An investigation reveals that Madras woman stole nearly $40,000 in Social Security payments.

A Madras woman, Tayva Tucker, 41, pleaded guilty Feb. 12, to one count of theft of government funds for stealing nearly $40,000 in Social Security payments from 10 mentally disabled adults.

According to court documents, beginning in March 2014, Tucker was employed by BestCare, a social services organization in Madras, where she oversaw outreach to mentally disabled clients as part of the organization's mental health program.

As part of her work at BestCare, Tucker assumed representative payee duties for some her disabled clients' Title II and Title XVI Social Security benefits. A representative payee is appointed when the beneficiary is incapable of managing his or her benefits. As a representative payee, Tucker was required to use the Social Security payments for the current and future needs of her clients.

In the summer of 2016, an organizational audit uncovered unusual movement of funds between various client accounts, as well as funds transferred from client accounts to Tucker.

"We were doing a routine audit, where we cycle through the various funds," recalled Rick Treleaven, of Bend, chief executive officer for BestCare. "They just weren't making sense. That led to more and more investigation."

When confronted, Tucker admitted to taking clients' Social Security benefits for her personal use.

"Initially, we thought we were out $16,000," said Treleaven. "As we investigated, it came out close to $40,000."

Ultimately, the investigation revealed that Tucker had stolen $39,277 from 10 victims. "We paid (the clients) out of our reserves immediately," he said.

Tucker faces a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison, a $250,000 fine and three years of supervised release. She will be sentenced on April 25, before U.S. District Court Judge Ann Aiken.

As part of the plea agreement, Tucker has agreed to pay $39,277 in restitution.

The case was investigated by the Social Security Administration Office of Inspector General, the Department of Health and Human Services Office of the Inspector General, and is being prosecuted by Gavin W. Bruce, assistant U.S. attorney for the District of Oregon.

Treleaven found out about the guilty plea from watching news. "The wheels of justice take time," said Treleaven, who is pleased that the case is finally wrapping up. "We're glad that we're vindicated."

BestCare has made changes to ensure that clients aren't ever victimized again. "We have very tight controls over those funds at this point," he said. "Multiple eyes view them at every point."

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