Woman Convicted In Scam To Bilk AG Of Bogus Child Support Paymentsby Bob Dunn, May 23, 2007, 09 26 am
One of 13 women – arrested in a scheme through which the Texas Attorney General’s Office allegedly was bilked of $40,000 in fraudulent child support payments – has been convicted of engaging in organized crime.
Debra Hodge, 42, of Richmond, was convicted of participating in a scheme through which the women are accused of forging their ex-husbands’ names to stolen checks, then sending the checks to the attorney general’s office.
As the women all were owed child support, the attorney general is alleged to have forwarded more than $40,000 in payments to them before realizing it was a scam. Law enforcement sources said in June 2006 that attorney general staff learned their office had been duped about close to $50,000 in checks bounced.
Assistant Fort Bend County District Attorney Mike Elliott, who prosecuted the Hodge case along with Assistant DA Kristen Moore, said Hodge opened a personal bank account and gave blank checks to another co-defendant, who then forged the signatures of fathers owing child support to members of the group of women.
The checks were then sent to the AG’s office, and payments were sent back to the co-defendants, Elliott said
According to Michael Elliott, Chief of the Economic Crimes Division, Hodge and eleven co-defendants participated in an illegal scheme to defraud the Texas Attorney General’s Office out of thousands of dollars from September 2005 through March 2006. Hodge opened at least one personal bank account and gave blank checks to another co-defendant who would then forge signatures as persons owing child support.
These checks were fraudulently written for the benefit of other co-defendants and submitted to the Attorney General’s Office, who would then forward the payments to those co-defendants — who were all actually owed child support.
When they received the payments from the attorney general’s office, the co-defendants gave a percentage of their payments back to Hodge and other defendants who had supplied the blank checks, according to information from the district attorney’s office
Hodge testified in her trial that the checks were stolen and forged without her knowledge, Elliott said. However, further testimony revealed that she had never reported the checks as stolen.
The jury, in visiting Judge Neil Caldwell’s 268th District Court, convicted her late last week.
“The citizens of Fort Bend County were clear that they would not tolerate criminals stealing money which is designated to support our children,” Elliott said, “ and even minor involvement in a scheme of this nature will not go unpunished.”
All 13 women involved in the alleged scam are from the Richmond or Rosenberg areas. Law enforcement sources said they believe scheme was hatched in September of 2005 by Tonya Jackson, 32, of the Rosenberg area, whose case still is pending.
A grand jury indicted the women in June 2006, and the Fort Bend County Sheriff’s Department began arresting them a short time later.
Once Jackson forged a check and found she would receive a payment from the AG’s office, “Tonya then went on to represent herself to other custodial parents as a worker for the Child Support Division and offered to help them in receiving child support payments,” according to sheriff’s report. “Once they received payment they would give Tonya half.”
According to sheriff’s reports, Jackson and others involved in the scheme opened bank accounts “for the sole purpose of issuing child support payments. The temporary checks issued from accounts with minimum deposits were later closed due to issuance of bad checks. Payments were also issued from accounts that were closed and/or had insufficient funds in the account.”
One law enforcement source said it’s possible to buy blank checks and software at a Wal-Mart store that will allow someone to print sequential checks with a routing number and account number of the buyer’s choice.