BIRMINGHAM, Alabama – A mother and son from Cullman have been charged in a scheme to defraud federal health agencies and a nonprofit east Alabama health center of more than $100,000, which they used to buy personal items such as electronic fish finders, truck tires, cell phones and an adult website membership, federal prosecutors announced.
Sheila Osborne Parker and James Robert Parker were charged in separate documents today in U.S. District Court in Birmingham, according to a joint press release issued by U.S. Attorney Joyce White Vance, FBI Special Agent in Charge Richard D. Schwein Jr., IRS Criminal Investigation Special Agent in Charge Veronica Hyman-Pillot, and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, and Office of Inspector General, Atlanta Regional Office Special Agent in Charge Derrick Jackson.
AL.com and The Birmingham News recently reported that a federal grand jury has been investigating the financial dealings of the federally-funded Birmingham Health Care center, which at one time a pioneer in the care of the homeless in Birmingham, sources tell AL.com.
Sheila Parker, 59, faces six counts of wire fraud, two counts of bank fraud and two counts of failing to file federal income tax returns, according to the press release. James Parker, 33, faces five counts of wire fraud and two counts of failing to file income tax returns. The mother and son have both entered plea agreements with the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
Sheila Parker worked for Birmingham Health Care, a nonprofit organization in Birmingham intended to provide free or low-cost health care services to the homeless and to people living below poverty level in the metro area, according to the press release.
In 2008, BHC assumed responsibility for the fiscal affairs of Central Alabama Comprehensive Health Inc. in Tuskegee, and Sheila Parker began, on a contract basis, to perform bookkeeping and fiscal duties for that center. CACH was a non-profit organization intended to provide primary and preventative health care to people in east Alabama, regardless of their ability to pay, according to the press release.
Both community health centers began receiving grants from the Health Resources and Human Services Administration, an arm of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, more than 20 years ago, according to the press release, which cites the charges and plea agreements filed today. The overwhelming majority of BHC and CACH funding comes through grants administered by HRSA and HHS, and the two centers have received millions of dollars from those grants, the press release states citing court documents.
“Today, these defendants acknowledge that they took money from a federally funded community health center intended to serve the poor and uninsured so the defendants could enjoy a more lavish lifestyle and indulge an expensive hobby,” Vance stated in the press release. “That conduct is as unacceptable as it is criminal, and we are committed to addressing any criminal conduct that may have occurred as we move forward with the investigation,” she said.
Jackson said “it is outrageous that fraudsters, in order to fuel personal shopping sprees, would steal scarce taxpayer funds meant to provide critically needed health care services to poor and homeless individuals.”
Hyman-Pillot said that the Parkers “completely disregarded the payment of their tax liability to the Internal Revenue Service.”
The statement outlined the fraud scheme as follows:
- Sheila Parker enlisted her son’s help with her duties for CACH and allowed him access to the center’s bank accounts. She permitted, and sometimes instructed him to use CACH funds for personal purchases. The total loss amount attributed to the Parkers’ fraud is $116,416 and the government seeks that amount in forfeiture from the two defendants.
- The Parkers’ fraudulent transactions on CACH accounts between March 2010 and May 2011 included a $2,799 charge at Best Buy for two Lowrance Fishfinder/Chartplotters, a $328 charge at Systems & Services Technologies to make a payment on a bass boat, $3,500 charged through PayPal to send to James Parker’s then-girlfriend, a $668 charge at Tire Rack, and $14.95 spent at the adult website epoch.com to buy a one-month membership to “Jamie’s World.”
- The bank fraud charges against Sheila Parker are the result of disputes she filed with Regions Bank on about 40 charges on CACH’s bank account. Although those were fraudulent charges made by Sheila and James Parker, she disputed the charges in an effort to conceal the fraud. Regions Bank returned about $30,668 to the CACH account for the charges Sheila Parker disputed.
The tax charges are related to allegations that Sheila and James Parker failed to file federal income tax returns for the calendar years 2010 and 2011.
Sheila Parker acknowledges in her plea agreement that she failed to file a return on a gross income of $78,481 in 2010, and on $92,127 in 2011. She also acknowledges she failed to file returns every year from 2004 through 2012, and that for tax years 2008 through 2012, she owes the IRS $11,946.
James Parker acknowledges in his plea agreement that he failed to file returns for the tax years 2004 through 2011. In 2010, he had a gross income of about $90,215, of which $82,212 was illegal, according to his plea agreement. His gross income in 2011 was $24,729, all of which was illegal.
According to his plea agreement, James Parker owes the IRS $17,658 for tax years 2004 through 2011.
Assistant U.S. Attorneys Tamarra Matthews-Johnson and Melissa Kay Atwood are prosecuting the case.
Birmingham Health Care, started in 1985 as a nationwide pilot project with federal and private foundation backing, is the object of an investigation into how it has used federal funding, much of it under the leadership of former CEO Jonathan Dunning, AL.com previously reported.
Dunning has not been charged with any crime. AL.com has also reported that the FBI and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Inspector General have been investigating BHC and CACH.
Terry Burney, chief administrative analyst under Birmingham Mayor William Bell and a Birmingham Health Care board member, recently told AL.com he had received a subpoena asking him to bring records to federal court in Birmingham and testify this week. Another person connected to BHC also requested records for this week.
In April, contractors who did business with BHC and former employees were asked to bring records to a grand jury, including pay documents related to Dunning’s private companies.
Birmingham Health Care, originally named Health Care for the Homeless, was part of a 19-city pilot project seeded by Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and Pew Memorial Trust money.
It is now one of about 1,300 community health centers nationwide. The health centers have been called the backbone of the Affordable Care Act, providing a broad safety net for those who are unable to gain health insurance or don’t qualify for Medicaid.
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