MISSOULA – Three former employees of the Blackfeet Tribe’s Head Start program were sentenced Thursday to months in prison for their roles in an overtime pay scheme that defrauded the children’s assistance program of an estimated $174,000.
The Department of Justice reported Theresa Marie Calf Boss Ribs, 51, of Browning, Patrick H. Calf Boss Ribs, Jr., 44, of Heart Butte, and Denise L. Sharp, 60, of Browning had pleaded guilty to theft from an Indian tribal government receiving federal funding and to wire fraud.
Theresa Calf Boss Ribs, who was the payroll manager, was sentenced to eight months in prison, two years of supervised release and ordered $139,096 in restitution.
Patrick H. Calf Boss Ribs, Jr., who was the nutrition manager/payroll clerk, was sentenced to nine months in prison, two years of supervised release and ordered $139,096 in restitution and a $25,122 forfeiture.
Sharp, who was the personnel manager, was sentenced to nine months in prison, two years of supervised release and ordered $139,096 in restitution and a $29,033 forfeiture.
The Blackfeet Tribe operates the Head Start Program with funding from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Head Start provides early childhood education and other services for low-income children and their families.
A press release states that during a 15-month period, starting in April 2013, the defendants and others falsely claimed 5,850 hours of overtime and received more than $174,000 in overtime pay from the Head Start program.
When the fraud was uncovered, two different firms audited the Blackfeet Head Start program. Both audits questioned the overtime claims, identifying them as “beyond necessary and reasonable” and lacking any supporting documentation.
The Blackfeet Tribe did its own internal review, agreed it could not justify the overtime claims and repaid HHS $250,620.29 for disallowed costs and other expenses, according to the Department of Justice.
After an on-site review of the program by government authorities from Washington, D.C., the defendants along with others met in a conference room. Despite not actually working the hours, everyone present in the room agreed to continue claiming overtime.
The press release states Theresa Calf Boss Ribs and Patrick H. Calf Boss Ribs, Jr. were in charge of monitoring the time cards. At the end of the pay period, individuals in the group would stop by to sign their time cards for the pay period. The time cards were already completed and included false overtime hours.
Other Head Start workers told investigators they never saw Blackfeet Head Start personnel working late nights or on weekends.
The program’s board chairman was unaware of the overtime claims and was unaware of any needs that would have justified the overtime claims by the defendants. Because of insufficient funds, he also had to identify necessary budget cuts, according to the Department of Justice.