Suspects Arraigned on Charges for Stealing $470,000 in Public Benefits by Defrauding VA, Michigan Treasury
(STL.News) – Two people were arraigned on charges recently for defrauding the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and Michigan Department of Treasury out of hundreds of thousands of dollars by submitting fraudulent documents in support of claims for VA survivor benefits and Michigan Unclaimed Property, Attorney General Dana Nessel announced today. A third individual has been charged in connection with this fraud but has not yet been arraigned.
Melissa R. Flores, 53, and a co-conspirator allegedly created aliases and obtained or created fraudulent documents, including vital records like birth certificates, to make it appear that they were heirs to various individuals who had died.
Through this scheme, between 2013 and 2019, it’s alleged that the two individuals obtained more than $40,000 of Unclaimed Property from the Michigan Department of Treasury and more than $430,000 from the VA. Meanwhile, Stephen Decker, 32, received proceeds from the scheme and used some of the money to conceal property used to conduct the fraud.
“Committing fraud against our state or federal agencies that directly give back to their communities will not be tolerated,” Nessel said. “Our veterans voluntarily put their lives on the line in service to this country to protect the freedoms and liberties we as U.S. citizens enjoy. For someone to take advantage of the public benefits set aside for their families is a slap in the face to servicemen and women across the country.”
Flores, of Westland, is subject to sentencing as a habitual offender, fourth notice. She was arraigned on the charges Wednesday before Judge Sandra Cicirelli in 18th District Court. Flores is scheduled for a probable cause conference at 8:30 a.m. June 4 before Judge Mark A. McConnell and a preliminary hearing at 8:30 a.m. June 11 before Judge Cicirelli. She is charged with:
- one count of conducting a criminal enterprise, a felony punishable by up to 20 years’ imprisonment, $100,000 fine and
- forfeiture of proceeds and items used during the crime; two counts of false pretenses between $20,000 and $50,000, a felony punishable by 15 years’ imprisonment, $15,000 fine or
- three times the value of the money or property involved, whichever is greater;
- forgery of documents affecting real property, a 14-year felony; and
- four counts of false pretenses between $1,000 and $20,000, a felony punishable by up to five years’ imprisonment and a $10,000 fine or three times the value of the money or property involved, whichever is greater.
Decker, of Wyandotte, is charged with one count of criminal enterprises – racketeering proceeds, a felony punishable by up to 20 years’ imprisonment, $100,000 fine and forfeiture of proceeds and items used during the crime. He was arraigned Friday before Judge Elizabeth DiSanto in 27th District Court. He is scheduled to appear in court for a probable cause conference at 1:30 p.m. June 4. DiSanto set a $10,000 cash or 10 percent surety bond.
A third individual has been charged with conducting a criminal enterprise and multiple counts of false pretenses. The identity of that individual is being withheld pending arraignment on the charges.