Center for Mental Health ex-worker accused of stealing $202K from ‘highest risk’

A former Center for Mental Health employee is accused of bilking clients considered by the center to be at high risk of financial exploitation.

Susan Marie Williams, 53 —who worked at the center from 2013 until her termination in December 2020 for what police said were unrelated policy violations — is accused of defrauding the clients of more than $202,000 during the course of her employment.

Now free on a $60,000 bond, Williams arrested June 25 on allegations of theft exceeding $100,000 and 36 counts of crimes against an at-risk adult by a person in a position of trust. The theft and crimes against at-risk adults are class-3 felonies.

She is further suspected of felony-5 forgery; her arrest affidavit alleges 247 distinct instances.

Formal charges are pending. Williams is due again in court July 15.

Court records did not list an attorney for her.

Each alleged victim meets the legal definition of “at-risk adult” due to disability and/or age; further, because Williams was entrusted to manage their accounts, she was in a position of trust as it is legally defined.

“While the center cannot comment on an ongoing investigation, we want to assure the public, our clients and our communities that there is no place for fraud or illegal conduct in our organization,” Center for Mental Health CEO Shelly Spalding said in a statement Tuesday. “Our highest responsibility is to our clients and their families, and we will do everything in our power to protect them.”

Montrose Police Department Detective Samantha Graves and Officer Alandra-niane Baca began investigating in January, after a center client contacted Baca with suspicions about his bank account. He and another man were enrolled in a center program in which their Social Security checks are deposited into bank accounts the center manages for them. 

The center had, by this time, already fired Williams and according to its Tuesday statement, launched an internal investigation.

According to the affidavit Graves wrote, the financial management service is part of a center program for its “highest risk” clients to assist them — because they are considered the “most at risk of being abused or taken advantage of because of medical or physiological conditions.”

The affidavit states one of the clients had expected a deposit of $1,200 from federal stimulus money, but only received $300. The Center for Mental Health notified another client of suspected fraudulent activity on his account after staff found payments from his account to credit cards he did not have.

The center’s accounting administrator provided Baca with documentation of “numerous” charges to the two clients’ accounts that were suspicious, including receipts from banks where they did not hold accounts.

Williams had been in charge of both clients’ accounts when the suspect transactions occurred, the affidavit states. It says Williams had been placed in charge of program participants’ accounts shortly after her hire in 2013.

The Center for Mental Health statement says Williams was employed as a client payee, a person who is appointed to receive and manage Social Security living and medical benefits of a person who cannot do so himself or herself because of a disability.

Because the program requires documentation for each check written on the clients’ accounts, Graves suspected that documentation had been forged or altered to include the client name.

In contacting one of the banks, the police learned that although the documentation submitted to the Center for Mental Health listed that person’s name and address, the client’s name was not actually listed on the bank account in question.

The representative of a second bank/credit card entity said the same, but that he couldn’t discuss it further “unless ‘Susan was conferenced in’ on the call and gave him permission to speak about the account,” Graves wrote.

As part of its investigation and its assistance to police, the Center for Mental Health got in touch with a forensic accountant who reviewed the accounts Williams had managed.

He found that one bank account had used funds from 14 separate clients and that he believed at least 27 client accounts had been used fraudulently to pay more than $137,000 to credit accounts they did not owe, per the affidavit.

“I was told that the people who are enrolled in this program are considered the most ‘high risk’ clients because of their severe mental and physical deficiencies,” Graves wrote.

Graves received further documents through the Center for Mental Health’s attorney, as prepared by an accounting firm. These showed 30 transactions that Graves said looked to be “a small sampling of the suspicious transactions.” These indicated 10 different accounts and 20 clients.

Another document listed 51 separate accounts paid with funds from several client accounts.

“According to this documentation, the total amount paid with funds from Center for Mental Health client accounts to accounts they did not own is listed at $135,402.65,” Graves wrote.

Some of the money was apparently spent paying for a garbage collection service in Delta County. When Graves provided the business with the number of the account that had been allegedly paid with funds from CMH clients, the business reportedly said it belonged to Williams. The account, first opened before Williams worked at the center, had been paid with checks until December 2020, a business representative told police. These were written on a credit union account and signed by “Susan M. Williams,” Graves said in the affidavit.

Graves determined Williams had been fired from CMH on Dec. 2, 2020, which left her, in theory, without access to client accounts going forward. But the detective found eight bank or credit accounts were paid more than $1,400 with money from five CMH client accounts after that date. Graves therefore said in the affidavit she found it “likely” Williams had retained some checks belonging to clients and continued to pay her own accounts with them after being fired.

Graves obtained court orders instructing multiple banks and entities to produce records. Of 36 that responded by the time of the arrest affidavit, 27 identified Williams as the account holder; eight more identified a family member of hers (who has not been accused of a crime) and one listed a joint account.

In response to the court orders, Graves received 247 different checks that the respondents had received as payment. All of these were written on a local credit union account, “the account from which the Center for Mental Health clients’ funds were stolen,” Graves alleged.

“All the checks were signed ‘Susan Williams.’”

The forensic auditor CMH retained documented 51 accounts, allegedly owned by Williams or the family member; these had received payments in excess of $135,400 from center client accounts via 617 separate chec
ks, the affidavit alleges.

Upon digging further, back to when Williams was first hired, the auditor reported finding additional client funds that were allegedly used to pay Williams’ own accounts.

In reviewing more records, Graves found that although some accounts were lower than initially reported, “a great majority of these were significantly higher.”

As of June 17, the total payments made with CMH clients’ money to Williams’ accounts was $202,132.95, Graves alleged.

Spalding’s statement says the Center for Mental Health conducted an internal investigation after Williams was dismissed from employment. The clinic contacted the police, the Social Security Administration and the forensic accounting firm and, for several months, participated in a coordinated investigation to uncover the extent of the alleged fraud.

“We are committed to serving our communities with honesty, integrity and fiscal responsibility,” Spalding said in the…

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