Chicago, IL-(ENEWSPF)- A former Illinois Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) social worker and 14 others have been indicted on federal charges for allegedly participating in a scheme to fraudulently obtain $3.2 million in state funds intended for childcare services.
A 41-count indictment unsealed Wednesday in U.S. District Court in Chicago alleges that SHAUNTELE Y. PRIDGEON orchestrated the fraud scheme from 2016 to 2022 while serving as a Community Social Service Planner for DCFS in Chicago. Pridgeon fraudulently entered the information of several of her co-defendants into the DCFS computer system and approved them to be paid as providers caring for foster children, the indictment states. Pridgeon directed at least $3.2 million in State of Illinois funds to the co-defendants and others, each of whom agreed to receive the money even though they knew that no foster children were actually in their care, the indictment states. The co-defendants and others then paid bribes and kickbacks to Pridgeon totaling approximately $1.6 million, the indictment states. Pridgeon allegedly used the bribe money to pay personal expenses, including gambling losses at a casino in Hammond, Ind.
The indictment accuses each of Pridgeon’s co-defendants of accepting various amounts of state money for the nonexistent childcare services. For example, LATASHA THOMAS received more than $1.6 million and TRACEY JERVIER received more than $695,000, the indictment states. RONNIE WEBB received more than $228,000, which was paid via checks made payable to “Webb Feet Child Care Inc.,” a bogus company that listed its address as Webb’s residence, the indictment states.
Charged with honest services wire fraud are Pridgeon, 54, of Chicago; Thomas, 48, of Chicago; Jervier, 60, of Chicago; Webb, 57, of South Holland, Ill.; TAHNDREA N. HARPER, 50, of Chicago; JOI SANDERSON, 49, of Frankfort, Ill.; KELLI PAYNE, 49, of Hammond, Ind.; NIKKI GIOVANNI HOUSTON, 53, of Chicago; SHENITA MCGARY, 37, of Chicago; SHERRI BAINES, 45, of Chicago; KEICHA L. LACEY, 50, of Country Club Hills, Ill.; CHRISTINA A. DAVIS, 54, of Chicago; MARISSA TERRY, 36, of Frankfort, Ill.; ARAMIS COLLIER, 39, of Chicago; and AUNSHEREE NELSON, 44, of Chicago.
Most of the defendants were arrested Wednesday and have begun making initial appearances in federal court in Chicago.
The indictment was announced by Morris Pasqual, Acting United States Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois; Robert W. “Wes” Wheeler, Jr., Special Agent-in-Charge of the Chicago Field Office of the FBI; Brendan F. Kelly, Director of the Illinois State Police; and Ann McIntyre, Inspector General of DCFS. The government is represented by Assistant U.S. Attorneys John D. Mitchell, Bradley A. Tucker, and Christine M. O’Neill.
The public is reminded that an indictment is not evidence of guilt. The defendants are presumed innocent and entitled to a fair trial at which the government has the burden of proving guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. If convicted, the Court must impose reasonable sentences under federal statutes and the advisory U.S. Sentencing Guidelines.
This is a release from the United States Department of Justice.