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Former Buchanan official headed to prison


Matt J. Whitworth, acting United States Attorney for the Western District of Missouri, has announced that a former Buchanan County official was sentenced in federal court this week for embezzling approximately $119,000 from Social Security payments intended for dependent or disabled clients served by her office.

Bonnie Sue Lawson, 68, of St. Joseph, was sentenced by U.S. District Judge Gary A. Fenner Tuesday morning to three years and one month in federal prison without parole. The court also ordered Lawson to pay $119,063 in restitution.

“We’re satisfied that this disgraced former official is being held accountable for her actions,” Whitworth said. “She not only abused the public’s trust, but she took advantage of some of our community’s most vulnerable members. She stole from victims who were already in difficult financial circumstances and depended on her to take care of them. Judge Fenner has sent a strong message to the public and elected officials with this sentence.”

On Sept. 24, 2008, Lawson pleaded guilty to stealing public money. She admitted that, from Sept. 1, 2003, to Aug. 21, 2006, she embezzled funds from these accounts for her own use.

Lawson served as Buchanan County Public Administrator from her election in 1996 until her resignation in August 2006. As public administrator, Lawson was appointed as the guardian for mentally impaired or developmentally disabled adults in instances where these adults had no one else who was willing to act on their behalf. Some of the clients under Lawson’s care received Social Security Administration benefits on a monthly basis. Lawson, who was appointed by the Social Security Administration as the representative payee for clients who were identified as either physically or mentally unable to handle their own financial affairs, established separate bank accounts where the Social Security funds were deposited. Lawson maintained control over the accounts.

Lawson accomplished her embezzlement by generating checks payable to herself under the guise that the proceeds were to pay her fees. The checks or embezzled monies were above and beyond any legitimate payments due to Lawson as representative payee. Lawson then altered the accounting records, maintained electronically, in her public administrator’s office in order to conceal her embezzlement. Lawson also concealed her embezzlement by submitting false and fraudulent reports to the Social Security Administration.

Approximately 120 separate client accounts were identified by investigators as having been embezzled by Lawson. Investigators also calculated an aggregate loss figure of approximately $118,000 from Lawson’s embezzlement activities. This sum represents Social Security payments intended for the use and care of dependant or disabled clients.

This case was prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney K. Michael Warner. It was investigated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Social Security Administration – Office of Inspector General, the St. Joseph, Mo., Police Department and the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services.



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