AP NEWS

Meals on Wheels former bookkeeper faces wire fraud charge

February 15, 2019

A former bookkeeper for Meals on Wheels Spokane faces a federal wire fraud charge for allegedly spending funds that were supposed to be used by the non-profit charity that works to deliver meals to the elderly.

According to court records filed on Thursday, Michelle S. Ferrell faces a maximum of 20 years in federal prison and a $250,000 fine if she is convicted on the single count of wire fraud. Ferrell is scheduled for a first appearance before U.S. Magistrate Judge John Rodgers at 1:30 p.m. on Feb. 28.

Ferrell worked for Meals on Wheels from May 2013 until last April as a bookkeeper. As part of her job, she had access to the organization’s payroll, bank accounts and accounting information.

Ferrell “used her access to MOW funds and accounts to make electronic funds transfers to, and debit card purchases from, various businesses and entities for her personal benefit,” according to court records. Ferrell “frequently disguised these purchases in MOW’s internal accounting records to conceal them and to make them appear to be for legitimate MOW expenses.”

Ferrell does not yet have an attorney assigned to her case and efforts to reach her late Thursday were unsuccessful.

Last year alone, Meals on Wheels Spokane delivered more than 146,000 meals to some 750 seniors, according its website. It has provided meals to elderly, disabled, home-bound seniors in Spokane since 1967, according to its website

As part of the alleged scheme, Assistant U.S. Attorneys Dan Fruchter and Tyler Tornabene allege that Ferrell failed to file the proper payroll taxes with the Internal Revenue Service. Ferrell “did this for the purpose of ensuring that MOW would have funds in its accounts for her to use for her personal expenses, and to not draw attention to the fraudulent scheme,” federal prosecutors wrote.

After Meals on Wheels officials learned of problems with the bookkeeping, they were left owing $120,000 to the IRS in back payroll taxes, as well as penalties and interest, court records state.

The indictment also seeks to force Ferrell to forfeit a home in the 4100 block of S. Hollow Ct. in Spokane Valley that is valued at more than $500,000. And, federal prosecutors are also seeking about $89,000 in restitution “representing the amount of proceeds obtained from the wire fraud violations,” court records state.

Meals on Wheels Executive director Mollie Dalpae could not be reached late Thursday for comment. The organization website no longer lists Ferrell as an employee.