Get Task & Purpose in your inbox
Langley Air Force Base Secretary Faked Payroll For 17 Years, Giving Herself An Extra $1.46 Million
NEWPORT NEWS, Va. — A former employee at Langley Air Force Base admitted Wednesday that she bilked the federal government out of $1.46 million — mainly by faking the amount of overtime she worked over 17 years.
Michelle M. Holt, 52, was a civilian secretary at the base, where she worked in the communications support squadron of Air Combat Command.
She pleaded guilty in U.S. District Court in Newport News to felony charges that she undertook a long-running effort to boost her own pay.
Between December 2001 and July 2018, Holt falsely claimed 42,847 overtime hours that she didn’t work, according to a statement of facts that Holt, her lawyer and prosecutors signed off on Wednesday as part of the plea deal.
The ruse began slowly at first.
In late 2001, Holt used a co-worker’s log-in information — without that co-worker’s knowledge — to get into a Department of Defense computerized pay database. She retroactively added 15 hours of overtime to her paycheck.
As time went on, Holt’s retroactive additions to her overtime “became a regular occurrence,” the statement said. She began to get bolder, particularly after 2008 — when her overtime pay began to double her regular salary.
In 2017, for example, Holt’s salary was $51,324. But she took home $119,585 in overtime pay.
In one two-week period, the statement said, she billed the Air Force for 137 overtime hours that she didn’t work. Though overtime was by far the bulk of the scheme, she also falsified holiday and sick pay.
But things began to unravel in June, when the Department of Defense’s Inspector General’s Office found discrepancies between Holt’s pay and attendance records.
She appeared to get wind that an investigation was afoot. Holt wrote to a co-worker on June 18: “Please keep this between us, have you all had (the Air Force’s Office of Special Investigations) come over here about anything?”
She first told investigators she took extra overtime for only a few months. But an investigator then showed Holt a spreadsheet of her overtime going back 10 years. “I’m in trouble,” she said, according to the statement of facts. “It was wrong.”
"Please keep this between us, have you all had (the Air Force’s Office of Special Investigations) come over here about anything?"
In Wednesday’s plea agreement, Holt admitted to both charges she faced — computer fraud and theft of government property. When she is sentenced March 13 by U.S. District Judge Raymond Jackson, she faces up to 15 years in prison, plus fines and forfeitures.
In the plea agreement, prosecutors promised to ask Jackson to give Holt credit for cooperating with them.
“The defendant has assisted the government in the investigation … by timely notifying authorities of (her) intention to enter a plea of guilty, thereby permitting the government to avoid preparing for trial,” the plea agreement said.
Holt declined to speak with a reporter after the hearing.
“She was a long-term employee at Langley, and she took her job very seriously,” said her lawyer, William Johnson. “She loved what she did … and she’s very emotional about it.”
“New employees would come to her” for advice on getting acclimated to the Air Force and how things worked at the base, said Holt’s other attorney, Amy Van Fossen.
Holt spent the money on “life and paying daily bills” rather than on spending on luxury items, Johnson said. “There were no exorbitant expenses,” he said.
The statement of facts put it another way: “The defendant stated that she used the money she received from the fraudulently obtained overtime and leave payments to buy items for herself and her family.”
Johnson said Holt “gave a full accounting to investigators for how it happened.”
After Wednesday’s hearing, Holt tearfully hugged her attorneys and then took the unusual step of walking over to the prosecution table and hugging Assistant U.S. Attorney Brian J. Samuels. She said something to the prosecutor that was inaudible from about 20 feet away.
Samuels declined to comment after the hearing.
©2018 The Virginian-Pilot (Norfolk, Va.). Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.
Retired Army Master Sgt. Mark Allen has died 10 years after he was shot in the head while searching for deserter Pvt. Bowe Bergdahl in Afghanistan.
Allen died on Saturday at the age of 46, according to funeral information posted online.
For U.S. service members who have fought alongside the Kurds, President Donald Trump's decision to approve repositioning U.S. forces in Syria ahead of Turkey's invasion is a naked betrayal of valued allies.
"I am ashamed for the first time in my career," one unnamed special operator told Fox News Jennifer Griffin.
In a Twitter thread that went viral, Griffin wrote the soldier told her the Kurds were continuing to support the United States by guarding tens of thousands of ISIS prisoners even though Turkey had nullified an arrangement under which U.S. and Turkish troops were conducting joint patrols in northeastern Syria to allow the Kurdish People's Protection Units, or YPG, to withdraw.
"The Kurds are sticking by us," the soldier told Griffin. "No other partner I have ever dealt with would stand by us."
Defense Secretary Mark Esper said Sunday he and the Pentagon will comply with House Democrats' impeachment inquiry subpoena, but it'll be on their own schedule.
"We will do everything we can to cooperate with the Congress," Esper said on CBS' "Face the Nation." "Just in the last week or two, my general counsel sent out a note — as we typically do in these situations — to ensure documents are retained."
Most of the U.S. troops in Syria are being moved out of the country as Turkish forces and their Arab allies push further into Kurdish territory than originally expected, Task & Purpose has learned.
Roughly 1,000 U.S. troops are withdrawing from Syria, leaving a residual force of between 100 and 150 service members at the Al Tanf garrison, a U.S. official said.
"I spoke with the president last night after discussions with the rest of the national security team and he directed that we begin a deliberate withdrawal of forces from northern Syria," Defense Secretary Mark Esper said on Sunday's edition of CBS News' "Face the Nation."'
More than 700 women and children affiliated with ISIS escape Kurdish prison camp after Turkish shelling
BEIRUT/ISTANBUL (Reuters) - Women affiliated with Islamic State and their children fled en masse from a camp where they were being held in northern Syria on Sunday after shelling by Turkish forces in a five-day-old offensive, the region's Kurdish-led administration said.
Turkey's cross-border attack in northern Syria against Kurdish forces widened to target the town of Suluk which was hit by Ankara's Syrian rebel allies. There were conflicting accounts on the outcome of the fighting.
Turkey is facing threats of possible sanctions from the United States unless it calls off the incursion. Two of its NATO allies, Germany and France, have said they are halting weapons exports to Turkey. The Arab League has denounced the operation.