A former Tangipahoa Parish School Board member and his wife have another six months to make payments toward the $3.5 million judgment against them in a Medicaid fraud case, or else the pair could wind up in jail, a Baton Rouge state judge decided Tuesday.
Eric and Cassandra Dangerfield each received suspended prison sentences in May after pleading guilty to using their personal care business, 1st Thessalonians Community Programs in Hammond, to defraud the state Medicaid program.
The state Attorney General’s Office sought to have the couple’s probations revoked because the Dangerfields had paid little toward the judgment and had not forfeited some of their property as required under their plea deal.
“The state of Louisiana is not happy with anything they’ve done,” Assistant Attorney General Kathleen Petersen told Judge Mike Erwin, of the 19th Judicial District Court.
The Dangerfields have paid $11,000 of the $3.3 million in restitution owed to the state Department of Health and Hospitals, Petersen said. The couple has paid nothing toward the $100,000 they owe in civil penalties and $452 toward the $100,000 owed in investigative and prosecution costs for the Department of Justice.
In addition, the Dangerfields had paid $75 since December toward the $165,000 owed in restitution and costs for tax evasion, Louisiana Department of Revenue criminal investigator John Ephrom said. And the couple’s Bumble Bee restaurant, where Cassandra Dangerfield works, has not reported to the state Revenue Department since 2012, Ephrom said.
Erwin warned the Dangerfields that they better do whatever they can to start coming up with some money.
“I’m tired of coming up here and hearing the same thing over and over and over again,” Erwin said. “If you make a good faith effort, I’ll work with you. If you don’t, I’ll put you in jail.”
The judge set the couple’s next court date for Sept. 17.
The bulk of the money the Dangerfields have paid to-date came from the recent sales of two luxury cars through CarMax, at a combined price of $11,000, Petersen said. The state did not learn of the sales until Tuesday morning in the courtroom, though the Dangerfields’ attorney, Lance Unglesby, said the check was in the mail.
A third luxury car was sold at sheriff’s sale three weeks ago, for which Cassandra Dangerfield received a check for an unknown amount, Petersen said.
A shopping center the couple owned also was sold by the sheriff in January, but the property was so heavily mortgaged that the state received no proceeds from the sale, Petersen said.
The Dangerfields had not yet taken the necessary steps to put their Washington Avenue home — which remains in Eric Dangerfield’s deceased parents’ name — into probate so that it could be sold, she said.
“It just seems like we’ve gotta drag everything out of these folks,” Petersen said.
The Dangerfields filed numerous false claims for state Medicaid funding through their business, then used the proceeds to pay their salaries, buy property and luxury vehicles, pay college tuition for their adult sons and fund Eric Dangerfield’s previous School Board campaign. The couple filed false tax returns to hide the income, the state Attorney General’s Office said.
Eric Dangerfield was sentenced to four years in prison, suspended and placed on six months’ unsupervised probation after pleading guilty to six misdemeanor counts of theft and two misdemeanor counts of tax evasion.
Cassandra Dangerfield, who pleaded guilty to one felony count of racketeering and two felony counts of tax evasion, was sentenced to 10 years in prison, suspended and placed on five years’ supervised probation.
In addition to the restitution and forfeitures, the couple also agreed to be barred for life from owning or seeking employment with any entity that receives Medicaid or Medicare funding, including school systems. Despite that agreement, Eric Dangerfield ran and won election in November to the same School Board seat he had vacated in July.
Erwin ordered Eric Dangerfield not to take office in January. A special election will be held later this year to fill the vacancy. The board appointed Jim H. “Jay” Kelly to serve as the District G representative in the meantime.
Follow Heidi R. Kinchen on Twitter, @HeidiRKinchen. Contact her at (225) 336-6981.