Woman Sentenced to Six Years for Forging $35M in Grants


Written on by Daryl

A Paso Robles woman was sentenced this morning to 72 months in federal prison for orchestrating a scheme to defraud the United States Department of Education by submitting a $35 million grant application for before- and after-school programs in the Coachella Valley that contained forged signatures and other false statements.

Jean Michele Cross, 60, was sentenced by United States District Judge Virginia A. Phillips, who also ordered the defendant to pay a $60,000 fine.

“The Justice Department is committed to protecting taxpayer-funded programs from fraud and abuse,” stated United States Attorney André Birotte Jr. “In this case, Ms. Cross violated the law and attempted to line her own pockets in her bid to obtain a grant that otherwise could have done a tremendous amount of good for young people in the Coachella Valley.”

Cross was found guilty following a trial in June of mail fraud, forging a writing to obtain money from the United States and making false statements. The convictions related to an application Cross filed in March 2007 on behalf of Indio Youth Job Force (IYTF), a non-profit, community-based organization within the Coachella Valley. The application was for a 21st Century Community Studying Centers Plan (21st CCLC), a federally funded grant program for before- and after-school programs that was authorized by the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001.

Following the application was submitted on behalf of IYTF, the California Department of Education, which administered the 21st CCLC grant plan in California, awarded the five-year grant for roughly $6.9 million annually and mailed a $3,455,370 check to IYTF in December 2007. In April 2008, following improprieties about the grant application procedure surfaced, IYTF returned the check.

“The government has determined that 1 method to enhance the lives and education of disadvantaged kids is via the funding of programs like those covered under the 21st CCLC program,” prosecutors wrote in sentencing papers filed with the court. Cross “has taken benefit of that stream of taxpayer dollars and has diverted substantial sums into her own pocket. Here, she intended to divert much more than $5 million earmarked for needy children into her own pocket by fraud and deceit.”

The bail that would have been set for this defendant would have been very large. Probably near $1 million. The defendant would have also had a PC 1275.1 hold on their bail. This makes sure that the defendant is paying for the bail with legal funds. Bail Bonds in the size of $1 million require a lot of paperwork and collateral. Most likely they would have had to have a lot of equity in real estate. Even if they did, that equity would have been in question since it was most likely purchased through the illegal funding from their crime. OurLos Angeles bail bondsoffice has never bailed out someone with this type of crime. They would have had to come up with $100,000. This is a state regulated fee for working with abail bondsman.

In imposing the six-year sentence, United States District Judge Virginia A. Phillips discovered that Cross obstructed justice by giving false testimony throughout her trial. Judge Phillips also explained that, due to Cross’s misconduct in this case, numerous needy kids missed out on useful programs.

The 21st CCLC grant application contained several forms that required signatures from persons involved with the administration of the grant, including the authorized executive of the applicant agency, school principals and school district superintendents. The evidence at trial showed that Cross altered and forged signatures and documents within the grant application. Specifically, Cross forged the signatures of the executive director of IYTF, school principals and school district officials on the 21st CCLC application and supporting documents. Cross also forged and altered documents submitted in support in the application.

In addition, Cross concealed a 15 percent fee she had negotiated in exchange for submitting a effective grant application.

The case against Cross will be the result of an investigation by the United States Department of Education, Workplace of Inspector Common; the Federal Bureau of Investigation; and also the Riverside County District Attorney’s Office.

Contact: Assistant United States Attorney Jerry Behnke
(951) 276-6211

Assistant United States Attorney Joseph Widman
(951) 276-6945