An Army civilian in Texas is facing significant prison time for an alleged scheme in which prosecutors say she stole $100 million in military funds in order to fund a lavish lifestyle.
Janet Yamanaka Mello, 57, a civilian financial program manager at Fort Sam Houston, Texas, received a 10-count indictment by a federal grand jury in December over the alleged actions. If she fails to reach a plea deal by Jan. 19, Mello would face a jury selection and trial, according to court records.
Mello allegedly used the stolen funds to amass a real estate portfolio of 31 properties, a fleet of 78 vehicles, more than $18 million in various bank accounts linked to her, and a jewelry collection, according to court records.
It’s unclear at this time whether those properties were used to store Mello’s alleged Jay Leno-esque collection of classic, expensive cars and motorcycles.
Among the alleged fleet of vehicles — many listed in court records currently cost between $100,000 and $200,000 — were a 1967 Chevrolet Camaro SS, a ‘66 Chevrolet Chevelle SS, a ‘66 Ford Mustang, a ‘54 Chevrolet Corvette and a 1935 Plymouth Sedan.
Mello must forfeit all of those assets and any other proceeds and property she allegedly obtained through criminal means.
According to the indictment, the Army civilian allegedly carried out the scheme by regularly submitting fraudulent paperwork as early as December 2016 that indicated a bogus business she controlled, named Child Health and Youth Lifelong Development, was entitled to money from the 4-H Military Partnership Grant program, a collaboration “to provide meaningful youth development opportunities for military-connected children.”
Mello allegedly “played on the trust she had developed over the years with her supervisors and co-workers to secure the necessary approvals,” according to the indictment. She is also alleged to have falsified the digital signature of one of her supervisors multiple times.
Mello is charged with five counts of mail fraud, four counts of engaging in a monetary transaction over $10,000 using criminally derived proceeds and one count of aggravated identity theft, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Western District of Texas.
If convicted, Mello faces a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison for each fraud charge, up to 10 years in prison for each spending statute charge and a mandatory minimum of two years in prison for the aggravated identity theft charge.
“It is very early in the case and I expect the evidence to be extensive. We will need time to review it. I do not believe that the case will be resolved by those initial dates,” defense lawyer Albert Flores told The Messenger. Flores did not immediately respond to Military Times’ request for comment.
A spokesperson for the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Western District of Texas declined to comment as the case remains open.
Jonathan is a staff writer and editor of the Early Bird Brief newsletter for Military Times. Follow him on Twitter @lehrfeld_media