Virgin Islands Free Press

Former VING Acting Commander Faces 35 Years In Prison After Federal Fraud Conviction

CHRISTIANSTED — After a three-day trial, a former Virgin Islands National Guard major and acting commander was convicted of fraud charges in federal court on Thursday.

Aesha Rivers, 43, of St. Croix, was found guilty following a jury trial in U.S. District Court of 48 counts of wire fraud; one count of theft of government money; and one count of making a false statement to government, U.S. Attorney Gretchen C.F. Shappert said.

The jury acquitted Rivers on an additional 27 counts of wire fraud.

The trial began on Tuesday and ended Thursday.

According to trial testimony, Rivers was a Virgin Islands National Guard member who applied for and received Overseas Housing Allowance (OHA) proceeds between June 1, 2011, and June 30, 2015, for a residence she purchased on St. Croix, for which she held a mortgage through Flagstar Bank.

The OHA program is a reimbursement-based program intended to help defray the higher cost of housing for National Guard members located in the Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico, and Guam.

In order to receive OHA proceeds, the National Guard member must submit and certify an application as well as provide documentation to support either an existing rental agreement or HUD-1 to validate an existing mortgage.

Annual recertification is also required. Rivers stopped making her mortgage payments to Flagstar by March 1, 2012, and a foreclosure motion for default judgment was granted to Flagstar on March 18, 2014.

Rivers failed to notify the Virgin Islands National Guard of her changed circumstances as to her housing expenses, as required by law. She falsely recertified her OHA eligibility annually.

As a result, Rivers fraudulently received OHA proceeds through the electronic transfer of funds into her USAA checking account until June 30, 2015.

Evidence presented at trial showed that Rivers fraudulently received $71,345.93 from the OHA program.

The Wire Fraud offenses for which Rivers was convicted carry a possible term of February imprisonment of up to 20 years and a fine of up to $250,000 for each count.

The Theft of Government Money offense carries a term of imprisonment of up to 10 years and a fine of up to $250,000.

The False Statement to Government offense carries a term of imprisonment of up to five years and a fine of up to $250,000.

Sentencing is set before Visiting Judge Anne E. Thompson on September 20, 2019.

The U.S. Army CID – Major Procurement Fraud Unit and U.S. Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) investigated the case.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Daniel H. Huston prosecuted the case.

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