A federal judge on Wednesday sentenced the former director of Housing Montana in Billings to two years probation and fined her $1,000 for stealing money from the organization.
U.S. District Judge Susan Watters also ordered the defendant, Christa Ann McClure, 51, now of Denver, to pay $33,000 restitution, with $22,000 to be paid to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Rural Development program during the period of probation. McClure also must pay $1,000 within 60 days to 11 homeowners who were in the program.
Prosecutor Carl Rostad said McClure charged families in the program a $1,000 fee for leasing tools that were provided by through a federal grant and also charged them $750 each for a nonexistent “technical assistance warranty.”
As part of an agreement, McClure pleaded guilty on Wednesday to misdemeanor theft of public money in exchange for the dismissal of eight felony counts of fraud and theft charged in an indictment.
Despite disputes between McClure and the government over the evidence, McClure assured the judge she wanted to plead guilty because of the toll the case has taken on her personal life.
McClure faced a guideline range of 12 months to 18 months in prison, but Watters followed prosecution and defense recommendations for probation. McClure’s attorney, Cammi Woodward, asked for 18 months, while Rostad did not specify a term.
Rostad said McClure embezzled money from a federal rural development grant program and took money from prospective home owners while serving as executive director of Housing Montana over a two-year period ending in April 2012. The program required potential homeowners to spend 35 hours a week working on their home or the homes of neighbors to receive assistance.
As part of the theft, Rostad said, McClure used $1,000 in grant money to buy a laptop computer for personal use, overpaid herself for unused sick time and annual leave, wrote herself an unauthorized $21,000 check and embezzled money to pay family bills and personal travel expenses.
McClure also submitted forms falsely indicating that Housing Montana had paid to the IRS employer taxes on behalf of employees so it could be reimbursed for costs not accrued and boost the balance of a grant account, Rostad said.
If the government had known employee benefits were not being provided, it likely would have ended the grant, Rostad said.
McClure disputed the $21,000 payment saying Housing Montana owed her more than $100,000 and that a board member told her $21,000 was all she was going to get. McClure also said she had filed a lien against Housing Montana’s property.
The IRS, Woodward said, was going after McClure in a civil action for the nonpayment of payroll taxes.
McClure told the judge she has been unemployed since March. She pleaded not guilty in February. After Housing Montana, McClure worked for the Montana State Auditor’s office managing federal health care grants and then moved to Denver where she worked with that state’s program implementing the federal Affordable Care Act.
After learning of McClure’s indictment, the state Auditor’s office conducted a review and found no irregularities in programs McClure had managed.