Defendants convicted of a range of charges, including Unlawfully Obtaining Food Stamps, Tax Evasion and Making False Claims for a Health Care Payment
Attorney General John Kroger today announced today the conviction of four family members who engaged in an elaborate scheme to defraud various government programs.
"People who rip off government programs are stealing from all of us and take money that is needed for education, law enforcement and other priorities," said Attorney General Kroger.
A two week trial in Multnomah County resulted in the convictions of Harvey Gaither; his wife Claudene Stewart; her sister Francine DeWeese; her husband Phillip DeWeese; on various felony charges of Theft in the First Degree, Making False Claims for Health Care Payment, Unlawfully Obtaining Food Stamp Benefits and Tax Evasion. A fifth defendant, Gaither's niece Chekchekia Lee, who provided care for less than two months, was found not guilty.
Between 2000 and 2009, Gaither claimed severe and progressive disabilities – the inability to drive, bathe, cook, feed himself or walk without assistance. Gaither arranged for Oregon Medicaid's home care program to pay Stewart to be his caregiver (before it was discovered Gaither was married to her), then Francine DeWeese and then briefly Chekchekia Lee.
The scheme began to unravel in late 2008 when Gaither's caseworker spotted him shopping in a local store, then get in a car and drive away. The caseworker called the Department of Justice's Medicaid Fraud Unit, which launched a six-month investigation.
The investigation revealed that Gaither lied about the extent of his disabilities and that his caregivers lied about providing care. In fact, while Francine DeWeese was allegedly providing care Monday through Friday from 8 am to 5 pm, she ran her own daycare business. Surveillance documented Gaither driving – and receiving traffic tickets. He was observed walking down six flights of stairs, catching a bus and hopping a six foot fence. Additionally, Gaither and his wife, who worked outside the home, were state paid foster parents during some of the same period Gaither was allegedly severely disabled. Some of the defendants also lied to obtain food stamps or when filing taxes.
Since 2000, caregivers have been paid a total of $91,048 and obtained more than $7,500 in food stamp benefits.
Senior Assistant Attorney General Donna Maddux, with assistance from Senior Assistant Attorney General Elizabeth Ballard, prosecuted the case for the Oregon Department of Justice.
Phillip DeWeese, who previously pleaded guilty to one county of Tax Evasion, will be sentenced June 16, 2010. Harvey Gaither, Claudene Stewart, and Francine DeWeese will be sentenced August 13, 2010.
Attorney General John Kroger leads the Oregon Department of Justice. The Department's mission is to fight crime and fraud, protect the environment, improve child welfare, promote a positive business climate, and defend the rights of all Oregonians.
Tony Green, (503) 378-6002 firstname.lastname@example.org