A woman accused of stealing more than $100 million from the Army retired with full benefits despite an ongoing criminal investigation into an alleged six-year fraud scheme, according to an Army spokesperson.
Janet Yamanaka Mello was accused of establishing a shell company, then funneling taxpayer money to it, which she spent on jewelry, clothing, vehicles and real estate, according to a Dec. 6 Department of Justice announcement. But limitations to a federal law allowed the alleged conwoman to receive her full civil service benefit package, an Army spokesperson told the San Antonio Express-News in January.
“The command has no authority to impact Ms. Mello’s retirement,” a spokesperson with the Army’s Installation Management Command said in an email to San Antonio Express-News. “In accordance with 5 U.S. Code Section 8312, an individual may be denied an annuity or retired pay on the basis of the service of the individual, if the individual is convicted of treason, rebellion or insurrection, or other similar offenses. There is no similar statutory authority for denying retired pay based on a conviction of other offenses.”
As part of her job as a civilian financial program manager at Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio, Texas, Mello determined whether organizations were eligible for the 4-H Military Partnership Grant, according to a federal indictment filed against Mello on Dec. 6. The partnership program was created to “to provide meaningful youth development opportunities for military-connected children,” the indictment said.
Prosecutors allege that in December 2016, Mello started a phony nonprofit, Child Health and Youth Lifelong Development, and submitted fraudulent paperwork indicating it was eligible for grant money. She then directed the money to a UPS store mailbox near San Antonio that she rented and deposited it in her own bank account, according to the indictment.
“All in all, [Mello] went through this process over forty times during a six-year period, securing over $100,000,000 for herself in the process,” federal prosecutors said in the indictment. She was also accused of forging her supervisor’s digital signature to approve the funds.
Mello was charged with “five counts of mail fraud, four counts of engaging in a monetary transaction over $10,000 using criminally derived proceeds and one count of aggravated identity theft,” according to the DOJ. Prosecutors hope to seize any property they say Mello illegally acquired.
Albert Flores, Mello’s attorney, told San Antonio Express-News the allegations against his client shouldn’t impact her ability to collect retirement funds after years of civil service.
“She earned it,” Flores told the local outlet. “I don’t see how one thing is related to the other.”
He argued that Mello has cooperated and that the government should be able to recover a large sum of the assets.
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“We expect a large portion of the assets will be recovered,” Flores said. “In other words, a lot of the money was spent on tangible assets that the government can (recoup) — real estate, cash, vehicles, properties, things of that nature. We’re being very cooperative in anything we can to turn that over.”
Neither the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Western District of Texas, the Army nor Mello’s attorney immediately responded to requests for comment.
Louis Casiano contributed to this report.