Former Meadville payroll administrator pleads over false benefit claims

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Former Meadville payroll administrator pleads over false benefit claims By Keith Gushard Meadville Tribune Jan 3, 2019
A former city of Meadville payroll administrator faces sentencing later this year after admitting in Crawford County Court of Common Pleas to stealing more than $2,700 by filing false insurance benefits during a two-year period.
Barbara E. Hall, 46, 17052 Kebort Road, pleaded guilty Wednesday before Judge Mark Stevens to theft by unlawful taking and could face up to five years in jail and a $10,000 fine when sentenced in March.
Pennsylvania State Police arrested Hall on July 13 on one count each of theft by unlawful taking and tampering with records, alleging Hall stole $2,752.77 between 2016 and 2018. Police said Hall did so by filing 17 false explanation of benefits transactions for health insurance benefits with Blue Cross/Blue Shield.
The original theft by unlawful taking charge was a third-degree felony punishable by up to seven years in prison and a $15,000 fine. The tampering with records charge was a first-degree misdemeanor with up to five years in jail and a $10,000 fine.
In a plea agreement with the Crawford County District Attorney’s Office, Hall pleaded guilty to theft by unlawful taking and paying in full $4,000 of restitution to the city in exchange for the third-degree felony theft by unlawful taking charge being lowered to a first-degree misdemeanor and the tampering with evidence charge not being prosecuted.
The $4,000 restitution was negotiated between the DA’s Office and Jeff Veitch, Hall’s defense attorney, after the city determined additional funds were missing following the filing of charges.
DA Francis Schultz called the plea agreement a good resolution of the case.
“The important thing in cases of employee theft is, number one, the person is held responsible for what they did (and) number two, when we’re dealing with an entity like city government I want to get them their money back as soon as possible,” Schultz said. “That’s the reason we agreed to reduce it (the theft charge) from the felony to the misdemeanor.”
Schultz said his office is reviewing whether to ask the court to give Hall time in jail when she is sentenced March 5.
“Jail time may be warranted; that will be up to the judge,” Schultz said. “There’s no recommendation on sentencing (as part of the plea agreement). We’ll look at the (sentencing) guidelines.”
Veitch offered little comment on the case.
“She’s made full restitution and fully cooperated with authorities,” Veitch told the Tribune after Hall entered her plea. He declined additional comment.
Hall had worked for the city for a little more than 11 years and was a payroll administrator in the city’s Human Resources Department when she was fired May 8, 2018, Andy Walker, Meadville’s city manager, said at the time of Hall’s arrest.
The theft was uncovered on April 18, 2018, by Tim Groves, the city’s now retired-finance director, after a review of records, according to court documents.
As part of her duties, Hall oversaw reimbursements to city’s health reimbursement accounts, flexible spend accounts and high-deductible program, according to the arrest affidavit. Groves noticed a frequency of payments pattern that was suspicious, according to the affidavit.
The suspicious transactions each had explanation of benefits numbers that seemed to be only one or two numbers different than previous legitimate transaction numbers, according to the affidavit. Groves contacted Blue Cross/Blue Shield and verified the 17 false transactions all were created by Hall, the affidavit said.
Groves and Walker met with Hall on May 8 where she was terminated, but Hall denied the accusation against her, the affidavit said.
Hall later sent a hand-written letter to Walker and Groves, stating in part, “‘I hope you don’t feel the need to press charges for the mistakes,'” the affidavit said.
In an interview with state police June 22, 2018, Hall confessed to creating the bogus EOBs and receiving reimbursements to which she wasn’t entitled, the affidavit said.
Hall remains free on her own recognizance pending sentencing.
Keith Gushard can be reached at 724-6370 or by email at .

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