The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

Top Stories

November 6, 2012

Former public administrator pleads guilty to document fraud

Rita Hunter, former Jasper County public administrator, pleaded guilty to document fraud on Tuesday in federal court in Springfield.

Hunter, 60, of rural Joplin, entered a plea to the charge related to illegally obtaining federal benefits. The charge was part of a 12-count federal indictment handed up Dec. 14, 2011. Hunter, who served a single term as public administrator ending in December 2008, pleaded guilty to the one count in an agreement that calls for the other 11 to be dropped, according to a statement issued by a federal prosecutor.

By pleading guilty, Hunter admitted to a scheme involving a total fraud of $70,000 to $120,000, according to a release from the federal court. She directed her employees to submit materially false Medicaid applications for wards under the custody of the public administrator’s office. The applications falsely stated that the wards had assets below the $1,000 threshold to be eligible to receive Medicaid benefits, when in fact the wards had assets of more than $1,000.

Under federal statutes, Hunter is subject to a sentence of up to five years in federal prison without parole, plus a fine up to $250,000 and an order or restitution.

Hunter was represented in the case by Ian Lewis, a court-appointed public defender. The Globe’s attempts to reach him Tuesday were unsuccessful, and a message left on Hunter’s cellphone was not returned.

A federal grand jury initially handed up a 12-count indictment against Hunter, including federal charges of health care fraud, theft of government property, document fraud, Social Security fraud and Medicaid fraud, in connection with the operation of her office when she was public administrator from January 2005 through December 2008. The indictment alleged that financial misdeeds started as early as April 2005, four months after the start of her term.

Though the guilty plea was to a single count, “the totality of her conduct does not evaporate as a result of that,” said Don Ledford, a spokesman for David Ketchmark, U.S. attorney for the Western District of Missouri.

“At her sentencing hearing, the court will take into account all of her conduct, in terms of the time of the sentence and the amount of restitution,” he said.

The original indictment alleged that Hunter collected nearly $200,000 to which her office was not entitled. That came either by falsifying reports to apply for Medicaid benefits to which wards were not entitled, or by collecting fees from what wards were receiving from Social Security, without authorization and without reporting to the federal agency.

According to Tuesday’s press release, Hunter specifically pleaded guilty to directing her staff to prepare a fraudulent Medicaid eligibility statement for a ward identified in the court filing as T.V. Hunter knew that the statement submitted to Missouri HealthNet on Aug. 6, 2008, contained false information. The written statement on the document indicated that the ward had a total bank account balance of $827, when in fact the ward had funds totaling $6,919. The false statement was made to ensure that the ward would meet the monetary threshold of no more than $1,000 imposed by Medicaid, and was material to Medicaid’s determination that T.V. was eligible for Medicaid benefits, the release stated.

Hunter caused the statement to be stamped with her signature verifying that it was true, when in fact it was false. Hunter instructed her employees to fabricate T.V.’s bank statement to ensure that T.V. would qualify for Medicaid benefits, when she was, in fact, not eligible.

A sentencing hearing for Hunter will be scheduled after the completion of a pre-sentence investigation by the U.S. Probation Office.

Investigation

THE CASE WAS INVESTIGATED by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the Social Security Administration, the FBI, the Missouri State Highway Patrol and the Missouri Department of Social Services Legal Investigation Section.

1
Text Only
Top Stories
  • r041814capbus4.jpg Funding shortfall could hinder public transportation in Southeast Kansas

    For the past two years, Pittsburg State University sophomore Travis Cook has been using public transportation to get to and from his classes. He began using the bus his freshman year, when he didn’t have a vehicle to drive even to the grocery store — which is said to be the case for many who use the service.

    April 18, 2014 2 Photos

  • Bruner denied change of venue for murder trial

    Circuit Judge Gayle Crane has denied a change of venue for a defendant charged with fatally shooting an assistant football coach at Missouri Southern State University. The attorney for Jeffrey Bruner claimed pretrial publicity as the reason for seeking a change of venue in Jasper County Circuit Court.

    April 18, 2014

  • Russell family sues city, Joplin police

    Family members of a teenage girl whose suicide a year ago brought them into conflict with police officers and emergency medical technicians are suing the city and the Joplin Police Department. Kevin and Julissa Russell and their son, Brant Russell, are the plaintiffs in a lawsuit filed in Jasper County Circuit Court. The action filed on the Russells’ behalf by Kansas City attorney Andrew Protzman names the city, the Police Department and Officers Austin Wolf and Tyler Christensen as defendants.

    April 18, 2014

  • Kansas Regents stick with social media policy

    After directing a committee to study a controversial social media policy and make recommended changes, the Kansas Board of Regents appears to not be changing the policy at all. It’s left some in academia baffled by why it appointed the work group in the first place.

    April 18, 2014

  • Britain Easter Pilgri_Cast.jpg SLIDESHOW: Good Friday observances around the world Around the world, Christians are coming together in observance of Good Friday, which they believe was the day Jesus was crucified. Here are some photos from Good Friday commemorations around the world.

    April 18, 2014

  • Missouri House votes to expand sales tax exemptions

    Pizza parlors, doughnut shops and even convenience stores all could be in line for a tax break on the food that they make and sell as a result of a measure moving through the Missouri Legislature.

    April 18, 2014

  • 041714 School safe rooms4_72.jpg Joplin school district readies community safe rooms for storm season

    Thousands of Joplin residents will soon be able to stay safe during storms in some of the region’s newest shelters. Community safe rooms at Cecil Floyd, Stapleton, McKinley and Eastmorland elementary schools, which double as gymnasiums, and Junge Field, which will double as a field house, are expected to be open within the next few weeks, according to Mike Johnson, the school district’s director of construction.

    April 17, 2014 2 Photos

  • 041714 Treble Makers.jpg Carl Junction ‘Treble Makers’ to sing at Springfield Cardinals’ stadium

    Next month, 75 Carl Junction sixth-grade students will sing “The Star-Spangled Banner” at Hammons Field before a Springfield Cardinals game. And with more than 600 parents, family members and other residents planning to attend, the May 3 event has been dubbed “Carl Junction Day.”

    April 17, 2014 1 Photo

  • Public hearing set on posed TIF district

    Financial details of a proposed new tax increment financing district for the Silver Creek Galleria area will be discussed in detail at an April 28 public hearing, members of the city’s TIF Commission were told Thursday. Chris Williams, a TIF attorney representing the city of Joplin, told the panel the Thursday meeting was intended to walk commissioners through the public hearing steps.

    April 17, 2014

  • Volunteer projects spark two bills in Jefferson City

    Bills moving through the Missouri House and Senate were inspired by a volunteer project in Carl Junction last year that stalled over a question of whether those volunteers had to be paid prevailing wage under Missouri law. “This bill is very simple. All it says is if someone is a volunteer, they won’t be forced to be paid prevailing wage,” state Rep. Charlie Davis, R-Webb City, told lawmakers during a hearing on his bill last week.

    April 17, 2014