Two Charged with Defrauding Tribal Housing Authority

Published: Mar. 15, 2023 at 5:23 PM CDT
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MADISON, Wis. (Office of U.S. Attorney Timothy M. O’Shea Western District of Wisconsin U.S. Department of Justice press release) - In related cases charged in separate indictments, two individuals have been charged with engaging in fraud schemes to defraud the St. Croix Chippewa Housing Authority, a tribal agency of the St. Croix Chippewa Indians of Wisconsin. The first indictment charges Karen Johnson, 55, Cumberland, Wisconsin, with three counts of wire fraud, theft from a federally funded organization, and aggravated identity theft. This indictment alleges that from November 2018 to June 2019, Johnson, while employed as a housing specialist with the St. Croix Chippewa Housing Authority, created false invoices and vouchers for work allegedly done by Individual A on behalf of the Housing Authority and then wrote checks payable to Individual A from the Housing Authority’s bank account. The indictment further alleges that Johnson endorsed each check by forging the signature of Individual A and deposited the proceeds into her personal bank account. According to the indictment, Individual A did not perform the work for the Housing Authority or create the invoices and he was unaware his identity was used in this manner. The wire fraud charges involve three Housing Authority checks totaling $12,700.

The second indictment charges Duane Emery, 64, Hertel, Wisconsin, with three counts of wire fraud and one count of theft from a federally funded program. The indictment alleges that from February 2015 to June 2019, Emery, while employed as the housing director for the Housing Authority, requested a fellow employee to write checks drawn on the Housing Authority account payable to Sears, claiming that the checks constituted reimbursement for his expenses related to his employment with the Housing Authority. The indictment alleges that Emery used the funds to make payments to his personal Sears credit card account. The wire fraud charges involved three Housing Authority checks totaling $6,600.

If convicted, Johnson and Emery face a maximum penalty of 20 years in federal prison on each wire fraud count and 10 years on the theft from a federally funded program count. The aggravated identity theft count Johnson is charged with carries a mandatory two-year penalty. The charges against Johnson and Emery are the result of an investigation by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Office of Inspector General with the full support and cooperation of the St. Croix Tribe. Assistant U.S. Attorney Taylor Kraus is handling the prosecutions.