Social Services worker, husband plead guilty to theft

A former Clark County Social Service Department worker and her husband entered guilty pleas Wednesday in the theft of more than $91,000 in taxpayer money meant for the poor.

Melanie Cholewinski and Michael Wayne Brown, both 36, each pleaded guilty to one felony theft count, which could draw a maximum 10-year prison term and a $10,000 fine. Cholewinski also pleaded guilty to one count of unlawful acts with a computer. She faces up to five more years behind bars and a $100,000 fine on that charge.

Sentencing is scheduled for Jan. 12.

"When a county employee violates the public trust, it is important that they be held accountable for their actions, and these felony convictions reflect that," Chief Deputy District Attorney Brian Rutledge said.

In a 20-count criminal complaint in August, prosecutors charged that 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 disadvantaged people pay for housing. In the fiscal year ending June 30, the Social Service Department handed out $6.2 million in financial assistance for housing, county officials reported.

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

Cholewinski, who was hired by the county in September 2007, was responsible for determining whether people qualified for financial assistance from the county. 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.

County officials said additional controls have been put in place in the Social Service Department as a result of the investigation into Cholewinski's activities.

Cholewinski told detectives with Las Vegas police department's Financial Crimes Section that she and her husband used the stolen money to pay bills.