Just two weeks after former Dallas PD senior corporal Theadora Ross was sentenced to three-and-a-half years in prison for pocketing $250,000 from North Texas CrimeStoppers, which she was charged with overseeing, the Feds are again alleging fraud in the program.
On Tuesday, the local U.S. Attorney's office filed charges against two women, Amelia Blair Lopez and Eva Barrientos, accusing them of conspiring to embezzle CrimeStoppers funds.
According to the indictment, Lopez worked during the early months of 2010 at Chase bank, where CrimeStoppers kept its money. The money was to be doled out to tipsters who, having supplied information leading to an arrest and conviction in certain serious crimes, were given a tip number and code word to present to the bank.
Ross stole money by adding fake tip numbers and code words to the list CrimeStoppers provided to the bank, then sending an accomplice to collect the funds. Lopez and Barrientos' alleged fraud was even more straightforward; Lopez would simply give Barrientos the CrimeStoppers information, and she would come to the bank to collect.
Their scheme is small fry compared to Ross', lasting all of two months and netting $18,750, according to the feds, while Ross stole a dozen times as much over seven years. But the new charges raise fairly obvious question: Just who exactly is watching the CrimeStoppers till? The $2.5 million in rewards paid since its inception and apparently porous financial controls make it a ripe target for fraud.
Richard Roper, the former U.S. Attorney who co-chairs the North Texas Crime Commission, says, essentially, that it's been taken care of. Barrientos and Lopez' alleged theft occurred between February and April of 2010, a month or so before Ross' scheme came to light.
"There were controls in place consistent with requirements of state CrimeStoppers program that we in Texas follow on CrimeStoppers matters," Roper said. "Obviously, they didn't stop this." Since then, the NTCC has made "extraordinary efforts to make sure it" doesn't happen again.
The biggest change was moving the CrimeStoppers operation from the bank to DPD's fusion center, where employees work within sight of their supervisors. Roper said several other controls have been added as well, which he declined to discuss.
"Look, we the (NTCC) board has looked at it, and we're confident that we have much better controls in place, and I think that once the Crime Commission found out about this, we immediately reported it to police department and FBI and immediately took measures to ensure this doesn't happen again."
Roper is confident that the new controls will be effective but notes the inherent tension built into the CrimeStoppers program, of handing out large sums of cash people whose anonymity you've sworn to protect. "It's a heavy lift," Roper said, but one the NTCC is now equipped to handle.
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