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East Texans Charged in Northeast Texas Opportunities, Inc. Conspiracy

 

 

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Eleven people have been indicted on federal charges involving conspiracy to commit an offense and to defraud the U.S. government and theft of government property or money in the Eastern District of Texas.

The defendants were named in a three-count indictment returned by a federal grand jury  charging them with conspiracy to commit an offense against and to defraud the U.S. government and theft of government property or money.  These violations are alleged to have caused over $1.2 million in losses to a distributor of federal grant funds to the needy and elderly.  Those charged are:

Cynthia Hillard Campbell, 54, of Mount Pleasant, Texas
Beverly Thomas Logan, 64, of Mount Vernon, Texas
Lana Bowie Dethrow, 58, of Honey Grove, Texas
Marco Antonio Alcaraz-Guerrero, 40, of Greenville, Texas
Paula Wallis Trantham, 50, of Winnsboro, Texas
Christy Lynn Shelby, 41, of Mount Vernon, Texas
Brenda McGill Fountain, 60, of Mount Vernon, Texas
Darlene Hargrave Hatcher, 61, of Mount Vernon, Texas
Karinda Anne Breaux, 52, of Mount Vernon, Texas
Pamela Powe Gossett, 61, of Pittsburg, Texas
Maria Delaluz Telles, 35, of Mount Vernon, Texas

The indictment was unsealed Wednesday after the defendants made initial appearances before U.S. Magistrate Judge Caroline Craven in the federal court in Texarkana.

Northeast Texas Opportunities, Inc. (NETO), headquartered in Mount Vernon, Texas, was a distributor of federal grant funds to the elderly and needy in an eight-county region.  Those counties included:  Delta, Franklin, Hopkins, Lamar, Morris, Rains, Red River, and Titus counties.  NETO administered multiple programs, including Head Start Programs, Low-Income Energy Assistance Programs, Community Services Block Grant Programs, Title III Part-C Nutrition Services Programs, Nutrition Services Incentive Programs, and others.  NETO received more than $3 million per year in federal funds from multiple agencies, including the U.S. Department of Transportation, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, U.S. Office of Management and Budget (through the Agency of Children and Families), and the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

According to the indictment, it is alleged that beginning in January 2011 and continuing until June 2015, NETO employees and contractors conspired to defraud NETO of money by writing checks drawn on NETO accounts that they would often split among themselves, and convert those funds to personal use.  It is alleged that NETO employees would also create fraudulent invoices from vendors to support and conceal those unauthorized checks.  It is also alleged that NETO employees would overpay vendors and then require kickbacks from the vendors.  The indictment alleges that NETO employees also used NETO funds to pay personal debts or other personal benefits.  Campbell, Logan, Dethrow, Alcaraz, Trantham, Shelby, Fountain, Hatcher, Breaux, and Telles were NETO employees, and Gossett was a contract nurse to NETO.  NETO ceased operations and shut its doors on Aug. 31, 2015 due to financial insolvency, employee malfeasance, and stoppage of funding sources due to discoveries during an audit and the ongoing criminal investigation.

If convicted of conspiracy to commit an offense against or defraud the U.S. government, the defendants each face up to five years in federal prison.  If convicted of theft of government property or money, the defendants each face up to 10 years in federal prison.

This case is being investigated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation with assistance from the Texas Rangers and the Franklin County Sheriff’s Office.  This case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney D. Ryan Locker.