A former state Department of Health and Hospitals accountant convicted of stealing more than $1 million from Louisiana’s Medicaid program and gambling it away at Baton Rouge casinos received a five-year prison sentence Friday.

http://theadvocate.com/home/6161587-125/gambling-addict-accused-in-1m">Deborah Crowder Loper, 47, also was ordered by state District Judge Chip Moore to repay $1,018,423 to the state.

Loper, of Baton Rouge, told Moore there is no excuse for what she did but added she is a compulsive gambler.

In her role at DHH, Loper was the manager of the financial management section. She had been entrusted to manage a bank account opened on behalf of the National Association of State Human Services Finance Officers for the group’s 2009 conference in New Orleans. DHH hosted the event.

Loper was told to close the account after the conference but instead fabricated documents making it appear it had been closed and changed its address so she could receive monthly statements at her home. She ended up diverting roughly 167 checks issued to DHH totaling more than $1 million.

Assistant State Attorney General Fred Duhy told Moore in October that Loper basically used the account as an ATM to support her gambling habit.

Loper’s attorney, Steven Moore, said outside the courtroom Friday that she has completed an inpatient treatment program for her gambling problem and will continue to receive treatment. The money Loper swindled from DHH included funds intended as Medicaid reimbursements.

Loper’s scheme began in fall 2009 and apparently went unnoticed until February 2013 when she inadvertently deposited one of the DHH checks — for more than $40,000 — into her personal account. She at first sought to explain away as an accidental deposit made by her secretary.

Loper, who pleaded guilty in October to one count each of felony theft by fraud and malfeasance in office, will be on probation for five years after her release from prison.

DHH took steps in the wake of the Loper situation to limit employees dealing with checks.

A lawsuit the state filed against Loper and a bank where the money was deposited is pending.