust for personal gain. “
“Taking advantage of disabled veterans and other vulnerable Americans deserves a harsh punishment, especially when those entrusted with their finances instead use the money for vacations and other expensive benefits,” said Raul Bujanda. , special agent in charge of the FBI field office in Albuquerque. “The FBI will never stop trying to hold these criminals accountable and ensure their victims get justice.”
“This final phase of the investigation will hopefully bring an end to the many victims who suffered from the selfish acts of the accused,” said Sonya K. Chavez, United States Marshal for the District of New Mexico. . “We at the United States Marshals Service will continue to work diligently with our partners to protect the citizens of New Mexico, especially those who are most vulnerable. “
“The criminal actions of these defendants were truly brazen and egregious,” said IRS – Special Agent for Criminal Investigations Albert Childress. “Instead of helping people who trusted them, the defendants were greedy and used their clients’ money. They must now pay for the consequences of their bad actions.
“Today’s conviction reflects the blatant crimes committed by the defendants, which not only violated the public trust, but also the confidence of a vulnerable population who relied on them to manage their benefits. We will continue to join with our law enforcement partners to investigate organizations and individuals who abuse social security benefits they have agreed to administer on behalf of beneficiaries, ”said Adam Schneider, Special Agent in charge of the Inspector General’s Office of Social Security Administration. , Dallas Field Division. “I thank our law enforcement partners for their exceptional investigative work and the United States New Mexico District Attorney’s Office for their efforts to bring these individuals to justice. ”
“Criminal acts by potential trustees are most heinous because they violate the trust of veterans and jeopardize the benefits on which they depend,” said Special Agent in Charge Rebeccalynn Staples, Veterans Affairs Office the inspector general. “This sentence should send a clear message that the VA OIG will continue to work with our law enforcement partners to find those who defraud the VA and steal the benefits of deserving veterans.”
Young pleaded guilty on November 12, 2019 and was sentenced on June 11, 2020 to five years and 11 months in prison, followed by three years on probation. Young was ordered to pay approximately $ 6.8 million in restitution to victims of the fraud scheme.
Moore pleaded guilty on July 11, 2019 and was sentenced on March 2, 2020 to 20 years in prison, followed by three years on probation. Moore was ordered to pay all of the stolen funds as restitution to the victims.
The FBI’s Albuquerque Field Office and the IRS’s Phoenix Field Office of Criminal Investigations conducted the investigation with assistance from the Complex Assets Unit and the US Marshals Service’s Investigations Division. from the Office of the Inspector General of the Department of Veterans Affairs, and the Dallas Field Division of the Office of the Inspector General of the Social Security Administration. Assistant US prosecutors Jeremy Peña and Brandon L. Fyffe continued the case.
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