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May 23, 2022

Westbrook woman faces $500K fine for 'money mule' role in fraud scheme

File photo Cheryl White may be sentenced to 20 years in prison after pleading guilty to federal money laundering charges.

A Westbrook woman faces up to 20 years in prison and a $500,000 fine for serving as a “money mule” in a scheme that illegally bilked federal disaster relief funds.

Cheryl White, 58, pleaded guilty Thursday in Portland federal court to four counts of money laundering related to a wire fraud scam against the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

Beginning in 2015, White assisted a man she met online by repeatedly transferring funds that had been fraudulently obtained from FEMA, court documents say. The documents do not disclose the man’s name or details about how he obtained the funds.

At his request, White purchased “Green Dot” prepaid debit cards at retail stores and gave him the cards’ account numbers. After she was told money had been added to the accounts, she withdrew it, purchased and deposited money orders in her own bank account, then withdrew the money and mailed it to the man.

The court documents cite four withdrawals White made in October 2017 from TD Bank, totaling $7,340. But White made other similar transactions and knew the money had been obtained illegally, according to U.S. Attorney for the District of Maine Darcie McElwee.

Prior to the TD Bank withdrawals, two other financial institutions had closed accounts with White because of suspected fraud activity. McElwee said White gave false explanations for her conduct, including that the money orders she was depositing were payments for cleaning services and babysitting she had performed.

In addition to up to 20 years of prison and a $500,000 penalty, White faces up to three years of supervised release. She will be sentenced after filing of a report by the U.S. Probation Office.

Transferring illegally obtained funds as a “money mule” is punishable even if the participant isn’t aware of the money’s origins, McElwee’s office said in a news release.

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