Feds charge 3 Minnesota women in alleged scam to steal from Catholic Charities

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Catholic Charities of St. Paul and Minneapolis logo.
Courtesy of Catholic Charities

Catholic Charities of St. Paul and Minneapolis says it is helping authorities investigate an alleged fraud scheme after federal prosecutors charged three Minnesota women who allegedly stole thousands of dollars meant to help the homeless.

Federal court documents filed Dec. 21 say workers at Catholic Charities recruited friends to pose as landlords pretending to rent to homeless people.

In April of 2012, prosecutors say Sharré Ophelia Rush gave her name and Social Security number to an employee, who filled out phony IRS forms and lease agreements. The employee, who's not named in court papers, then got the accounts payable department to cut checks to Rush, which she then allegedly cashed and split with the employee.

Over three and a half years, authorities say Rush stole $35,843 from Catholic Charities — money that was supposed to help pay rent for people trying to get back on their feet.

Also charged in the case are Shaneka Lashay Mzee and Leteaste Henry-Davis. Prosecutors say Mzee joined the conspiracy in late 2016 and took close to $26,865. Henry-Davis allegedly walked off with $12,400 early last year.

The defendants could not be reached for comment, and an attorney for one said he's unable to discuss the case.

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In a statement to MPR News Thursday, Catholic Charities said it began an internal investigation in March of 2017 and learned that it was "the victim of a criminal scheme to defraud housing rental assistance funds."

The nonprofit says staff members suspected of being involved were fired and reported to law enforcement, and the group also brought its findings to the Minnesota U.S. Attorney's office. Catholic Charities declined to say how many employees it terminated or how many people may have been involved.

The organization — which reported $69 million in revenue last year — said the fraud involves money from two counties earmarked for housing rental assistance programs and that the total amount involved "is expected to be less than $750,000." Catholic Charities goes on to say that it's working with its insurer to cover the losses. The statement does not name the counties, but says that both are conducting internal audits with the nonprofit's cooperation "to determine the extent of the loss."

The housing programs remain active and continue to help those in need, Catholic Charities said.