Posted on: May 25, 2023, 08:19h.
Last updated on: May 25, 2023, 11:08h.
A former Illinois state employee has been charged for allegedly stealing $1.6M or more that was meant for day care for foster children. She used much of the ill-gotten money to play slot machines at a local casino, federal prosecutors said in a recently released document.
Shauntelle Pridgeon, 54, of Chicago, a former planner at the Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS), was charged with a criminal count of honest services fraud, according to documents made public this week.
She was released on her own recognizance by US Magistrate Judge Beth Jantz. Pridgeon is scheduled to next appear in federal court on June 5. She has yet to enter a plea in the case.
Officials claim that Pridgeon made numerous trips to an unnamed casino. There she played slots and lost millions of dollars tied to the scheme.
In total, Pridgeon spent $3.7 million at the casino between January 2015 and November 2022. She won $1.7 million gambling, but that was outbalanced by the $2.2 million she lost on the casino floor over the seven-year stretch, according to court records cited by the Chicago Sun-Times.
Under the scheme, from at least 2016, 15 or more child care providers allegedly made payments of $1.6 million into a personal bank account belonging to Pridgeon and her spouse, according to USA Today. These payments were described as “bribes” according to USA Today, and led the way for the providers to get assigned lucrative childcare contracts.
Under the plot, after providers got DCFS payments, they paid about half of the money to Pridgeon, according to the findings of an FBI agent.
Most of these personal payments to Pridgeon were made by the providers at the same time that those providers were being paid for child care services by DCFS,” the Sun-Times further explained in a quote from court documents.
Pridgeon was able to come up with the plot because, as part of her DCFS job, she approved day care providers for children who were assigned to the state agency.
Last August, Pridgeon’s supervisor began to see irregularities. Pridgeon had approved a child care provider who was paid about $280K, but no child care services were provided in the multiyear period, the Sun-Times reported.
When the supervisor asked for records to help explain what happened, Pridgeon said the files were missing.
Pridgeon Yanked Files
The supervisor then told another employee to look for the relevant files. Before the second worker could return with the paperwork, Pridgeon claimed to be going to the restroom, but instead rushed to a file room where she grabbed the records from the other worker, the Sun-Times reported.
Pridgeon allegedly tossed the records into a trash bin from which they were later retrieved.
The supervisor called in the Illinois Office of the Inspector General and the Illinois State Police to unravel the plot. By November, FBI agents began their investigation.