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Misuse of Federal Funds Intended for Combating Youth Substance Abuse

Wellcore Officials Forged Signatures on Grant Documents; Used Grant Funds to Hire Criminal Defense Lawyers, Dine at Albany-Area Restaurants, and Fund Home Renovations and Vacations.



ALBANY, NEW YORK – Victoria Shaw, of Mahwah, New Jersey, the owner of Suffern, New York-based Wellcore, Inc., has agreed to pay $500,000 for her role in a scheme whereby she and a former Wellcore official forged signatures of community leaders on federal grant applications and then diverted for personal use federal funds intended to combat youth substance use, announced United States Attorney Carla B. Freedman.

“Protecting taxpayer dollars from fraud and abuse is one of my top priorities,” said United States Attorney Freedman. “Under the False Claims Act, Victoria Shaw paid far more in damages and penalties than she misappropriated, showing the important deterrent effect that this law can have in combatting fraud on federal programs.”

Wellcore is a not-for-profit corporation that secures and administers Drug-Free Communities (DFC) Support Program grants. DFC is a grant program that provides resources to community coalitions to prevent youth substance use. A “community coalition” consists of community leaders representing twelve sectors that organize to meet the local prevention needs of the youth and families in their communities. As part of the DFC grant-application process, applicants must submit to the federal government copies of signed agreements with representatives from each sector reflecting that the individual has agreed to represent their sector for purposes of the grant.

As part of the settlement agreement, Shaw admitted to the following:

In 2009, Wellcore applied to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) for a DFC grant on behalf of the South Orangetown Community Awareness of Substance Abuse (SOCASA) coalition. Wellcore forged signatures of sector representatives and addended them to SOCASA’s application, including signatures of a local business owner (using the wrong first name), a physician (using the wrong spelling of the last name), and a school principal. Wellcore then submitted or caused the application to be submitted to the government, with the forgeries, to provide the false impression that each purported signatory had agreed to serve as a sector representative for SOCASA. SOCASA received the DFC grant in 2009, which Wellcore administered for SOCASA. Wellcore renewed the DFC grant on SOCASA’s behalf in 2011, 2013, and 2015.

In 2015, Wellcore applied to SAMHSA for a DFC grant on behalf of Suffern United Coalition Against Substance Abuse (SUCASA). Wellcore forged signatures of sector representatives and addended them to SUCASA’s application, including signatures of a law-enforcement official, a physician, and a school guidance counselor. Wellcore then submitted or caused the application to be submitted to the government, with the forgeries, to provide the false impression that each purported signatory had agreed to serve as a sector representative for SUCASA. SUCASA received the DFC grant in 2015, which Wellcore administered for SUCASA.

Wellcore officials also misappropriated funds from the SUCASA and SOCASA grants for unallowable costs. For example, Shaw admitted that she used SOCASA grant funds to pay $15,000 to a criminal-defense attorney to represent a family member in a personal matter and that she spent thousands of dollars of DFC grant funds to pay for gym memberships for herself and for her immediate family members. Shaw also provided evidence that an individual who was previously affiliated with Wellcore misappropriated DFC grant funds while so affiliated. Shaw provided examples of how this individual misappropriated DFC grant funds, including by spending such funds to purchase home furnishings, to pay for their child’s day camp expenses, to pay for their child’s birthday party, to pay a contractor to do home-improvement work, to pay for personal travel, and to pay for their swim club membership.

Wellcore officials had access to SOCASA and SUCASA grant funds and spent some such funds in the Northern District of New York, including for meals at several restaurants in Albany.

“This is an egregious example of misappropriating federal grant funds for personal use,” said Special Agent in Charge Naomi D. Gruchacz of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office of Inspector General (HHS-OIG). “We will continue to work with our law enforcement partners to preserve the integrity of HHS programs.”

The investigation and settlement were the result of a coordinated effort between the United States Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of New York and HHS-OIG. The United States was represented by Assistant United States Attorney Adam J. Katz.

Updated April 1, 2024

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