An Army civilian employee is accused of bilking more than $100 million from the service -- funds that were meant to be used for military children -- in what is likely among the largest scams by a single person in its history, according to the Justice Department.
Janet Yamanaka Mello, 57, was indicted Wednesday on 10 counts related to the fraud scheme, including mail fraud, criminal handling of money and aggravated identity theft. If convicted, Mello faces a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison for each fraud charge, up to 10 years in prison for each spending statute charge, and a mandatory two years in prison for the identity theft charge -- a total of 142 years.
The scheme includes years of deception, according to federal authorities. It wasn't uncovered for nearly seven years, and in that time she allegedly accumulated a real-estate portfolio and amassed a collection of homes and luxury goods to match some of America's most elite moguls and titans of industry.
Mello worked at Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio, Texas, as a financial program manager. Part of her job included determining funding for a grant program the military uses to supplement civilian partners. In 2016, Mello formed a shell nonprofit company, prosecutors say, called Child Health and Youth Lifelong Development, or CHYLD.
Mello has pleaded not guilty to the charges.
For years, she allegedly processed funds for Army programs to her fraudulent company under the guise of supporting adolescent programs for military families. Prosecutors say she "played on the trust" she had developed over the years with her co-workers and supervisors to sign off on payments, though there were instances she allegedly forged signatures.
She funded her shell company through at least 40 payments over six years, securing more than $100 million for herself, court documents say.
Mello allegedly spent the cash on luxury jewelry, a fleet of 78 vehicles that included new and classic cars and motorcycles, as well as 31 properties and lots of land in Texas, New Mexico, Colorado, Washington state and Maryland.
In most cases, those real estate investments are worth more than $1 million each, many of them mansions, based on a Military.com review of the deals -- all of which the federal government aims to seize. This includes a 9,364-square-foot mansion in Preston, Maryland, that has a 55-car garage and sits on a 58-acre lot.
Court documents specified that one of her homes, where the jewelry she purchased over the years was located, was purchased in July 2017 for more than $700,000.
Mello also had $18 million across six bank accounts, authorities said.