Prosecutor says fired county worker lied on recent job application

Melanie Cholewinski, the fired county welfare worker accused of stealing more than $91,000 from a public assistance fund, also lied on an application to land a job three weeks ago with the U.S. Social Security Administration, a prosecutor said in court Friday.

The job gave Cholewinski access to the same kind of computer records that allowed her to allegedly loot the county fund, Chief Deputy District Attorney Brian Rutledge said.

Rutledge said Cholewinski failed to disclose on the application that she was fired March 24 as a benefits worker for the Clark County Social Service Department amid the criminal theft investigation. Rutledge said Social Security Administration officials would not have hired Cholewinski had they known about her firing, and now are considering having her prosecuted for submitting the false application.

Cholewinski’s job with the Social Security Administration also is in jeopardy, Rutledge said.

Her court-appointed lawyer, Brent Percival, asked Justice of the Peace Nancy Oesterle to release Cholewinski to house arrest so that she could help care for one of her sons, a “special needs child,” but Oesterle instead set bail at $200,000.

Cholewinski, 36, is charged in a 20-count felony theft complaint of using her county job to unlawfully funnel $91,235 in financial assistance checks to her husband, Michael Wayne Brown, from October 2008 through this past March.

Brown, 36, is also charged in the complaint, and Oesterle set his bail Friday at $190,000 after Rutledge said Brown had a conviction in 1999 for trying to file a false insurance claim.

Rutledge said prosecutors informed both defendants, who are in custody, that they intend to ask a county grand jury to indict them so that the criminal case can move directly to District Court for trial.

The Las Vegas Review-Journal reported Friday that Cholewinski filed for bankruptcy while she allegedly was robbing the public assistance fund, which was meant to help the poor pay for housing.

Records show she steered most of the missing taxpayer money, more than $79,000, to her husband after she had filed a Chapter 7 petition in U.S. Bankruptcy Court on April 10, 2009.

In the petition, Cholewinski listed $73,685 in debts and $16,940 in assets. She said she had $30 in her pocket and $50 in the bank at the time.

Nowhere in the Bankruptcy Court records did Cholewinski report the money she is alleged to have stolen from the county.

Legal experts said she could face federal bankruptcy fraud charges for lying about the extent of her finances.

All of Cholewinski’s debts were routinely discharged in Bankruptcy Court on July 28.

Las Vegas police alleged that Cholewinski created seven phony financial assistance accounts in Brown’s name and was able to obtain county checks for him to cash.

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, police alleged.

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