Ex-director of housing organization to admit to theft

2014-06-16T17:00:00Z Ex-director of housing organization to admit to theftBy CLAIR JOHNSON cjohnson@billingsgazette.com The Billings Gazette

Christa Ann McClure, the former executive director of Housing Montana in Billings, is expected to admit to a federal misdemeanor charge of stealing public money.

In records filed recently in U.S. District Court in Billings, McClure, 51, of Denver, reached an agreement with prosecutors to plead guilty to one misdemeanor count of theft of public money. The agreement calls for the dismissal of an eight-count indictment accusing her of felony fraud and theft charges.

McClure is set for a hearing on June 18 to change her plea before U.S. District Judge Susan Watters.

The indictment accuses McClure, formerly of Billings, of embezzling more than $5,000 from a federal rural development grant program and from homeowners in the program from about April 2008 until April 2010.

McClure pleaded not guilty on Feb. 6.

In October 2007, Housing Montana received a $514,454 grant from a program of the U.S. Department of Agriculture to build 22 homes in two phases.

The plea agreement, filed by Assistant U.S. Attorney Carl Rostad, said the parties agreed that restitution will total $33,000, with $1,000 to be paid within 60 days of sentencing to each of the 11 homeowners involved with Housing Montana. The remaining $22,000 is to be paid to USDA’s Rural Development during the period of supervision or probation.

The restitution does not affect any other civil obligation McClure may have, the agreement said.

The prosecution and McClure, who is represented by Billings attorney Cammi Woodward, also agreed in recommending sentencing that McClure will be prohibited from any direct participation in or control of any federally-funded program. She also would be prevented from any indirect participation without approval of the U.S. Probation Office.

Rostad said in the agreement that McClure knowingly stole money for her use from Housing Montana.

McClure, he said, submitted forms falsely indicating that Housing Montana had paid to the IRS employer taxes and contributions on behalf of employees of the nonprofit organization so it could be reimbursed for costs not accrued and boost the balance of a grant account.

“McClure’s deception assured the USDA/RD that the grant was being expended in accordance with the original grant proposal so that additional draw down requests were approved,” Rostad said in court records.

“Had the government known that the employee benefits were not being provided, this revelation would have likely resulted in a reduction, reassessment, modification or termination of grant funding,” Rostad said.

The indictment alleged that in addition to lying about employer taxes, McClure paid herself “significant sums” for consulting services even though she was a full-time employee and that she embezzled money to pay her family unauthorized salaries and bonuses, family bills and personal travel expenses.

After Housing Montana, McClure worked for the Montana Auditor's Office from 2010 to April 2013 to manage three federal grants to implement health care reform. She left when the grants ended. 

Deputy Commissioner Adam Schafer said this week that the agency maintains strict controls to prevent fraud and that no manager, including McClure, has direct access to agency funds.

After learning of McClure's indictment, the department conducted an internal review of the program she managed, including all spending, and found no irregularities, Schafer said.

"For added security, we requested the Legislative Audit Division to include a review of that program in their regularly scheduled analysis of this agency. That review is scheduled to begin in July," Schafer said in a statement to the Gazette.

In Denver, after being charged, McClure was placed on paid leave from a job with the state's program that implements the Affordable Care Act. McClure did not have any access to the exchanges' finances, a program spokesman told the Denver Post earlier.

Copyright 2014 The Billings Gazette. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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