County worker, husband charged with stealing money meant for poor


A Clark County Social Service Department worker and her husband have been charged in a scheme to steal more than $91,000 in taxpayer money meant for the poor.

Arrest warrants have been issued for Melanie Lynn Cholewinski and Michael Wayne Brown, both 36, on a 20-count felony complaint filed Friday by the district attorney's office.

The complaint alleges Cholewinski used her job as a benefits worker for the Social Service Department to funnel $91,235 in checks to her husband between October 2008 and March 31.

The money came from a fund to help the disadvantaged pay for housing, county officials said Monday.

In the fiscal year ending June 30, the Social Service Department handed out $6.2 million in financial assistance for housing, officials said.

Both Cholewinski, who has since been fired from her $36,400-a-year job, and Brown are charged with one count of conspiracy to commit theft and 18 counts of theft. Cholewinski also is charged with one count of unlawful acts with computers.

According to the criminal complaint, Cholewinski created seven phony financial assistance accounts in her husband's name and was able to regularly obtain county checks for him to cash over the 17-month period.

She entered false personal information into the Social Service Department's computer system in each case and did not support the seven cases with proper financial documentation, a police affidavit used to obtain the arrest warrants alleged.

Cholewinski, who was hired in September 2007, was responsible for determining whether people qualified for financial assistance from the county, the affidavit said. Her job included meeting with clients and, if they qualified, creating a case file with specific financial information required to meet that eligibility for assistance.

Cholewinski had authority to start the process of issuing checks, as well as handing out checks, to those seeking assistance, authorities said.

County spokesman Dan Kulin said that "additional controls have been implemented in the check issuance process" within the Social Service Department as a result of the investigation into Cholewinski's activities.

At a March 17 meeting with county officials, Cholewinski, through her union representative, pleaded to keep her job so that she could pay back the money she allegedly stole, the police affidavit said. But her firing was upheld a week later.

The alleged embezzlement was reported to police two days later, the affidavit said.

Then, in an April 10 interview with detectives from the police department's Financial Crimes Section, Cholewinski formally acknowledged the thefts, saying she and her husband had used the money to pay bills, the affidavit said.

"She admitted what she had done was wrong," the affidavit said. "By creating the fictitious files within the department's computer system, she was able to get assistance checks issued to her husband, which she brought home for him to cash."

Contact Jeff German at jgerman@reviewjournal.com or 702-380-8135 or read more courts coverage at lvlegalnews.com.

 

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