58-year-old Sandara Marie Sanderville admitted that she engaged in embezzlement and fraud as director of the Blackfeet Tribe’s Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) Program. Sanderville, who pled guilty before U.S. Magistrate Judge Keith Strong in February, faces 10 years in prison and $250,000 in fines.
TANF is a welfare program “designed to help needy families achieve self-sufficiency.” The federally-funded program allows Indian tribes to receive funding and operate their own programs. From 2006 to 2010, Sanderville was the director of one such program for the Blackfeet Tribe.
During Sanderville’s time as the Blackfeet’s TANF head, the tribe received over $3,000,000 per year, bringing the total received amount to $12,000,000. Of that total, officials estimate that $297,612 was used in fraudulent payments.
Sanderville gamed the system by regularly overpaying TANF clients, who would then give her a portion of the welfare checks after they were cashed. Many of the TANF “clients” that Sanderville overpaid were not qualified to receive the benefits. She provided the benefits to ineligible recipients by adding fabricated children to the payment calculation, failing to remove household residents who had moved, and paying individuals who were not a part of the Blackfeet Tribe.
The scheme was successfully carried out for a significant amount of time because as director, Sanderville had the ability to restrict access to accounts. This prevented other TANF office staff from seeing what was happening.
Eventually, however, the Blackfeet Tribe’s Internal Affairs Office launched an investigation into Sanderville. The TANF director immediately attempted to delete and destroy all traces of the scheme. But unfortunately for Sanderville, an out-of-state back-up file allowed investigators to see all of the fraudulent payments.
She ultimately admitted that she consciously designed the scheme and had profited from it. Although Sanderville initially insisted that she only kept $100 from each “split-check,” she subsequently admitted that she had lied and indeed had received much more. In fact, she said that she received the majority of each cashed welfare check and used the money to support her gambling addiction. She did, however, claim that the beneficiaries had no knowledge of the scheme–she claims to have told them the additional money was from a government grant and that the cash given to her was going back to TANF.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Inspector General pursued the TANF fraud case, with help from several other federal agencies.
After being dismissed in November 2010, Sanderville was suspended with pay. It was not until the following year that she was finally terminated.
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