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Woman accused of stealing $100M from US Army to buy clothes, cars

A Texas woman allegedly used a fake business to siphon millions in funds from the U.S. Army over six years.
U.S. Army members in uniform are shown.
Posted at 5:08 PM, Jan 11, 2024

A Texas woman may face a nearly 150-year jail sentence for allegedly defrauding the U.S. Army out of more than $100 million, which she is accused of spending on lavish personal items.

A San Antonio federal grand jury indicted Janet Yamanaka Mello on 10 counts related to the alleged fraud scheme she concocted while working as a civilian financial program manager at Fort Sam Houston, the Department of Justice said.

The indictment, obtained by Scripps News, alleges Mello formed a business named Child Health and Young Lifelong Development (CHYLD) in December 2016 while working at Fort Sam Houston and then used the organization to garner funds from the 4-H Military Partnership Grant program through August 2023.

The 4-H grant provides money to entities focused on youth development, and part of Mello's job was determining whether the program had enough funds to provide to applicants. Court documents allege this is how the 57-year-old was able to secure funds for her "business."

"Mello claimed that CHYLD provided services to military members and their families, when, in reality, CHYLD did not provide any services," the U.S. Attorney's Office, Western District of Texas, said. 

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Prosecutors allege Mello fraudulently approved 4-H funds to be sent to CHYLD and "played on the trust she had developed over the years with her supervisors" to ensure the paperwork she submitted was approved — though in some instances, she is accused of falsifying her superiors' digital signature.

The Defense Financial Accounting Service would then send a check in the amount requested to a mailbox rented by Mello, who allegedly then deposited the check into her bank account.

During these six years, Mello is accused of using the scheme over 40 times to siphon more than $100 million, which she allegedly spent on clothing, jewelry, vehicles and real estate.

The U.S. Attorney's Office said she was arrested on five counts of mail fraud, four counts of engaging in a monetary transaction over $10,000 using criminally derived proceeds, and one count of aggravated identity theft. The fraud charges each carry a maximum of 20 years in prison, the spending statute charges up to 10 years each and the identity theft charge a minimum of two years. She also has to forfeit all of the money and property she obtained as a result of the alleged scheme. 

Mello last appeared in court on Dec. 14. Court documents show she was released on a personal recognizance bond, meaning she didn't have to post any bail, possibly because the judge determined she didn't pose a threat to the community. She has until Jan. 19 to decide if she'll take a plea deal or head to trial next month.