Aesha Rivers, a former Virgin Islands National Guard major convicted of 50 crimes related to the fraudulent use of Overseas Housing Allowance, was sentenced Friday to a year in prison.
She has been ordered to report to prison in two weeks.
Rivers, 44, was sentenced by visiting U.S. District Court Judge Anne Thompson on 48 counts of wire fraud, one count of theft of government money and one count of making a false statement to police.
According to court documents, evidence presented at trial showed that from 2012 through 2015, Rivers fraudulently received $71,345.93 from the Overseas Housing Allowance program, a reimbursement-based program intended to help defray the higher cost of housing for National Guard members in the Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico and Guam.
In order to receive program funds, Rivers was required to submit and certify an application as well as provide documentation to support either an existing rental agreement or existing mortgage. Annual recertification was also required.
According to court documents, Rivers stopped making her mortgage payments to her bank by March 1, 2012, and a foreclosure motion for default judgment was granted to the bank on March 18, 2014.
However, she did not notify the Virgin Islands National Guard of her housing expense changes, as required by law.
Instead, she continued to falsely recertify her housing allowance annually and received payments via electronic transfer into her USAA checking account until June 30, 2015.
While federal sentencing guidelines suggested that Rivers receive a sentence of 18 to 24 months for the crimes, federal public defender Gabriel Villegas requested that Rivers only receive a sentence of monitored probation.
Villegas asked Thompson to consider Rivers' "mental condition, lack of a criminal history, exemplary military service," as well as "her family, friendships -- and of course her dog," for departure from the federal sentencing guidelines. The mental condition, according to Villegas, was clinical depression which he said played a role in her committing the crime.
He pointed to Rivers' family members and friends who were present in the courtroom.
"The Crucian community here are all prepared to support her," Villegas said, adding that with her family and friends' support "if this court gives her some sort of probation, she will comply just as she did in the past two and a half years," -- the amount of time Rivers had been out on bail since her arrest.
While the judge acknowledged that "federal guidelines are advisory and not mandatory," she said that "the facts of the case do not warrant a departure" from the guidelines.
Prosecuting attorney Daniel Houston suggested that Rivers be sentenced to 20 months in prison.
"This defendant was charged because she was engaged in criminal activity," Houston said, adding that if others in her former position "see her get a slap on the wrist," they may think committing similar crimes would be worth the risk.
Rivers told the court that whatever her sentence, she was prepared.
"I'm accepting any sentence that you render today," she said. "My poor decision-making led to me standing before you today."
Before imposing a sentence, Thompson referred to Rivers' honorable military career prior to her arrest. Rivers served for 20 years in the military.
She said it was notable that Rivers was "a female in a job that traditionally would have been a job of a male."
She also acknowledged Rivers' intellect and intelligence.
However, according to Thompson, all these things did not stand in Rivers' favor when it came time for sentencing.
"The great heights that Ms. Rivers achieved makes it more difficult to mitigate her sentence," Thompson said. "As the expression goes, she knew better."
Thompson sentenced Rivers to 12 months in prison and required that she be placed on three-year supervised release.
In response to a request made by Villegas to grant Rivers a 30-day period before she would be required to surrender to a U.S. Marshal to "get her affairs in order," Rivers was granted two weeks to do so before beginning her sentence.
This article is written by Brandy Brookes from Virgin Islands Daily News and was legally licensed via the Tribune Content Agency through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.