Feds charge 10 Alabama residents with stealing federal funds from university

Published 2:52 pm Monday, May 13, 2024

Federal prosecutors Monday announced the indictment of 10 people who have been charged for their alleged roles in a stealing federal funds from an Alabama university.

United States Attorney Jonathan S. Ross said a grand jury has indicted 10 people for theft of federal program funding from Tuskegee University. Tuskegee University, located in Macon County, Alabama, receives federal funding in excess of $10,000 per calendar year.

The people named in the indictment are: (1) Wanda Tyner Hairston, 51, from Auburn, Alabama; (2) Lora Regina Baker, 52, from Montgomery, Alabama; (3) Keyonn Dalarrion Cannon, 26, from Tuskegee, Alabama; (4) Lanequia Shanice Cooper, 29, also from Auburn; (5) Ledaryl Tremayne Johnson, 27, from Tuskegee, Alabama; (6) Jeanette Moss-Smith, 50, also from Auburn; (7) Cassandra Harris Parker, 61, also from Tuskegee; (8) Phyllis Vanessa Tyner, 57, also from Auburn; (9) Morris Gene Welch, another resident of Auburn; and (10) Abraham Torbert Wright Jr., 23, also from Tuskegee. All 10 are charged with conspiracy to commit federal program theft.

According to the indictment, Cassandra Harris Parker, Lora Regina Baker, Jeanette Moss-Smith and Wanda Tyner Hairston were Tuskegee University employees during the time frame of the alleged conspiracy, which began at an unknown date and continued to the year 2020.

As purchasing manager, Parker created purchase orders indicating money was owed to co-conspirators so that checks would be issued to them. Baker worked in the accounts payable department and entered the check requests into the university’s accounting system, causing the checks to be issued.

Moss-Smith signed the check request forms and Hairston assigned grant codes to the forms confirming sufficient funds existed to cover the checks. Once issued, Parker delivered the checks to the co-conspirators. The indictment alleges that Cannon, Cooper, Johnson, Tyner, Welch and Wright Jr., each cashed checks provided to them as part of the scheme. The indictment further alleges that the 10 people conspired to steal federal program funds through the wrongful issuance of these checks. In addition to the conspiracy charges, Parker, Baker, Moss-Smith and Hairston are also charged with theft concerning programs receiving federal funds.

An indictment is merely an allegation. All defendants are presumed innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law.

The conspiracy to commit federal program theft charge carries a potential sentence of up to five years in prison. In addition, Parker, Baker, Moss-Smith, and Hairston, face sentences of up to 10 years for the charge of theft concerning programs receiving federal funds. Trials for each defendant is currently scheduled for August 12, 2024.

“The United States Attorney’s Office considers the theft of federal dollars to be a serious crime,” said United States Attorney Ross. “My office will continue to prosecute those who exploit federal programs and who exploit the institutions, like Tuskegee University, entrusted with using federal program funds for their intended purposes.”

“This constitutes a flagrant misuse of federal grant funds for personal use,” said Special Agent in Charge Tamala Miles with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office of Inspector General (HHS-OIG). “We remain committed to collaborating with our law enforcement partners to uphold the integrity of HHS programs.”

The U.S. Department of Agriculture – Office of Inspector General, the Department of Health and Human Services – Office of Inspector General, and the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency investigated this case, which Assistant United States Attorney Christopher P. Moore is prosecuting.