Tuesday, Jun 19, 2018
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'Mastermind' of plan to defraud Lucas County job training program sentenced

The “mastermind” behind a multimillion-dollar scheme to defraud Lucas County Job and Family Services of public funds intended for job training was sentenced Friday to 46 months in prison.

Daniel E. Morris, 68, of Maumee pleaded guilty in November to conspiracy to commit program fraud and mail fraud, aggravated identity theft, conspiracy to launder money, and failure to pay overwithheld payroll taxes.

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Toledo Municipal Court and U.S. Federal District Court in downtown Toledo.

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The founder and general manager of Business Rehabilitation Informed Decisions Guiding Employment Strategies, or BRIDGES, Morris admitted to falsifying records and inflating costs in order to funnel hundreds of thousands of dollars to the company’s sole shareholder, James Moody, and two employees, Victoria Hawkins and Angela Bowser.

The group used the money to purchase real estate and vehicles, pay for vacations and luxury items, even cosmetic surgery and tattoos.

“It’s a shameless list,” U.S. District Court Judge Jack Zouhary said before imposing the sentence.

While Morris told the court he was “a 68-year-old fool,” the judge said his crimes, which extended for more than a decade, went beyond foolish.

“There is no doubt in my mind that you knew full well what you were doing and you continued to do it week after week, month after month, year after year,” Judge Zouhary said.

Morris, who was on oxygen, couldn’t tell the court why he stole money intended for job training and placement for residents on public assistance.

“The things that I did, … I still have a hard time believing I did them,” Morris said. “I’d say, ‘Oh my God. Look at the money we were spending.’ I couldn’t stop.”

When Judge Zouhary asked why he couldn’t stop or how he even got started, Morris replied, “How I started, I don’t even remember. With stopping, I couldn’t. There’s no way to describe it.”

Timothy Longacre, attorney for Morris, asked the court to consider a lighter prison sentence or home detention because of his age and poor health, but Judge Zouhary denied that request, saying there were federal prisons that could handle his medical needs.

Mr. Longacre stressed that BRIDGES did good work, and no clients who needed help were turned away.

Still, Judge Zouhary said, that was not what brought Morris before the court. He and his co-defendants stole public funds and spent money that could have helped countless others, the judge said.

Noah Hood, an assistant U.S. attorney, asked the court to give Morris credit for cooperating with federal prosecutors and testifying at the trial of his co-defendants in December. All three were convicted of various conspiracy and fraud charges.

Moody, 56, of Sylvania Township, a Realtor and one-time Toledo mayoral candidate, and Hawkins, 31, now of Grand Rapids, Mich., are to be sentenced May 22, while Bowser, 46, of Toledo is to be sentenced May 23.

During the week-long trial, the defense argued that Bowser and Hawkins were the unknowing recipients of generous gifts and purchases from Morris, while Moody claimed he viewed the payroll checks he received for years from BRIDGES as dividends on his investment. He said he didn’t know the company couldn’t make a profit from the public contracts that constituted its only source of income.

Contact Jennifer Feehan at jfeehan@theblade.com or 419-213-2134.

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