Eleven former employees of Northeast Texas Opportunities, commonly referred to as NETO, were named in a three-count indictment returned by a federal grand jury charging the 11 with conspiracy to commit an offense against and to defraud the U S Government of government property or money. The indictments were handed down in February in Eastern District Federal Court in Texarkana. The 11 are alleged to have caused losses of over $1.2 million to a distributor of federal grant funds to the needy and elderly.
The indictment was unsealed before U S Magistrate Judge Caroline Craven. The 11 named are from Mt Vernon, Mount Pleasant, Honey Grove, Greenville, Winnsboro, and Pittsburg. Those from Mount Vernon include: Maria Delaluz Telles, 35; Karinda Anne Breaux, 52; Darlene Hargrave Hatcher, 61; Brenda McGill Fountain, 60; Christy Lynn Shelby, 41; and Beverly Thomas Logan, 64. Others indicted include, Cythia Hillard Campbell, 54, of Mt Pleasant; Pamela Powe Gossett, 61, of Pittsburg, Paula Wallis Trantham, 50 of Winnsboro, Marco Antonio Alcaraz-Guerrero, 40 of Greenville, and Lana Bowie Dethrow, 58 of Honey Grove. Gossett was a contract nurse to NETO. Each defendant faces up to five years in federal prison if convicted of conspiracy to defraud the government and 10 years if convicted of theft of government property or money.
NETO closed its door August 31, 2015. The indictment charges that from January 2011 to June 2015, NETO employees and contractors conspired to defraud through writing checks drawn on NETO accounts and the proceeds split between those individuals. The funds were then used for personal use. Fraudulent invoices from vendors were used to support those unauthorized checks. Also overpayment to vendors and then requiring kickbacks from vendors also was employed to gain the funds. NETO funds were also used to pay personal debts for the individuals. The Federal Bureau of Investigation, Texas Rangers, and Franklin County Sheriff’s office investigated the case.
NETO had operating in Hopkins County providing TRACS bus service to the elderly and disabled as well as providing some meals to homebound in the county. Other services had also been utilized. However, county government ceased to work with NETO when discrepancies in the use of funds became to come to light. Other county governments as well as the ARK-TX Council of Governments had also worked with the organization. On June 10, 2015, Hopkins County Judge Robert Newsom said that a 2013 audit of North East Texas Opportunities or NETO revealed more than $700,000 in fraud. At that time, NETO had a senior citizen meals program for rural county residents and a utility service. Judge Newsom says the county and others were disassociating themselves from NETO. State and federal investigations of NETO had begun at that time. At that time, Judge Newsom had been assured that county residents receiving meals would be taken care of by a state agency.
In December, 2015, several months after the demise of NETO, quite a few rural Hopkins County residents had been left without their daily meals program. In stepped the Lamar County Human Resources Council. Their Meals on Wheels, which already served a portion of Hopkins County, agreed to serve those in need.