An Army employee bilked the Pentagon for $100 million in fraudulent grants meant for programs aimed at military children, according to a federal indictment handed down Wednesday.

A grand jury indicted Janet Yamanaka Mello, 57, a civilian working for the Army at Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio, Texas on charges that she stole $100 million from a 4-H program for children from military families over six years by falsifying receipts and expenditures for the program.

Mello allegedly spent the funds on clothing, jewelry, vehicles, and real estate, according to the Department of Justice.

The alleged scheme took place while Mello worked for the Army as a civilian financial program manager at Fort Sam Houston. As part of her job, Mello determined whether 4-H Military Partnership Grant program funds were available for organizations that applied. Her supervisor would approve the funding award which she would sign off on and send to the Defense Financial Accounting Service. The service would cut and mail a check to the appropriate organization. 

As part of Mello’s alleged scheme, she directed the funds to be sent to a UPS Store mailbox near San Antonio which she rented. Mello allegedly deposited the check into her own bank account.

“Mello went through this process over forty times during a six-year period, securing over $100,000,000 for herself in the process,” according to court documents. 

“The indictment in this case is new and we have not had sufficient time to review it or the evidence that was used to support it. At this point, we will rely on my client’s presumption of innocence and make no further statements,” Mello’s lawyer, Albert Flores said in an email to Task & Purpose.

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Mello allegedly stole funds from the 4-H Military Partnership Grant funded by the Army, Navy, and Air Force. The program provides children from military families with youth development activities through partnerships with the United States Department of Agriculture and the U.S. Army, Child, Youth, and School Services.

An email sent by Task & Purpose to the Army at Fort Sam Houston was not immediately returned.

According to the Department of Justice, Mello formed her business, the Child Health and Youth Lifelong Development, around December 2016 through at least Aug. 29, 2023. She claimed that the organization provided services to military members and their families which it did not. 

The federal indictment filed Wednesday, includes counts of mail fraud, engaging in a monetary transaction over $10,000 using criminally derived proceeds, and aggravated identity theft. If Mello is found guilty, she faces a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison for each fraud charge, up to 10 years for each spending charge, and a mandatory minimum of two years for the identity theft charge. 

The indictment also requires that Mello forfeit any proceeds and property she allegedly obtained through criminal means.

Her initial court appearance in the federal district court in Western Texas is scheduled for Dec. 14. 

The Internal Revenue Service’s Criminal Investigation and the Department of the Army Criminal Investigation Division are investigating the case.

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