A 12-count indictment handed up last week will demand Rita Hunter’s appearance in federal court, but the former Jasper County public administrator also has court dates pending in state court on civil lawsuits filed against her by county wards.
Several lawsuits still are making their way through the courts, though in other instances, courts have ruled in favor of the former administrator who left office Dec. 31, 2008. One Jasper County Circuit Court jury also has found in favor of Hunter, who thus far has been defended by attorneys for the county’s insurance carrier. In addition, Hunter has not been released in final financial settlements she filed on wards when she left office, because of challenges filed questioning how wards’ money was handled and reported.
Hunter, 59, of rural Joplin, now faces federal charges of health care fraud, theft of government property, document fraud, Social Security fraud and Medicaid fraud, in connection with the operation of her office when she was administrator from January 2005 through December 2008. The indictment alleges financial misdeeds started as early as April 2005, four months after the start of her term.
The indictment alleges Hunter collected nearly $200,000 to which her office was not entitled. That came either by falsifying reports to apply for Medicaid benefits to which wards were not entitled, or collecting fees from what wards were receiving from Social Security, without authorization and without reporting to the federal agency. In those cases, more than $121,000 from Medicaid and nearly $60,000 from Social Security were used for the fees for administrative charges by her office and to pay attorney fees and tax preparation fees, authorities allege.
Hunter is to report Jan. 5 for arraignment on the charges. In an appearance before U.S Magistrate James C. England on Wednesday, she was assigned a public defender and released on a personal recognizance bond, according to Don Ledford, spokesman for U.S. Attorney Beth Phillips.
Springfield attorney Lynn Myers said he expects both sides will be back in Jasper County Circuit Court soon on a lawsuit filed in July 2008 on behalf of several former wards. The suit seeks damages from Hunter and the county’s insurance company, alleging she overcharged wards and mishandled their funds.
The lawsuit currently lists wards including Guy Sesler, Treba Benson and the late Emma France, but Myers is asking the court to approve the case as a class action, contending overcharging was common among all wards’ accounts.
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Civil Suits Pending on Local Level
Former Jasper County MO Administrator Rita Hunter Indicted for Fraud Scheme!